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October 13, 1999

11 Min Read
IMM's Plant Tour:  Gaining speed from art to part


Two connected buildings form the Industrial
Molds/FusionEngineering headquarters in Rockford, IL.
Plans include combining the two buildings into one,
a project that should be completed within a year.

To the casual observer, producing an injection molded part seemsrelatively simple. Yet, those intimately involved with injectionmolding know the many steps that go into making a high-qualitypart, and that each of those steps-design, prototyping, tooling,and processing-should integrate knowledge of the others. Injectionmolds, which represent the longest lead times in the product developmentcycle, are especially in need of this combined intelligence. Moldmakersat Industrial Molds (IM) and its new division, Fusion Engineering,directly addressed the situation when they recently organizedan art-to-part enterprise called Technicor.

Technicor is part virtual enterprise and part strategic alliance.Two member companies, Bit7 and Machineart Corex, are partnersthat provide project management, industrial design, and engineeringanalysis work. Pyramid Plastics, owned by Technicor, offers moldtrialing and troubleshooting, processing, and performance audits.


IM/Fusion is a maze of intertwined operations,
machines, rooms, and buildings. Under one roof is the
design department, toolmaking room, CNC machining area,
EDM room, and True-Cut Wire EDM (a
Technicor-integrated business).An adjacent building houses
3D Keltool production equipment.Still, work flows logically
and seamlessly through the company.

In the middle of the spectrum lie the toolmaking capabilitiesof partner Ferbe Group (Sweden) and Industrial Molds, a 31-yearveteran in the field.

"Customers are asking us to work with less and start onthe mold before we even know what the product looks like,"says Tom Peck, vp of sales and marketing for Industrial Molds."More than half of our business now requires more than justtooling, and we need ways to help manage these projects. We'renow in the business of selling solutions, so offering design andprototyping services becomes essential." To build speed intothe product development cycle, the Technicor group opened FusionEngineering last year.

A recent tour of Fusion and Industrial Molds revealed projectsat the leading edge of rapid and traditional tooling. Bob Morton,director of advanced technology, explained Fusion Engineering'smission: "We focus on rapid prototyping and rapid toolingtechnologies, with an eye toward taking time out of the process.With stereolithography, 3D Keltool, and Direct Aim molds, we'reable to cut tooling lead times by 60 percent."

Althoughwork flows logically and seamlessly through the company, physicallyIM/Fusion is a maze of intertwined operations, machines, rooms,and buildings. Equipment and departments span the technologicalrange from pure mold design to SLA. Cohabitating under one roofare the design department, toolmaking room, CNC machining area,EDM room, and True-Cut Wire EDM (another Technicor-integratedbusiness).


This recent acquisition, a Makino A77 high-speed
machining center, helps Industrial Molds keep up
with customer demand for shorter lead times.

An adjacent building houses 3D Keltool production equipment.The varied capabilities offered by this shop have helped makeIM/Fusion innovative and fast when it comes to producing moldsand parts.

First Things First
All of IM/Fusion's projects begin in the CAD modeling department.Brian Fransen manages this area and has been designing cavitiesas solid models for the past seven years, making him a pioneerof sorts among mold designers. "Most of our customers usedsolids," explains Fransen, "and it seemed logical tobe able to work on cavities in the same way. We've used Pro/Efrom the beginning, and our newest addition is Pro/Moldesign,which will enable us to design the whole mold base in 3-D."


Creating the automated,
two-shot, rotary
tool that produces the
Ericsson T28 cell phone
housing required a concerted
effort between Industrial
Molds, Fusion, and the
Ferbe Group. Its new Anaheim
plant opened in May 1997.

All files that come in are processed here, and the CAD/CAM specialiststhat staff the department perform both modeling and tool design.With direct Catia-to-Pro/E translators, designers avoid commontranslation errors. According to Morton, there are times whentranslating customer files (other than Catia or Pro/E) can gettime-consuming, but IM/Fusion has a strict policy of startingthe time clock on a job only after the Pro/E file is ready togo.

Several ongoing projects in the modeling department caughtIMM's eye, especially two that originated with IndustrialMolds and have returned for updating. The first mold being designed,for Maytag, will produce a dishwasher utensil basket for upcomingmodels. "We originally built a similar tool in 1990 for Maytag,and after shipping it, never heard from them," Morton recalls."This year, they called to tell us they had gotten sevenmillion parts off the nine-year-old tool, but were ready for anew design. By getting involved in the project from the start,we were able to shave $150,000 off the cost."


The Ericsson project involved
prototyping via SLA.

IM also designed and produced tools for the first production moldedthrottle body in the world. Customer DaimlerChrysler uses thePEI throttle body in its Neon cars. "This project took fiveyears in development," Morton says. "Tolerances forthe bore were ±.001 inch, and we developed a supercooledcenter core with thermal pins to keep up with the 400F mold and800F melt temperatures. We're continuing work now for future models."

Once the Pro/E solid model is prepared and the design is readyto leave the design department, it may be sent on for either traditionaltooling and moldmaking or 3D Keltool creation. In the traditionalcase, the file is translated via IGES and imported into Surfcam(Surfware Inc.) for toolpath programming, which is then downloadedto hardwired CNC equipment in a neighboring room. For Keltools,CAD data is converted to an STL file, which is sent to Fusion'sSLA 3500 for master pattern creation.


Technicians in the EDM department are just beginning
to automate electrode cutting by using a
palleting system. Eventually, microchips on the
pallet will contain information on location,
offsets, and so forth. The robot will read this
and pick the right tool.

Speedy Toolmaking
Fusion's list of capabilities tells not only what it does, butalso the quantities each process will supply and how long it willtake. For example, SLA prototyping produces up to five parts inone to three days. Prototypes by urethane casting take one totwo weeks for up to 20 parts. For rapid tooling, Fusion offersa useful matrix in Table 1.

Most 3D Keltool operations at IM/Fusion are performed in aseparate, semi-connected building adjacent to the main manufacturingspace. The company has been working with the Keltool process for12 years, starting when it was still owned by 3M, the companythat invented it. "We originally used Keltools for EDM electrodes,"recalls Peck. In November 1997, Morton and Peck visited 3D Systemsafter it had purchased the technology. Shortly afterward, FusionEngineering was born.



Direct Aim

Epoxy molds

3D Keltool inserts

3D Keltool molds

The 3D Keltool process begins with a CAD design of core andcavity inserts, which are then duplicated as master patterns (typicallycreated in an SLA machine). The SLA masters are cast in siliconerubber to produce molds, into which a proprietary mixture of metalpowder and binder is poured and packed. This cast mixture consistsof finely powdered A-6 tool steel (or stainless steel) as wellas finer particles of tungsten carbide. The cast is then curedin a special room kept at a balmy 100F.

Core and cavity inserts are then fired in a hydrogen reductionfurnace to burn away the binder, sinter the metal powders, andinfiltrate copper into the inserts. Resulting solid metal insertsare 70 percent steel and tungsten carbide, and 30 percent copper.Finally, inserts are finished, machined, drilled for ejector pins,and fit into mold bases.


Fusion Engineering uses an SLA 3500
(3D Systems) to produce rapid prototypes, Direct
Aim, and 3D Keltools.

Why did IM/Fusion invest in licensing 3D Keltool technology? Accordingto Morton, it is still the only proven rapid tooling technologyavailable, and produces steel properties superior to P-20. "Wehave also been able to increase the number of molds per moldmakerfrom four to six without a corresponding increase in manufacturingcost. These tools help us sidestep obstacles. Using the insertsfor a production tool gives us options we didn't have in the past."

Inherent lubricity and heat transfer of the copper-infusedtools give IM/Fusion designers additional flexibility, explainsMorton. "Copper aids in both of these categories. We're ableto reduce draft down to .5°, and because of the lubricity,the inserts don't gall or score." In addition, building therapid tools eliminates the need for EDM work on complex details,saving time and money. "The more complex the tool, the morecost-efficient it is to use 3D Keltool. For instance, we producedinserts for a stapler housing that contained extensive ribbing.Rather than EDM'ing the deep rib features, we built them ontothe master pattern."

On the traditional moldmaking side, Fusion shares space withIM in the large toolmaking room adjacent to the modeling department.Here the company operates 28 CNC machining centers and millingmachines and nine EDM centers. All of it is geared to turn workaround fast.


A new stapler design for
ACCO’s Swingline product
featured extensive
ribbing. By using Keltool,
no EDM workwas required.

Brion Nesmith, Fusion build engineer, describes a current project andthe amazing speed with which it progressed. "We built theSLA master for a fish-scale housing in 15 hours. The finishedinserts were completed in 10 days." Another project for amedical device with living hinges and a living bladder saved 300hours of conventional tool time. "Lead times on conventionaltools were 24 weeks, and we have brought that down to 12 weeks.In six months, that time must be reduced by 25 percent, so we'recurrently working with the customer as a team to find solutions."

Nesmith uses a bar code system to log jobs. Job folders containingthe bar code are scanned in, and all work done is recorded. "Ithelps us to track hours on the job and progress on the tool,"he says. "Account managers can also get a better pictureof similar jobs for quoting purposes."


Fish-scale housings (black and red parts) were
produced from 3D Keltools built on an SLA 3500
machine with .001-inch layer thickness. The
project took less than 15 days from SLA
masters to finished inserts.

Putting It All Together
You may have seen the newest Ericsson cellular phone, dubbed theT28, in the July issue of Popular Science magazine. While theelectronics are definitely high-tech, creation of the thin-walledhousing is also state-of-the-art, and illustrates how IM/Fusionworks together with its partners to bring products to market faster.

"Ericsson brought us into the design team meeting at anearly stage," recalls Bim Brandel, IM vp and director ofFerbe Group. "They were aiming for a .6-mm wall thicknessin PC/ABS (Cycoloy, GE Plastics), and were working under a compressedproduct development cycle. Lifetimes for cell phones are dropping,and Ericsson needed to introduce this one ahead of its competitors."

Fusion created prototypes for the two-shot part in Keltool,while designers at IM worked on refining the automated rotarytool design. It contained four slides going inward and four travelingoutward. The H-13 production tools required some EDM work, whichwas reduced by using extra-fine, high-speed machining centersin Ferbe-Sweden. Toolmakers at IM built the bottom plate, andEricsson shipped the mold to its captive facility in Sweden andto two custom molders in the U.S.

Assembly operations at Ericsson are completely robotic, andthe production line creates one phone every 5 seconds, or 35,000units/day. Projected market for the T28 is 150 million units/year.Communications between member companies has been one key to success,agree Brandel and Peck. All Technicor companies have a T1 lineto connect toolmakers and designers at member facilities. Anotherfactor that makes projects like the T28 phone possible is thejoint meetings between OEM and toolmakers, an increasingly commonway of life at IM/Fusion.

Contact information
Fusion Engineering
Rockford, IL
Bob Morton
Phone: (815) 397-6069
Fax: (815) 397-8813
E-mail: [email protected]
Web: www.fusionrpt.com


Industrial Molds Inc.
Rockford, IL
Tom Peck
Phone: (815) 397-2971
Fax: (815) 397-0474
E-mail: [email protected]
Web: www.industrialmolds.com

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