October 15, 2000
Enhancedmachine technology such as high-speed machining and unmanned,automated EDM work is the future of moldmaking in the U.S. Andalthough the capital outlay for all this equipment is considerable,there is an upside to be recognized.
Moldmakers like Ivanhoe Tool & Die's Bob Covello believethere is a good return on the investment. "We benefit inseveral ways," he says. "We're able to meet our customers'delivery demands while increasing our capacity to take on morebusiness and to maintain our margins."
Caco Pacific's John Thirlwell says another benefit that isn'ttalked about is the quality improvement automation brings to thetable. "Because it's automated it's virtually hands-off,so we see a real improvement in quality-everything's done thesame with no human influence on the process."
The difference between moldmakers who pay for new technologyand those who don't is evident. PM Mold Co.'s Olav Bradley saysthat the "shops that are busy are those that have investedin technology to improve speeds and increase capacity to bringa better value to U.S. molds."
Ivanhoe, Caco, and PM are among the moldmakers leveraging technologyspending to stay competitive; all have recently made significantinvestments.
Automation and EDM
Caco Pacific, in Covina, CA, is one of the largest moldmakersin the U.S., specializing in high-cavitation molds for the medical,personal care, telecom, and electronics markets. Thirlwell, vpof sales and marketing, says that Caco is probably as advancedin automation use as a shop can be.
"More and more we're making use of automated systems androbot technology to stay in the forefront of our industry, primarilywith respect to delivery," says Thirlwell. "[Delivery]seems to be the most important thing to OEMs, so if we can automateour plants to run 24/7, we'll satisfy what they want and givethem accuracy and cavity-to-cavity interchangeability for theirautomated processes."
Caco has automated several of its Bostomatic machining centersand EDMs. "Operators do mainly setup and checking parts,"says Thirlwell. "[The machines] can run to the point wherethey can finish the load given to them whether or not people arethere, which has a significant effect on both delivery and theability to keep costs in line despite any inflation."
Ivanhoe (Thompson, CT), which specializes in large, multicavity,precision molds for the closure, packaging, and medical markets,has also been working to build unmanned operations. Covello, Ivanhoe'splant manager, says that to automate electrode fabrication, thecompany decided it needed to do as many operations in one setupas possible. By combining features into one electrode, not onlyare the number of required electrodes reduced, but time is alsosaved. To meet its needs, Ivanhoe has purchased five new EDM centersin the last three years. Automation equipment changes parts andelectrodes automatically via a pallet system.
"The highly automated EDM machines are best suited forhigh-volume production jobs, whereas other equipment is betterfor low-volume, less complex burns or where burn time is veryshort," explains Covello.
Another moldmaker serious about automation is Ultra Tool Co.Inc. (Grantsburg, WI). Ultra Tool recently added a System 3R WorkMasterrobot in its EDM department to change out electrodes and workpieces. Patrick Finn, president, says the robot will reduce laborhours in the mold and make Ultra Tool more competitive in theglobal market.
Ultra Tool also uses a laser system on its high-speed CNC millsthat automatically checks cutter offsets and dimensions. Thattoo, saves moldmakers time.
In fact, Finn believes that while high-speed machining addsprogramming time up front, overall it can be more cost effective,and in some cases eliminates altogether the need for EDM'ing.More and more moldmakers are following suit, investing in high-speedequipment in an effort to reduce costs and shorten lead times.
PM Mold (Schaumburg, IL) converted one of its newest verticalmilling machines to a high-speed machine by removing the old controlsand replacing them with Creative Technology controls. "It'sunbelievable how much faster the machine is now than it was before,"says CEO Bradley. "It was a $40,000 gamble but it worked."
Bradley, who is also president of the American Mold BuildersAssn., says that he's cutting four to five times faster now. Forexample, with the old control the machine could cut certain electrodesin 47 minutes. "With the new control, we can cut each electrodein just under 10 minutes, with tighter tolerances and a betterfinish that doesn't require benching," he explains.
PM Mold also got a Charmilles Roboform 35 with a 32-tool automaticchanger that enables more unattended machining. Although PM Moldoperates two full shifts, much of its machinery runs lights-out."Our wire EDMs run around the clock," says Bradley."You have to do that to meet the stringent lead times ondeliveries."
MAXIMIZING MACHINE USE When it comes to automation, moldmakers are slowly accepting the fact that it can benefit their businesses. That's the opinion of Anders Utterstrom, Midwest regional sales manager for System 3R, a maker of automation equipment for mold shops. "We've been talking about automation for mold shops for years," says Utterstrom. Finally, several of the company's customers decided to take the chance, and the results were noteworthy. For example, Utterstrom says automation helped one CNC machine go from averaging 33 hours per week of use to 160 hours. He says there are two major factors at work in the sudden surge in automation for mold shops: personnel and competitive issues. Automation addresses these by increasing capacity and productivity, and reducing labor. "It's hard to get people to work second and third shift," he says. "But, you can get a robot to do it." Additionally, notes President and CEO Nicholas Giannotte, it's difficult to compete with workers in China who make $650/month. Also, exchange rates with countries like Germany mean a mold that sells here for $200,000 can be had for $100,000 to $120,000 overseas. Automating a mold shop is more than just putting a robot on one machine, Utterstrom says. "People think primarily about EDM automation, but we have found that when you put our WorkMaster on an EDM machine, you also need to upgrade other equipment to move components from the EDM to graphite electrode manufacturing," he says. "You can't just look at it as a single entity but an entire process in your shop." Bottom line, adds Giannotte, "We have to reduce the man hours in the mold to be competitive on a global basis." Contact information
Ivanhoe Tool & Die Co.
Phone: (860) 923-9541
Fax: (860) 923-2497
Caco Pacific Corp.
Phone: (626) 331-3361
Fax: (626) 966-4219
E-mail: [email protected]
PM Mold Co.
Phone: (847) 895-3100
Fax: (847) 895-8213
E-mail: [email protected]
Ultra Tool Co. Inc.
Phone: (715) 463-5332
Fax: (715) 463-2683
System 3R USA Inc.
Elk Grove Village, IL
Phone: (847) 439-4888
Fax: (847) 439-5099
E-mail: [email protected]
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