Business for many moldmakers is picking up and some are finding that the time to add new equipment is now, in preparation for more new business they see coming.
Industrial Molds Group, headquarted in Rockford, IL, has made it a practice to continually invest in the latest machine tool technology. The company has just completed installation of an Erowa Robot System (ERS-03000) heavy-duty robot to add to the S-56 Makino machining center. The total investment was around $500,000 not counting the machining center, which Industrial Molds had purchased a year ago. “We bought the S-56 Makino machine knowing that we would put a robot on it,” said Tim Peterson, VP of Industrial Molds. “We put the new cell in a different location from the first two cells to accommodate the size of the robot, so we had to improve the floor and get the infrastructure in to support the cell.”
The company currently has machining centers in house but the latest one is for performing hard milling operations for mold cavities. According to Chris Norman, COO for Erowa Technology Inc., this represents a change for Industrial Molds. “They hadn’t automated that part of the business yet, but after seeing the benefits of the two previous manufacturing cells, they wanted to automate the S-56 with the ERS,” said Norman.
The Erowa Robot System (ERS) has two rotary magazines for storage of three different types of tooling. The cell also contains UPC 12-inch square pallets and ITS-148 6-inch round pallets. The new cell also has the ability to perform graphite milling operations as a backup to Industrial Molds' dedicated graphite mill.
Unattended operation is one of the biggest benefits to the automated manufacturing cells. “In today’s economy you’re competing with everyone globally, such as foreign suppliers who are working with cheaper labor,” Norman said. “By automating these operations, they can increase their efficiency by 50-70%, and greatly increase their spindle time. That’s one of the best benefits.”
Peterson concurred that the first two systems Industrial Molds installed proved to give the company increased productivity without having to add a second (night) shift. “With the lack of skilled labor in the moldmaking industry today, and the additional challenges of finding people willing to work second shift, automating this process helps us to maximize our investment in this equipment,” Peterson said.
Erowa’s Norman noted that these ERS systems are developed for the type of work that mold shops do—the one-off job shop environment. He added that Industrial Molds is also running Erowa’s management software called JMS Pro. “This allows them to put whatever they want in the magazine and the software can scan and know what jobs belong to what projects,” said Norman. “Therefore it makes the equipment more flexible for the job shop work that a moldmaker does, whether it’s one cavity or 32.”
With 20 UPC pallet capacity and 35 ITS-148 pallets, Industrial Molds can have 65 different jobs in the magazine at one time and all are associated by the software. “It allows Industrial Molds to be flexible and respond quickly to customer’s needs,” Norman commented.
Peterson noted that Industrial Molds saw the benefits of automating manufacturing cells from the first two systems they installed. “It allows us to get greater coverage from the front to back of the day, as opposed to requiring a second shift, giving us greater productivity and efficiency” he said. “We’ve seen it on the EDM side and now on the hard milling side we hope to see similar results.”
The new automated manufacturing cell is up and running at a phase-one level as Industrial Molds goes through the learning curve and gets the cell running at its full capability. “We’ve run some production jobs through, and we’re happy with the results. We look forward to getting the system into full swing in the next few weeks.” —Clare Goldsberry