Telecom services market and plastic injection moulding on the path to growth

According to Precedence Research, the telecom services market was valued at US$ 1.73 trillion in 2021 and it is projected to hit around US$ 2.65 trillion by 2030, growing at a CAGR of 4.85% from 2022 to 2030.

In this article, we gathered the point of view of Giorgio Sensi, Key Account Manager of FAIST Industrial division, and Andrea Zucchini, responsible of Plastic Injection Moulding and part of our Manufacturing Engineering team: we asked them to give us some insight on the telecom market and its application of plastic injection moulding technologies, to review what the perspective for the sector are, and what is the added value of this productive process.

The telecom market is expected to continue to grow at a substantial rate for the next 8 years; what do you think are the drivers of such a performance?

Giorgio Sensi: The rising spending on the deployment of the 5G infrastructures, linked to a constant inclination towards next-generation technologies, will most definitely continue to be the main driver. An increasing number of mobile subscribers, soaring demand for high-speed data connectivity and the growing need for value-added managed services are the other potential factors fuelling the market growth.

5G is picking up speed, both figuratively and literally. Its future is bright, and the more exciting aspects of the technology are yet to come, as it becomes an integral part of the retail experience, fixed wireless access, manufacturing, healthcare, mobility -- and woven throughout, the Internet of Things (IoT). What are you looking forward to, in terms of being the most ground-breaking application?

Giorgio Sensi: The upgraded mobile service is among the most noticeable experience that the initial impacts of the 5G network rollout will have in store for the users. All major wireless services carriers, as well as many smaller communications service providers, intend to deploy 5G mobile networks that will deliver broadband-like services, such as high-definition streaming video without the dreaded buffering. With a vastly increased network capacity, 5G is also predicted to reduce slowdowns during usage spikes.

Connectivity for edge computing and the subsequent AI unleashing are for sure other key applications, impacting both the worldwide manufacturing capabilities and our daily life.

The healthcare, retail, agriculture and logistics fields are also going to extend their potentialities through the 5G.

FAIST has been a long-time partner for major players of the telecom infrastructure market - how does the company, and especially its Industrial division, currently contribute to these developments?

Giorgio Sensi: FAIST Industrial is currently involved in the preliminary technical review and in the product manufacturing of Antenna plastic covers, supports and spacers. Thanks to our wide range of presses sizes, we are in condition to provide solutions to our customers operating in the telecom market, be it for parts with small dimensions and low weights, such as brackets that can have a 2 mm diameter for 1 gram of weight, up to the big front radomes, that can have dimensions up to 1,2 meters in height and weight more than 3 kilograms.

We usually work with several different plastic materials, depending on the specific applications and the customer’s needs.

What are the most critical customer requirements that you need to focus on while co-developing products that are become part of such a diffused and critical infrastructure?

Giorgio Sensi: The most critical customer requirements can be linked both to the functional and aesthetical aspects. In the first case the dimensional stability of the part we produce is a basic need for the correct assembly and operation in the field, together with strict tolerances on the thicknesses for the RF criteria. At the same time the parts are intended to be installed exposed on sight of the end users, therefor they need to be free of major visible defects.

First of all, please take us through the process that leads to a mould being validated, and a product to enter mass production in the plastic injection moulding department of FAIST.

Andrea Zucchini: Our work starts with the Moldflow simulation after the product design has been defined. The simulation allows us to check any criticality of the part, such as aesthetic defects that may be due to shrinkage, filling problems, joints, deformations etc. In addition to this, again through this simulation, we can define the best position for the gates, calculate the required press tonnage needed to produce such part and have a forecast of the expected cycle time.

After the simulation, we move on to the design and construction of the mould, always following FAIST’s guidelines, which allow us to have moulds that are perfectly compliant with our machines, with all the controls and connections in place for an optimal and safe use of the equipment.

Once the construction of the mould is completed, before the surface finishes are done, the first T0 test is carried out. At this stage, the first pieces are produced for dimensional verification and the functionality of the equipment, hot runner, cooling system, mechanical/hydraulic movements and electrical connections is checked.

If everything is compliant, the surface treatment of the mould is finished, and subsequently a T1 test is carried out. Here the part is in the final configuration, the new dimensional report is submitted for approval of the part and a pre-series is produced to test the correct functioning of the mould after the treatments, with respect to the expected cycle time and definitive moulding parameters set-up.

At this point the mould is passed to the production team, while the scheduled maintenance plan and the spare parts list are entered in our system.

FAIST has been directing a lot of investments in the development of plastic injection moulding capabilities, what do you consider as the most interesting and challenging projects you have been working on lately?

Andrea Zucchini: Certainly, one of the most complex and at the same time interesting projects on which we have been working lately, is the co-moulding of connectors for the automotive sector. To produce this part, vertical machines with rotating table and 2 injection cylinders are used. The hot runners used have pneumatic valves and the injection management is sequential, allowing us to have an excellent product quality. The moulds are divided in 2 parts: the part of the first co-moulding injected through a cylinder and the part of the finished product injected through another cylinder, made of a die mounted on the fixed side of the machine and 2 punches, one on the first position of the table and one on the second. With such a system, we can carry out the finished product unloading operations using a robot, and optimize the cycle time since all the work phases are in the shadow of the moulding phase.

Ocean-bound polymers, bio-plastics, additive manufacturing, injection moulding machines that start to recycle the material used for feeders right after the production: the producers of compounds and machinery, pushed by the public opinion, are more and more focusing their R&D efforts towards sustainable development. How do you consider the efforts that have been made, and are currently ongoing?

Andrea Zucchini: Many major manufacturers have committed and are committing resources on research into alternative biodegradable plastics, others are working on recycling materials recovered from seas and oceans: these are important signals in favour of the environment, even if it is still the behaviour of each one of us that remains fundamental.

On the part of the manufacturers of plastic material moulding equipment there has been a continuous evolution in the study and development of machines and systems designed to reduce the consumption of electricity and optimize cycle times, important implementations to reduce the environmental impact of each individual product starting from its production.

The last relevant point is additive manufacturing: in fact, we now have technologies that allow us to get finished products by reducing processing cycles and optimizing the use of materials. This, for products that have low series, allows you to avoid longer and more expensive processes, avoiding both the unnecessary economical and environmental waste of resources that may come with them. Hopefully we are on the right way to tackle sustainability.