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Plastic drill bits.


A major home improvement company makes tools and accessories for use by experienced and new homeowners. This company would like to provide low-cost products, using simple materials. Having identified drill bits as an item they would like to provide with a new "twist" [pun intended], they wish to make a line of drill bits made of plastic or plastic alloyed with other materials. Their reasoning is that these drills could be used with most light-duty applications such as drilling through drywall, soft woods, and other simple materials. Your job is to assemble a team of coworkers and develop ideas and concepts for plastic drill bits.


Who would you select to be on this team? What talents would you like to have represented on the team? Would you think about asking folks from outside the company to be on the team ... why/ why not?

Obviously, a first step is to research the literature to see if other folks have thought about plastic in such an application. If they have, what has come of their ideas? Have any been actually successful, and what factors led either to their application or abandonment? What types of drill bit materials do your competitors use?

Can plastic be made hard enough to perform a drilling task without the heat produced by drilling friction causing the drill bit to warp or fracture?

Can the drill bit be made sharp enough to retain its edge after repeated use? If plastic needs to be hardened to make it appropriate for drill bits, what are the potential ways this hardening can be accomplished? Should the drill bit plastic be:

* Alloyed with something else during its formulation and manufacture (if so, what)?

* Coated with a hardening agent?

* Chemically or heat treated (like annealing)?

How is plastic made harder today? Examine the types of plastics that are used for high-impact or heavy-duty use now. Is any of this technology transferable to this drill-bit application?

Look at the possible use of nanotechnologies during the making of the drill bits. Certain nanotech components might be added to the plastic to give it added strength characteristics. Examine the literature to see if nanotechnologies have been used like this in the past--to give added strength--and what the experience has been. What nanotechnologies are likely candidates for use?

Most drills have been designed to accept steel drill bits. Examine how plastic drill bits might change the design of the drills, such as possibly necessitating:

* Different drill chucks to accept the plastic drill bit without damaging the chuck end of the bit.

* Changing the speed of the drill--perhaps using the bits only with drills equipped with a speed changer.

* A caution to users not to bend the drill bit while in operation or not press too hard when drilling.

When offering plastic drill bits for sale, how would they be marketed to the user? Determine if a special consumer education program would first be necessary, perhaps coupled with special in-store advertising or offers to get users to try out the drill bits right there in the store. Might it be best to introduce the drills in the "big box" stores first, and then migrate the promotions to the smaller "mom and pop" neighborhood stores later? Should selected users test the drills at home for a month and then provide feedback?

Carefully examine how much the cost for these new drill bits should be. There is a great deal of inertia in the steel bits market so commonly used already. Can the plastic bits be competitive in price? Do they have another advantage over steel that can be exploited?

Evaluate whether drill bits can be made from recycled plastic and gain an advertising and cost advantage this way. For instance, could recycled plastic soda bottles be the raw feedstock for plastic drill bits...after all, lumber products are already made from recycled soda bottles, and that lumber can be very strong. Will plastic drill bits last longer and stay sharper than steel bits and reuse plastic resources at the same time?

Think multidimensionally and in a multidisciplinary fashion with this challenge, and choose a team that can support this kind of thinking.

Harry T. Roman is a retired engineer/inventor, and author of technology education/ STEM books, math card games, and teacher resource materials. He can be reached at
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Author:Roman, Harry T.
Publication:Technology and Engineering Teacher
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Nov 1, 2013
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