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March 28, 1999

3 Min Read
Tooling technology for big tools

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HS Die produces molds for interior door panels, fascia, instrument panels, and various other automotive plastic components. To succeed in this competitive market, the company relies on networking its CAD/CAM and CNC technology and employee training.

Harold Steele, a former tool-and-die maker and current president of privately-held HS Die & Engineering (Grand Rapids, MI), is a man of principle. Putting his beliefs into practice has helped the enterprise grow to its current size (240,000 sq ft), annual sales volume ($90 million), and productivity level (350 to 400 molds annually at one plant). The company operates six plants, three of which are in Grand Rapids, and specializes in large automotive injection molds as well as die-cast dies.

At the core of Steele's philosophy is training employees to use state-of-the-art systems effectively. "This company was built by training our people. There's a direct relationship between the growth of our business and the professional growth of our employees," says Steele.

When it comes to the second part of the equation-namely, new technology-he is no less adamant. In 1980, the company invested in a CAD/CAM CNC network at a time when other toolmakers were still hesitant to adopt these systems, and it continues to upgrade them as new technology becomes available. "We have found that the best way to cut lead times is to automate the upfront process," adds Steele. The results are evident-most tools are built in 16 to 18 weeks once they hit the shop floor. These are often large fascia, instrument panel, and windshield encapsulation molds.

At the start of the mold-building process, designers receive customer CAD part data in various formats, including IGES, Catia, SDRC, or Unigraphics. The data is imported into workstations running Tool Designer (Softech), where 3-D mold surfaces are added. Mold components such as slides, lifters, and large cores are also constructed at this time. The mold surfaces and components are then imported into Camax (SDRC), where they are matched to the original data. Final surfaces and electrodes are then created. Tool paths are generated in either WorkNC or Camax and sent to CNC tools.

Networking its CAD/ CAM and CNC systems has also helped improve productivity for HS Die. Once geometry is confirmed, molds are design-ed and cutter paths programmed in Camax. Linked to the Camax system is a shop-floor programming package, Prospector (Softech), which allows machinists to make changes as the job progresses.

"Our toolmakers have a great deal of experience. By allowing them to program at the machine, we have put their creativity back into the system." Safety features built into the software make it impossible to make changes to any surface of core or cavity. What can change is the way in which those surfaces are cut. For example, programs can be edited, jobs can be changed to different machines, and programming can be changed to match the fastest system for a particular machine.

"Tool-path verification is another reason that shop floor programming makes sense," he says. "By avoiding crashes, machinists save the repair costs, which can reach several hundred thousand dollars on a large automotive tool."

Each of the three plants in Grand Rapids serves a separate purpose. Plant 1 builds large tools that run in molding machines from 500 to 5000 tons. Smaller tools, for 500-ton machines and under, are built in Plant 2. Plant 3 houses seven tryout presses for sampling and short-run production. This separation reflects another of Steele's beliefs. "Standardizing improves efficiency because when each part of the job is done in its own area of expertise fewer errors and problems crop up."

Contact Information
SoftechTroy, MI
Phone: (248) 649-0240
Fax: (248) 643-7185

SDRC
Milford, OH
Mary Ward
Phone: (800) 848-7372
Fax: (513) 576-2135
Website: www.sdrc.com

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