A publicly funded European molding technology startup is beginning to hit big-time pay dirt.
RocTool, which is based near Lyon in southeastern France, is announcing significant orders for composite housings in the consumer electronics industry using its interesting approach to improving surface finishes and extending flow lengths for thin parts.
The company has developed technologies over the past 14 years that heat mold surfaces by induction in seconds, creating a resin-rich surface that covers glass or carbon fiber reinforcement and erases visible weld lines. Increased fluidity allows thinner parts with longer flow lengths than are normally available.
The approach is more economical than previous approaches that heated an entire mold. The RocTool system eschews the standard induction heaters traditionally used in molding, using instead a sophisticated approach based on electromagnetic fields. Heating zones are made of magnetic steels. Molds can also be quickly cooled down, speeding cycle times.
Apple is hush-hush on all of its manufacturing technologies, but it is known that RocTool
systems are used on iPhone housings. An Asian consumer electronics manufacturing giant—Ju Teng—is now using RocTool technology on more than 100 manufacturing lines in what is described as the world’s largest manufacturing factory to produce smartphone and tablet covers. The development also reflects a trend away from metal covers to thermoplastic composites. And RocTool has been an important part of making that shift possible.
RocTool improves the economics and also allows the high-quality surface finishes required for consumer electronics products. The composite’s mechanical performance and impact resistance are said to allow production of parts less than 0.5 mm/0.02 inch thick.
Ju Teng says that it produced more than 1 million smartphone parts in the last quarter of 2013 with RocTool’s technologies and expects to eventually produce 1 million parts per month.
“The major brands of tablet and smartphones are actively seeking ways of differentiation and performance improvement,” says Li-Yu Cheng, Ju Teng International CEO. “The difference therefore leans more and more towards the covers, their materials, weight, thickness. With RocTool technologies, Ju Teng has not only developed an expertise on complex part designs that are removed directly from the mold, but also the finish which is essential to the touch and perceived quality. This is an unavoidable requirement in consumer electronics, to which we must answer.”
The RocTool system is used in a new $10 million plant in China.
RocTool, which licenses its technology, was incubated in an R&D initiative called the Eureka Eurostars Program funded by the European Union and 31 countries. The company recently went public on the NYSE Euronext stock exchange. Stock prices jumped to €11.97 ($16.17) in January from €5.32 ($7.19) in February, 2013.