Do you know where your molds are, Mr. OEM? You should! Molds are one of the most valuable assets OEMs own, Sujit Sheth, General Manager at AST Technology (Löhne, Germany), a provider of real-time mold monitoring systems, told an audience at Plastics-In-Motion, an automotive conference held earlier this summer. Monitoring these assets, knowing where they are, how they are performing, the number of cycles they have run and the maintenance that has been performed is critical to preserving and protecting these assets.
Monitoring molds can help the OEM identify potential issues and indicate where to focus improvement efforts. It gives OEMs the data needed to make better decisions with respect to the mold's useable life and how the mold is running. OEMs can also monitor their molds to benchmark performance and compare actual versus optimized performance, and to establish baselines to verify improvements.
Benchmarking is important and everyone needs to be involved in the process—tooling engineers, molders and tool builders, Sheth noted. "These are all links in the chain," he added. "They have to have skin in the game and be accountable."
Benchmarking is how process parameters, such as cycle time and efficiency, are determined. "These decisions determine part cost and affect the quality of the molded part," Sheth reminded the audience. "Divergence from baselines often indicates potential problems."
Total Maximum Output (TMO) is an important measurement, used to baseline the cycle time and efficiency, making it possible to determine how the mold is running from year to year. These are the "most proactive pieces of information we can get," said Sheth.
Using benchmarking and TMO makes it possible to preventively address supply-chain issues before they have an impact on downstream production activities. Weak links can more easily be identified and addressed before they cause a real problem. For example, if the tooling isn't running optimally, the OEM can decide whether to add manufacturing hours, purchase new tooling or improve existing tooling. It also allows validation of the cost-benefit ratio of tool maintenance expenditures using quantitative measures such as cycle time and efficiency.
There are several ways to monitor molds using data sources, such as mechanical mold monitors that count shot cycles, which have been around for nearly two decades. Additionally, there are process monitors that track machine parameters and production. However, mold monitoring requires more than just counting cycles. Using the CVe monitor from AST can provide a quick analysis of the activity of a mold and serves as a starting point to ask the right questions. Downloadable activity reports enable deeper dives, and a built-in 4G flash drive can be used to store tooling documents, records and training aids. A key factor in performing real-time mold monitoring is that molds can be monitored from anywhere around the world.
Sheth noted that the quality and maintenance of the tool will determine how long a mold will last and how well it will perform during its lifetime. "Having the right amount of tooling and the proper maintenance parameters ensures that a program is successful when full production is required," he said. "Also a proper amount of capacity exists when tooling invariably begins to wear out."
These on-demand performance reports give users all the data they need but, noted Sheth, while the data is available, whether or not we want to use it is a different story. Sharing that data with the right people who can apply it to make decisions about the tooling is a critical step. "There's always a hesitation to share data," said Sheth.
Some of the benefits of monitoring molds to the supply chain include the ability of tool builders to verify that warranty requirements are being met, which ensures that the tools are running in optimal condition. Also, mold maintenance technicians are given visibility to tooling issues and can engage in preventive troubleshooting. Monitoring also fosters better communication among stakeholders and allows them to work together to improve mold performance. Additionally, molders can identify profit-draining issues and work to eliminate them, which will optimize the mold's lifespan and output.
Molds are one of the OEM's most valuable assets, and mold monitoring ensures that molds are being properly maintained to provide optimum production of quality parts over the life of the program.