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Mechanical Engineering

Everyday Genius: Toothbrushes

November 28, 2016

Many of us go through our day using things like a toothbrush, kitchen utensils and other simple items.

Take these things away and life suddenly becomes very inconvenient and sometimes problematic. But how many of us have ever considered how these simple items come to be in our possession, along with all the time, skill, machines and resources that are required to actually make these items?

I’d like to take you through a small segment of the development process and go through just what it takes to make a toothbrush. This kind of product, along with many others, is often overlooked and taken for granted since it’s so widely available.

It starts with an idea of what the toothbrush should look like and how it should perform. Size, shape, color and cost are all variables that need to be closely scrutinized for a mass- produced product to be successful in the marketplace since I’m sure not everyone can afford a titanium version.

It takes an enormous amount of people from many different disciplines to bring an idea to life and the toothbrush is no exception. So much work is done behind the scenes prior to any design ever hitting the shelf that people can forget how long it takes to go through tooling, tweaking and finally producing the item.

Once the market research and industrial design is finalized, designs are handed over to engineering and manufacturing. Typically, the tooling for an injection mold(s) will take about 45-90 days to produce and can cost 10’s to 100’s of thousands of dollars. Some companies will tell you they can do the work faster and cheaper but buyer beware! You will often get what you pay for and if you’re investing in an injection mold you want to be sure the company making it for you can do the work right the first time.

It takes an enormous amount of people from many different disciplines to bring an idea to life and the toothbrush is no exception.

Once molds are produced, other machines and fixtures are needed for assembly, post processing and packaging. Because toothbrushes are mass produced, it only makes sense that the processes above are done with robotics. Not only for precision, but also for repeatability of producing thousands of toothbrushes daily.

The handles for toothbrushes are injection molded and often times over molded with softer resins to make them more visually appealing while giving them a soft-touch feel in your hand.

The bristles for the toothbrush are extruded as filament and cut to length to be moved through the assembly machine and installed into the handles.

Once the handles and bristles are together, the toothbrush goes through post processing to cut the bristles into several patterns and lengths as necessary.

After toothbrushes have completed the journey from plastic pellets to usable items, they are tested to be sure everything is within specifications for consistency and durability. If they pass the test, the whole batch is sent off to packaging. Here is a video showing you some of the machines needed to accomplish all the above.

Packaging is typically done by thermoforming plastic film into a 3D shape that can hold the different designs and those are die cut into individual units to be boxed up into master shipping packs for the retailer. Here is a video showing this in action.

Each process above requires people to design and make all the machines, fixtures and tooling needed to get that toothbrush into your hands and keep those pearly whites gleaming.

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