Manufacturing Intro for Kids
I know enough about manufacturing because of my work in product design to give a quick kid friendly intro. My goal is to get kids looking at products in their world a little closer and hopefully get them excited about possible careers in engineering and product design.
There are lots of ways to make things. There are also lots of materials to make things from. Check out my materials printable here. Making things by hand is great but if you want to make lots and lots you will probably be looking for a method to them faster. These methods are called manufacturing processes and certain materials and/or types of products lend themselves to certain methods over others.
I am going to share some of these methods with some help from YouTube because I think videos are the most direct way to understand complex processes. I am going to keep my explanations pretty basic since this post is meant to inspire not put you to sleep.
Manufacturing Methods Printable
To go with this intro I created a fun printable. Print the following PDF on card-stock: manufacturing processes for kids
Cut up the cards and use them like an I SPY game. Try to see how many different manufacturing processes you can identify in your house. Or come up with a new product idea and pick a manufacturing method for it.
This is where melted plastic is injected into a two part metal mold. In more complex shapes the mold might need moving parts in order to get the object out after it dries. Most of the high volume plastic products we buy are injection molded from electronics to our toothbrushes. Something like a computer mouse is made in two parts with the electronics inside. Your toothbrush is made from one piece but probably had a second soft material inserted into the mold as a second step.
Watch these toothbrushes being made.
Many large metal parts are made by sand casting like engine blocks and heavy cookware. In this method an original is buried in sand that holds its shape. The sand mold is separated to get the original out then put back together. Hot metal is poured in though a hole and after it cools the sand is shaken away. This is a very old process but still very practical for complex shapes. No moving parts are needed for holes (ones not in line with how a mold separates) or undercuts. The mold simple crumbles away each time.
Here’s some basics on mold design.
What is an undercut? Think of how a plastic cup is shaped. The lip is wider than the base. This is called draft. The part of the two part mold inside the cup can easily slip out once the plastic is hardened. If the lip were narrower it would be an undercut and you wouldn’t be able to get a solid mold out.
Check out this post from Artchoo if you are interested in trying sand casting!
A very limited number of products are made this way but because it is relatively new and has so much potential I though it was worth including. Engineers and product designers use this process to test out their ideas. It builds objects from three dimensional computer files. No molds are needed! It is a great process for things that require customization like orthodics (like custom shoe inserts). The drawback is durability since these machines actually print in layers, creations are not as strong in the printed dimension.
3D printers can also make moving parts without assembly. Check this out!
Forming is a catch-all category for creating things from solid materials often metal using pressure. Metal is a pretty cool material. It can be bent and pounded, stretched and compressed to form lots of different shapes. If you don’t believe me that metal is malleable, watch this.
Pretty cool right?
Did you also know that aluminum is infinitely recyclable and plastic is not? Using forming techniques can reduce the amount of material used too. Watch how aluminum cans are made with forming techniques.
This process is great for packaging and inexpensive containers like divided lunch containers. In this case a one part mold is used, a sheet of plastic is heated until soft, and then sucked into the mold with a vacuum.
This video shows single use plastic cups being thermoformed.
Milk jugs are made this way. Melted plastic is formed into a tube and inserted into a two part mold then expanded with air like a balloon. Rotomolding produces similar results but the process is actually quite different. The plastic is not melted until it is already in the mold. This is how big plastic thing are made like garbage bins and ride on toys. Here, take a look.
Machining is a catch all for creating objects by cutting, drilling, and joining solid materials like wood and stone. Most of the furniture in your home has probably been machined. I hardly need to explain this one since you probably have seen wood being cut and drilled and joined. In a furniture factory some of these process will be automated and others will be divided up. The same person might drill the same hole all day long! This is how they are able to do it fast.
This is how ceramic products are made from your kitchen to your bathroom! In this process clay, the consistency of heavy cream is poured into absorbent molds where it stays for a certain amount of time. During this time the plaster mold absorbs water from the clay and the clay begins to solidify against the mold. The remaining clay is then poured out.
Watch how toilets are made.
There are of course other interesting and useful manufacturing processes but I think I have touched on a good sampling here. Enough to inspire I hope? If you are still here I hope you have enjoyed my intro and don’t forget the printable! Let me know if there are any questions. I am not an expert so I probably couldn’t answer anything too technical but would love to add clarity where I can.
This post is linked up here…
And at Squishable Baby’s Homeschool Link Up here!