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Articles from 2002 In December


Epoxy molds yield production-material prototypes


Mold forms were built for each fan rib using epoxy putty.

The SL master and epoxy putty forms for the fuel cell impeller were encapsulated in RenCast epoxy as the first step in building the injection mold.

The two mold halves are pictured here with the even-numbered mold inserts cast.

The odd-numbered mold forms were removed prior to casting.

PADT casts its epoxy tools using the RenCast 2000 system because it can withstand thermoplastic injection pressures and temperatures for prototypes and initial parts.

After the epoxy was cast, the mold sections were cured in a pressure chamber overnight.

Final Ultem blower parts are shown here with the epoxy inserts and mold halves in the center and background.

The warm epoxy mold was then removed from the injection press to demold the completed part.

A series of short shots was used to warm the mold until it was ready to produce the Ultem fan blades.
When the customer wants prototypes in a high-temperature material, the answer to lower cost and faster lead times may be aluminum-filled epoxy tools.

Pressure to decrease the length of product development cycles continues in today’s marketplace with an added twist: Many OEMs now expect engineering prototypes made from production materials so that the resulting parts can be tested more accurately. When the final parts are to be produced from high-temperature engineering thermoplastics like polyetherimide (Ultem, GE Plastics) or PTFE (Teflon, DuPont), or from metal, the challenge of building a cost-effective prototype tool in a short time becomes daunting.

Engineers and tooling specialists at Phoenix Analysis & Design Technologies (PADT) believe they have found an answer in aluminum-filled epoxy tools. The material they use, called RenCast and made by Huntsman Advanced Materials (formerly Vantico), has a heat deflection temperature (HDT) of 446F (230C), allowing it to handle high-temperature resins.

“We’ve optimized the ability to quickly build epoxy injection molds that can be used with engineering thermoplastics as well as metals,” explains Mark Schanze, molding technologies manager at PADT. “With the epoxy molds, we can provide customers with unique, fast, and economical solutions to their new product development needs, particularly on complex projects for which steel tooling would be cost-prohibitive.”

PADT put its rapid prototyping capabilities to a test recently when it molded production-quality Ultem fans for installation in fuel cells being tested and installed on operating automobiles. The RenCast 2000 (resin)/Ren2000 (hardener) epoxy selected for the tools is designed to withstand the temperatures and pressures required to injection mold engineering thermoplastic prototypes and short-run parts. In addition to the HDT mentioned, the material has an ultimate compressive strength of 38,000 psi and a tensile strength of 11,000 psi.

Fan Design

For the fuel cell project, PADT was asked to mold 50 to 70 functional, multi-finned blowers. Engineers developed the design according to customer specifications, producing a fan-like blade that provides for high airflow at low pressure. When virtual simulation tests indicated that the design satisfied the performance criteria for the part, a stereolithography (SL) master was built. The model was then used to confirm the finite-element analysis results, verifying that the 3-D solid blower had the same airflow characteristics as the virtual part. The SL master performed as expected and technicians began building an epoxy injection mold. Schanze says, “Once we had the SL master, it took us about two weeks to build the epoxy tooling and mold 25 parts for initial testing. Developing the tools was the most difficult task because of the multiple fins on the part.”

Tool Production

Moldmakers started by fabricating mold forms that would be used in casting the 10 blower fins. For the forms, epoxy putty was packed under each blade on the SL model. Each section cured for 5 minutes before being demolded and then sequentially numbered. When all mold forms were complete, edges were machined smooth. Then, an aluminum box was assembled around the fully released SL master and epoxy putty mold forms.

Next, the moldmakers poured mixed RenCast 2000 epoxy around the pattern so that it was completely encapsulated. The mold half was placed in a pressure chamber and allowed to cure overnight until the epoxy reached a rigid state.

After the cured mold was removed from the aluminum box, registration shapes were machined into the parting surface. The mold half was then thoroughly released and set back into the box. Epoxy was mixed and poured over the SL master, the forms, and the first mold half, and then allowed to cure overnight in the pressure chamber. Time to set up the master, make the two mold halves, and build the inserts totaled about 40 hours.

To cast epoxy fins for the injection mold, all mold surfaces were thoroughly released. Then, moldmakers installed the five even-numbered epoxy putty mold forms in the top half of the mold and cast the odd-numbered sections. The cast sections cured overnight in the pressure chamber and then the even-numbered epoxy putty mold forms were removed. Next, the remaining fins were cast between the odd-numbered epoxy sections and cured overnight in the pressure chamber.

To complete the mold, all tool pieces were post-cured in an oven for 3 hours at 140F (60C), followed by 6 hours at 302F (150C).

Part Processing

To prepare for the injection of the Ultem parts, the two mold halves were installed in steel jackets. Mold inserts were then put in place and the completed tools were placed in the injection press. To warm the mold and optimize its durability, technicians started by making a series of short shots, slowly bringing the epoxy tool up to the desired 180F to 200F (82C to 93C) surface temperature.

At this point, part production began using the fastest possible cycle time to ensure a relatively constant, warm mold temperature. (See Table 1, opposite, for processing parameters.) At the outset of the project, engineers had planned to incorporate heating cartridges in the tools to control mold temperature. However, this would have added time and expense to the tool production. Ultimately, the decision was made to simply cast the tool from the aluminum-filled epoxy.

“With the filled epoxy, we get some thermal conductivity in the tool. This allows us to inject resin until it skins and then pressurize and pack the plastic until the part is complete. Using this technique, we reduce shrinkage and ensure high-quality parts,” Schanze explains.

“Working with the RenCast aluminum-filled epoxy, we’re able to quickly cast injection molds and make from 100 to 1000 complex thermoplastic parts for prototyping as well as low-volume and initial part production,” Schanze adds.

Metal prototypes in epoxy tools


For fast production of metal prototypes and low-volume parts, PADT and its customers are increasingly turning to metal injection molding (MIM). The powder-metal parts can be produced at a substantial cost savings compared with machined metal. In service, they exhibit strength and modulus characteristics comparable to wrought metal and surpass the mechanical properties of metal parts produced via investment casting, forging, or machining. Because the powder-metal comprises varied particle sizes and shapes, the resulting parts are significantly stronger than those generated via stereolithography. In addition, powder-metal has a consistent shrinkage of 12% to 16% depending on formulation. This shrinkage is easily compensated for in model and mold design to produce highly accurate parts. The primary limitation of MIM is the cost; it’s economical only for small parts weighing up to 200g with wall thicknesses of less than .25 inch.

Processing the metal—a low-melt binder mixed with 60% to 70% metal powder—is similar to molding with plastics. Schanze explains, “Like plastics injection molding, each MIM project must be carefully evaluated before beginning to analyze shape and design areas that might pose molding or demolding challenges. In addition, variables in feedstock formulations including the type of binder being used, metal particle/grain size and shape distribution, and the mix between water- and gas-atomized particles must be considered.”


RenCast epoxy molds are produced for MIM following the same techniques used for plastics injection tools. “The major difference is in the gating. MIM gates have to feed directly into the mold and the tools can’t be warmed using short shots,” Schanze says. In addition, unlike plastics injection molding, MIM uses low pressure with mold surfaces maintained at about 150F (66C), depending on the binder system. Tools are air-cooled with mold temperature determined in large part by the binder system. According to Schanze, the “waxier” the binder system, the cooler the mold can be run. (See Table 2 for typical MIM parameters.)

Once molded, “green” metal parts are sent out for debinding and sintering. Most of the binders used by PADT are debound using water; thermal and catalytic debinding are also sometimes used. Parts are then placed in a sintering furnace and heated at progressively increasing temperatures until the metal begins to melt at about 2550F (1400C). At this point, the temperature is reduced to about 77F (25C) over a 30- to 40-minute period to ensure that the parts hold their shape as molded.

Contact information

Huntsman Advanced Materials, RenShape
Solutions Tooling Group
East Lansing, MI
Kurt Frischmann
(517) 351-5900
[email protected]
www.renshape.com

Phoenix Analysis & Design
Technologies
Tempe, AZ
Mark Schanze
(480) 813-4884
[email protected]
www.padtinc.com

Market Snapshot: Appliances

Appliance manufacturers introduce significantly new products about every five years, such as this Neptune washer and dryer set from Maytag.
In a year of reduced consumer confidence, which translates into reduced spending, the appliance industry managed to hold its own thanks primarily to increased productivity and reduced costs to manufacture by many of its suppliers.

That’s certainly been the name of the game for Moll Industries’ Ft. Smith, AR, molding facility. That plant operates around the clock, molding for some of the major appliance manufacturers. Ron Embree, VP of operations for Moll Industries, says that as a supplier, the company is seeing “a great deal of pressure from low-cost manufacturing regions of the world,” particularly Mexico and Asia. Low-cost appliances are making inroads into the U.S. market, which challenges U.S. molders to help hold the line as their OEM customers seek to retain market share.

“Pricing pressures on us are very high,” says Embree, adding that the Ft. Smith facility, which runs 49 presses, 100 to 720 tons, is implementing more automation and lean manufacturing methods, as well as detailed material selections in an effort to consolidate material buys and leverage the resin suppliers.

Tightening the Belt
Here are the bitter facts: A report released recently by the Assn. of Home Appliance Manufacturers (AHAM, Washington, DC) shows that between 1997 and 2000, the value of major appliance shipments in the U.S. increased 14.4 percent while material costs rose 21.7 percent (Table 1). Labor costs increased 16.5 percent. This allowed only a 1 percent increase in the value added by manufacturers in excess of materials and payroll.

“That may be great news for consumers, but it is brutal competition for manufacturers,” says Jill Notini, director of communications and marketing for AHAM. An AHAM report also notes that “people are hanging on to appliances longer since 1990,” 6.8 years for disposers to 11.2 years for freezers.

However, Moll’s Embree notes that demand for components “has been pretty consistent” with previous years, even with the consumer confidence level down. “[Our customers] are holding their own or increasing a bit, but this is not a rapid growth market anyway,” he says, adding that Moll’s OEM clients have some new products on the market such as the Neptune and Calypso washers, and new refrigerators. “These appliance manufacturers have a go-around about every five years as they introduce new products, and it’s that time again.”

Still, keeping the work in the U.S. is a major challenge. Appliances represent a $20 billion industry, according to AHAM, and remaining competitive is its primary focus. “Our members are concerned that the cost impact of the steel tariffs on domestic steel as well as the uncertainty they are experiencing over assured supplies of steel will hasten the trend towards offshore manufacturing,” says Notini. “The losers will be some of the hundreds of thousands of domestic manufacturing employees in our industries.”

Moving to Mexico
Following its own directive to stay competitive, Maytag Appliances (Newton, IA) announced recently its intention to close its Galesburg, IL refrigeration products facility as part of an ongoing cost-improvement initiative and unveiled a new refrigeration production strategy that will enable the company to produce refrigerators more profitably.

As previously reported (September 2002 IMM), plans call for the construction of a new refrigeration production facility in Reynosa, Mexico. The new plant, expected to open in late 2003, will be located on the site of an existing Maytag assembly operation and will manufacture side-by-side refrigerator models.

“The changes that we intend to make in our refrigeration business are critical to improving our profitability in the very competitive appliance marketplace,” said Bill Beer, president, in a prepared statement. “Our new expansion in Reynosa will allow us to achieve the important quality improvement and cost benefits in our new assembly facility that we are already realizing in our Reynosa components parts production.”

Some molders are heading for the border to get in on any opportunity to mold for the appliance industry that thrives there, specifically in cities such as Reynosa and Juarez. El Paso, TX, just across the Rio Grande River from Juarez, is home to several maquiladora companies such as Eureka, which has large molding facilities on both sides of the border. Eureka makes a complete line of floor and carpet cleaning equipment.

Justin Wiberg and partner Daryl Hennick opened a molding facility in El Paso to capture some appliance business. “We’re doing a lot of work for the appliance market, particularly small appliances,” says Wiberg. The new company, Global Plastics, currently operates four all-electric molding machines up to 240 tons. Wiberg says he’s quoting more appliance business of late, which could result in the company possibly getting two more machines.

WaDal Plastics (Medford, WI) also opened a facility in El Paso. As a Tier Two supplier to the appliance industry, WaDal followed customers to the border where some labor-intensive work had been transferred. “We went there to take advantage of the opportunities,” says WaDal’s sales manager Reed Eldred, adding that the facility opened with two presses but is looking to add more in 2003. “We’re seeing a lot of responsibility placed on our customers’ shoulders to provide the OEM with an entire component, so this has given us a chance to enhance our engineering, part design, and modeling capabilities.”

IMM’s 10th Anniversary series: Never give up

As IMM has grown over its 10 years of publication, several companies we’ve visited have also seen great changes. This revisit of Quebec-based Precimold Inc. kicks off IMM’s 10th Anniversary Series, and gives a glimpse of the changing molding and toolmaking times.

Gunter Weiss (center), president of Precimold Inc., is flanked by Daniel Marginson, his new GM (left), and Ron Desjardins, his first salesperson, both of whom share his belief that it’s the end result of parts and not their end price that means the most to customers.
A noted Victorian-era art critic and social commentator named John Ruskin (1819-1900) once wrote:

It is unwise to pay too much, but it is worse to pay too little. When you pay too much, you lose a little money—that is all. When you pay too little, you sometimes lose everything, because the thing you bought was incapable of doing the thing it was bought to do. The common law of business balance prohibits paying a little and getting a lot—it cannot be done. If you deal with the lowest bidder, it is well to add something for the risk you run, and if you do that you will have enough to pay for something better.

An anonymous author was more succinct, saying:

Buy cheap, buy twice.

The first quote hangs on the wall beside the desk of Gunter Weiss, 68, president of Precimold Inc., a small moldmaker and custom molder. IMM first toured Precimold in 1994 (July 1994 IMM), revisiting the company in 1998 (August 1998 IMM). Since 2001, Precimold’s workforce has been cut by 25 percent. Sales are down by more than 50 percent. It runs one shift, sometimes two, but rarely three. Business was lost to Mexico and then to China.

From 3-D Mastercam programs, three new high-speed CNC mills machine cavities into hardened steel in a fraction of the time it took with EDM. Tiny, complex, hardened steel core pins that once took 2 hours to grind are now done in 15 minutes. And large acetal pulleys are machined
at 3000 RPM in only 2 minutes.
Weiss did not wait for conditions to improve before he made strategic personnel changes and capital investments, to adapt Precimold to the changing times.

His hourly rates, however, remain unchanged. He refuses to give price reductions to customers unless he can reduce his own manufacturing costs to meet them. Most are willing to pay. They have come to believe Weiss when he says:

If I can’t do it, it can’t be done.

Priceless Experience
Precimold is still is one of the best-known secrets in the industry—a top-quality supplier of first-of-a-kind precision molded components weighing as little as .0005g, with tolerances down to ±.005 mm, run in problem-solving, unit-frame molds covered by unconditional lifetime guarantees. For 36 years Precimold has often been the last stop for many multinational giants, the last place at which they find out if their impossible part designs have any possibility of ever being molded.

“Precimold is the Chinese alternative,” says Weiss. “Although they have the people, the machines, and the knowledge, we have the experience. Nobody can duplicate a mind. Albert Einstein said, ‘Imagination is more important than knowledge.’ I believe that is true. And, like Thomas Edison said, ‘I’ve never failed—I’ve just found 10,000 ways that didn’t work.’ That’s where our experience comes from. Problems are there to be solved.”

Weiss has never been in it just for the money. He loves his work and it shows, particularly in his uncompromising pursuit of zero-defect part quality. Before they are shipped JIT, parts are sampled and checked against Precimold-determined criteria every hour. They are tested again every 4 hours, after 24 hours, and yet again after seven days. It was like that when IMM first toured in 1994. It’s like that today.

Precimold specialized in micromolding before the term gained popularity, and it still does. Regular company-wide performance and project update meetings are still being held, as are company-wide meetings with customers. Equipment standardization is still a company practice. And Weiss still drives his red 1989 Mercedes 560 SL two-seater.

But he says, “The industry’s changing. We’ve got to change with it.”

VITAL STATS: Precimold Inc. Candiac (Montréal) PQ

THEN (July 1994)

 

Square footage: 30,000
 
Annual sales: $2.5 million (CDN)

Markets served: Automotive, electronic, medical

Parts produced: 33 million/year

Materials processed: Primarily ETPs

Resin consumption: 317,000 lb/year

No. of employees: 28

Shifts worked: Two 12-hour shifts, five days/week

Molding machines: 18, 25 to 225 tons, Engel

Secondary operations: Insert molding, CNC machining of
 molded parts, CAD/CAM (TekSoft and Cadkey), hot stamping, painting, ultrasonic welding, assembly, special packaging

Internal moldmaking: Yes

Quality: ISO certification expected by summer.

NOW (January 2003)

Capital investment: $6 million (CDN)

Square footage: 48,000

Annual sales: $8 million (CDN)

Markets served: Automotive, electronic, medical

Parts produced: 40 million/year

Materials processed: Primarily ETPs

Resin consumption: 600,000 lb/year

No. of employees: 50

Shifts worked: Two 12-hour shifts, five days/week

Molding machines: 22, 25 to 300 tons, Engel; two 7-ton Nisseis

Secondary operations: Hot stamping, ultrasonic welding, CNC parts machining, special packaging, manual and fully automated assembly, contract manufacturing

Internal moldmaking: Yes

Quality: ISO 9002 (soon to be upgraded to ISO 9001:2000; obtaining certification to ISO 16949:2002, the upgrade of QS 9000) 

Managing Changes
Weiss has decided to pull back from the day-to-day of running his business. “I have a satellite mobile phone. My people can reach me any time, if they need to—even when I’m sailing in the Bahamas.”

With Precimold’s Shared Mold Frame tooling, customers pay for the core/cavity inserts only, which reduces lead times and cost. It molds ball bearing retainers with thin-wall sections out of a glass-filled, flame-retardant PA in this mold.
Weiss promoted Daniel Marginson to general manager. Marginson is an eight-year Precimold vet and honors graduate of McGill University and Dale Carnegie courses. He started as a molding technician and became production manager before his promotion.

“Precimold is not a one-man operation anymore, but we still call Gunter when we get stumped,” Marginson says. “We’re fortunate. Gunter’s open to our new ideas. He may disapprove sometimes but, even still, he’ll say, ‘Try it.’”

Weiss also recently hired his first salesperson. “You can’t sit back with a dry martini and wait for the work to come in anymore,” he says. “Times have changed.”

Ron Desjardins is Precimold’s business development manager. Desjardins has been in the business for more than 20 years and knows it inside and out. He was a purchasing agent, an ISO/QS internal auditor, and also worked as plant manager at many prominent firms, as well as an engineering manager for a Tier One automotive supplier. But he’s never been in sales.

Shared Mold Frame tools accommodating all of Precimold’s wide variety of standard, interchangeable inserts are even built for its small Nisseis, the only presses in the company’s dehumidified molding rooms without sprue pickers or robots.
Desjardins says, “I had a choice—going into sales at Precimold or going back into manufacturing. I didn’t want to go back there. Here I can project into the future, rather than react to hassles as they occur. It’s an easy company to sell and I don’t work alone. It’s a team. There’s enthusiasm.”

New Opportunities
Precimold has made substantial investments in new equipment to reduce manufacturing costs and bring in new business, including the following:

  • A 150-ton Engel two-component molding press that can run in either two-shot or coinjection modes. 
  • Three high-speed CNC mills. 
  • One CNC lathe. 
  • Custom-built automated assembly equipment. 
  • A new 2000A electrical substation. 
  • A stereo microscope for quality assurance.
    This sophisticated stereo microscope from Visionx Inc. (Pointe-Claire, PQ) takes microphotographs Precimold can e-mail to customers when it spots a defect. Customers decide if the part is still acceptable, even parts like this acetal worm gear, which must be measured to four decimal points.
    “How do you pay for new machines when you’re giving pricing give-backs to customers?” asks Weiss. “Other companies live with banks breathing down their necks. Precimold is debt-free. Everything in our plant is paid for. This is why I can survive these times.”

     

    Marginson says Precimold has added more contract manufacturing services to improve business growth, and now offers mold repair and refurb capabilities. It’s also providing consulting services on molding difficult parts.

    Meanwhile, Weiss is finding time to explore his own business opportunities. For example, he joined with close friend and inventor John Brain in creating Precision Concepts International, which will develop and manufacture innovative electronic products like solar-powered safety lights.

    While exhibiting at Plastec East 2001, Precimold was approached to mold a two-component part, but it lacked the proper kind of press. Mindful of the lost opportunity, Weiss left his booth, walked over to Engel’s, and purchased this 150-tonner for about $350,000. At the time this picture was taken it was running a zero-taper PP cosmetic powder container. His customer took the job to China, but last year’s West Coast longshoreman lockout brought it back. Fortunately, Weiss still had the mold.
    Weiss concludes, saying, “Have I retired? No. I just go home sooner. You never give up.”

    Contact information
    Precimold Inc.
    Candiac, PQ
    (450) 659-2921
    www.precimold.com

  • IMM’s Plant Tour: The comeback kids

    Gene R. Stull says his dream was to give his three sons the same opportunities he had. Jason (left), Jameson (right), and Gene R. Stull Jr. (who was away on business) are helping make their father’s dream come true.
    American molders face insidious competitive challenges to their survival and growth at every turn, from cunning foreign competitors to the guy across the street. Others face an often more baffling challenge even closer to home—for some, it’s a family affair.

    Stull Technologies (Somerset, NJ), a family-owned, third-generation U.S. molder of custom and proprietary closures, has seen it all. Family infighting over ownership and management nearly ruined its reputation and brought the company close to the brink of insolvency. Fortunately, with the help of a trusted consultant, the company survived. It has consolidated its operations and its customer base, made peace with the banks, and has recovered in better shape than ever.

    Stull Technologies opened for business in 1947 as Stull Engraving. Its founder, Morton Stull, a former Navy machinist, was a toolmaker. He purchased a manually operated Van Dorn to run his molds. One machine led to another and, over time, the company became a premier supplier of specialty closures, becoming Stull Closure Technologies in the early 1990s, and Stull Technologies in 1997.

    The founder’s son, Gene R. Stull, president and CEO, grew up in the shop. Today, he, his sons, and his workforce teammates have developed an inspired, lean-thinking plan of action for strong future growth by improving manufacturing efficiencies.
    They also plan to aggressively market Stull Technologies’ long-standing reputation as one of the most innovative developers of value-added specialty closures and packaging components. You’ll flip your lid over their latest breakthroughs. Let’s tour.

    All in the Family
    The company’s brightly lit product display room right off the main lobby houses the fully restored, vintage Van Dorn press. In a conference room nearby, Gene Stull tells us, “When mold sampling developed into full production runs, my dad built his own screw and barrel for the machine to increase its shot size. And when the machine needed a bigger hopper, he built one.” Basically, he rebuilt the entire machine. That kind of do-it-yourself problem solving is indicative of the Stull family’s legacy of innovation.

    During our discussion, Gene gives us a blow-by-blow of the trials and tribulations he’s endured in getting his company back on its feet after family infighting and bad management decisions had it almost down for the count.

    It started in the late 1980s with an argument over Gene’s wanting to bring in SPC. His father and uncle, president at the time, balked at the idea. It progressed into arguments with his brother over business ethics, which created considerable dissension in the workforce.

    After buying the company in 1997, Gene says he found it to be overleveraged. There was no money on hand to pursue new projects or to buy new equipment. At that time, the company operated three plants. One in Garfield, NJ was sold. The other operation in Randolph, NJ was brought into the Somerset plant. But the company was still on a downward spiral.
    “We were getting lean before the economy tanked,” Gene says. “We made moves to consolidate and cut costs due to our own business circumstances—not global competition.”

    Misjudgments were made by business professionals Gene had brought in, some from other industries. Key employees not wishing to move were lost in the consolidation. Consultants told Gene he faced a major problem in keeping the business. Bankers suggested he sell it off. Reluctantly, he began taking steps to do just that.

    Luckily, Gene met a turnaround specialist named Mark Russo, of South Street Capital Resources, in November 1999. Russo helped Stull analyze his products, consolidate his customer base, and create lean efficiencies to reduce wasteful manufacturing costs. More than $6 million in overhead was removed and Gene began to substantially pay down his bank loans.

    Stull Technologies, Somerset, NJ

    Square footage: 180,000
    Average annual sales: $20 million to $25 million
    Markets served: Closures for HBA, household chemicals, food, pharmaceutical, hobby, and other specialty markets
    Capital investment: $700,000
    Parts produced: 65 million to 75 million/month
    Materials processed: HDPE, LDPE, PE, PP, ABS, acrylic-modified PS
    Resin consumption: About 9 million lb/year
    No. of employees: About 120
    Shifts worked: Seven shifts, 24/7
    Molding machines: About 40, 100 to 500 tons, mostly Milacron
    Secondary operations: Assembly, closing, slitting, lining
    Internal moldmaking: No
    Quality: SPC, function testing, regularly audited by pharmaceutical and HBA customers

    “We asked our bank to look at our numbers,” says Stull. “It came back to us in December 2001 and said, ‘We have many problem loans on our desk. With the changes you’ve made, you’re not even on our radar screen.’ We asked them to reset our covenants and established a multiyear line through 2003. Today, Stull Technologies’ green light is on. We call ourselves the comeback kids.”

    A-E Stands for All-efficient
    We’re joined in the conference room by one of Gene’s three sons, Jason W. Stull. Business development and analysis is Jason’s job. He explains that what we’ll see out on the shop floor is a work in progress. Then he shows us charts of the detailed, multiphased plans Stull Technologies has drawn up to improve its manufacturing efficiencies.

    By the end of last year, Stull Technologies had scraped and painted the floors up to its molding machines, painted the ceilings, put in more skylights, and replaced the ones it had. It continues to implement robotics, install vision systems, and move toward replacing inspection bins with more advanced automated systems.

    Centralized chillers were upgraded, as were pumps and additional energy-monitoring systems to improve efficiencies and further reduce overhead. And the company is looking at methods to recycle the heat off the shop floor into offices, all according to plan.

    Last June, the company purchased three 330-ton Powerline all-electric machines from Milacron. Public Service Electric & Gas, its electric utility, awarded the company an incentive for buying such energy-efficient presses. Stull Technologies had already purchased two 110-ton Roboshot injection molding machines and one 330-ton Powerline in 1998 as a test machine. Jason says the guys on the floor loved it. Stull Technologies has two more on order as part of its phase one modernization plan, with more to come.

    “The thought of our buying a hydraulic press again doesn’t make sense,” says Gene. “The power savings we’ve achieved are unbelievable.”

    “That’s true, they are more efficient,” Jason says. “We get anywhere from two to four times better efficiency with them than with our hydraulics. There’s minimal power draw when the all-electrics are idle. To support our current business production, we will be able to go from using the 40 or so molding machines we have now down to 30, improving our production capacity while reducing our manufacturing overhead. We also plan to bring in additional electrics to support new business, allowing us to grow more efficiently.

    “But, we may not become an all all-electric plant,” Jason adds. “Our six 500-ton Milacron hydraulics have been fitted with a number of special energy-saving features. Who knows what new machinery innovations will emerge over the next few years? We don’t want to feel like we’re locked into anything. Our goal is improving our efficiencies. Rather than being an all-electric facility, we’d prefer to be an all-efficient one.”

    An Innovative Difference
    Back in the conference room after our tour of the facility, Gene Stull tells us how he’s been pulling back from the business end of running the company, instead concentrating more on what’s always been his first love—namely, product development, design, and technical services.

    Stull Technologies plans to differentiate itself from its competitors by positioning itself as an extension of its customers’ R&D and product marketing departments. It is committed to anticipating changes in market trends and responding proactively to help its customers improve the appearance, function, and convenience of their products. This pays off for customers, he says, in better brand loyalty, name recognition, and consumer appeal.

    One of the most recent examples of this commitment to innovation is the first cosmetic senior-friendly, child-resistant closure on the market, a product trademarked “Stullsure.” It was introduced last summer in anticipation of new safety regulations effective October 2002. The regulations concern products containing 10 percent hydrocarbons by weight, such as baby oil, fingernail enamel remover, and sunscreen. The Stullsure is a one-piece, flip-top closure that fixes to the bottle and incorporates a patent-pending latching feature that automatically locks when closed.

    Stull Technologies is currently pursuing and designing rotating stack mold technology as a means of producing single injection components as well as creating the next generation of multimolded closures. The Stullbright closure is one such multi-injection design, and guides consumers directly to the intended product, screaming, “Buy me!” from the store shelves. Other truly innovative products still on the drawing board were shown to us, but our lips are sealed.

    “As long as you continue with what we have seen today, you are the type of supplier we want.” That’s what Stull Technologies’ biggest customer told the molder after visiting the plant late last year.

    A week later, at the company’s Employee Appreciation Day, Gene said, “When a company or an individual has lost the respect of others, or its reputation, it takes a long time to regain it. Many times it doesn’t happen . . . all we can ask for is a chance, and if we are given that chance, then it is up to us to make our hopes and dreams come true. We are being given that chance by our number one customer and many others.” Stull Technologies has a plan in place for building its dream one day at a time.

    Contact information
    Stull Technologies, Somerset, NJ
    Jason W. Stull; (732) 873-7112
    www.stulltech.com

    CAE for plastics, Part 2: An implementation primer

    Most, if not all, designs for IM plastic parts are now being created with a CAD package, whether 2-D or 3-D. Using CAE doesn’t end here, however. To take advantage of moldfilling analysis, the next logical step, designers must do one of two things: purchase analysis services from an outside firm, or add the necessary software and infrastructure.

    In this second part of the series, we will concentrate on implementing CAE in-house. Doing so without prior planning can bring on a host of difficulties, according to implementation specialists at Moldflow Corp., supplier of various moldfilling analysis packages. But this need not be the case. Following some guidelines and answering a few questions before adding this CAE element can make the switch less chaotic and more immediately productive.

    We asked the experts at Moldflow several questions aimed at this goal. Their answers provide details on taking the headaches out of this major change in the design process.

    Which factors should molders and OEMs consider when changing to a CAE-based environment?

  • Study benefits. From a detailed return on investment (ROI) study, it should be determined what benefits a successful implementation of CAE technology would provide. Ask these questions: What CAE products will be used? By how many analysts? On how many projects per year? Which projects should and should not be subject to CAE analysis? Be aware that it is important to consider CAE products based on a broader ROI potential, not just on the cost of the software license.
  • Promote enthusiasm. Willingness to truly integrate CAE analysis into the workflow is necessary. To realize the most effective implementation, CAE analysis should be used proactively in the design cycle, where it can have the biggest impact on the bottom line. Be willing to implement results of the CAE analysis.
  • Added considerations. Before deciding to bring CAE analysis capabilities in-house, manufacturers also must consider:
    1. Who will be in charge of finding the right CAE products for this operation?
    2. Are there appropriate computer resources available?
    3. What are the computer hardware requirements for the CAE products being considered?
    4. Are there appropriate personnel resources available?
    5. Do information technology or systems administration staff members need to be involved?
    6. Who will run the software?
    7. Who will be responsible for implementing the results?

    What is the logical path to take to ensure that the CAE system selected is best suited to a particular manufacturing environment?
    First, it is important to identify shortcomings in the current design cycle (without CAE), and associate costs with those problems. The next step involves defining both requirements of the CAE product needed to resolve current problems, and the budget available.

    Moldflow suggests meeting with CAE providers to discuss these findings and developing a partnership to discover the solutions. Set up product demonstrations based on your toughest designs. This way you can verify that the candidate CAE product is able to address current problems.

    Evaluate potential providers, considering the future of each company and its products. Ask these questions:
    1. What customer support is available?
    2. What type of training is offered?
    3. Will the product continue to be developed to address industry changes?

    Implementation benefits abound

    Rochester, NY-based Jada Plastics is a custom injection molder running 28 machines ranging from 60 to 390 tons. Its 70 employees work around the clock five days a week. The company typically molds small to medium, tightly toleranced mechanical components for the automotive and office equipment markets. David Crispino, president and mechanical engineer, performs all flow analysis using Moldflow Fusion and Flow modules.

    Whenever Jada accepts a new job, the first thing Crispino and his team do is evaluate the work from a molder’s perspective. “We try to understand the features and components of the design that inhibit us from molding it successfully or explore what options we can change to make it more moldable,” says Crispino. He says they study issues such as tool design, gating, and cooling. 

    “In addition, we also look closely at elements that are involved in adhering to tight tolerances,” he explains. “We ask, ‘How are we going to measure the part after we mold it?’ When working with plastic parts, there are usually some challenges in this area. We are not measuring screw machine parts that have nice, true surfaces. Because of these issues, we believe in spending a lot of upfront time in these types of activities.”

    Crispino uses the software to evaluate and determine gate locations, for instance, to make sure weldlines do not appear in critical areas, to eliminate the possibilities of air traps, and to establish accurate pressures to fill. “Since installing the software, we’ve found that our intuitive choices are not always correct,” he says. 

    Jada also uses the software as a troubleshooting tool. “We might use Moldflow to iterate on a design and rerun an analysis,” Crispino notes. “Based on our findings, we can propose an alternate design to a part that will help in molding it. It definitely enhances our credibility when we can show our customer an analysis in a current design and then as a modified design with a flow analysis that confirms why a change is necessary.”

    Recently, an automotive supplier approached Jada Plastics with an existing part—a decorative component of a wiper system. The part had an inherent air trap that caused the scrap rate to climb to 35 percent, forcing a secondary sort. 

    “We analyzed the existing part and gate locations,” says Crispino, “and created the air trap within the existing model. Then, we made modifications to the wall thicknesses and the gate locations. Lastly, we performed a final flow analysis. In the end, we created a design that eliminates the air trap. We presented this new design to our customer, showing them the animation of the two models, before and after. The result was a very powerful and convincing tool to persuade the customer that the latter design change was meaningful and should be adopted. They agreed and today the parts are being generated at a near-zero scrap rate.”

    What objections must be overcome to get CAE technology implemented at a new customer site?

  • The technology is too expensive or not in the budget.   
  • There’s no appropriate user on staff.   
  • The CAE product doesn’t apply specifically to the process being used.   
  • Material suppliers provide analyses.   
  • The number of analyses run per year will not be sufficient to make up for the implementation cost.   
  • It will be too difficult to implement the CAE product effectively, i.e., early in the design process to realize maximum potential benefits.

    What kind of problems may be encountered in getting an installation up and running?
    Computer resources may be inadequate compared to CAE system requirements. CAE software that is not installed correctly can create glitches. Additionally, users must be trained properly and receive adequate support from internal group members.
    Implementing too slowly can introduce its own difficulties. When there is a long delay between the decision to buy a CAE product and installation, enthusiasm for the change in process can plummet.

    It is also important that there is a commitment from the company as a whole to using CAE.

    Watch also that CAE is implemented properly in the development process. If it is used reactively to solve problems rather than actively to prevent problems, resentment can surface.

    Implementation
    Finally, we asked Moldflow to provide an implementation checklist, one that lists each step mentioned above in chronological order:
    1. What are your immediate and long-term needs from a CAE system?
    2. Are products available to meet them?
    3. Do you have a budget, computer resources, and personnel that can be allocated for a CAE system?
    4. Have you received a product demo and are clear what it can deliver?
    5. Are you willing to make CAE analysis a constant part of your workflow?
    6. What kind of support structure is in place so that the analyst(s) can be part of a problem-solving team, with access to the CAE tools to simulate possible solution ideas coming from any number of people within the team?
    7. Are you open-minded about implementing suggestions from CAE?
    8. Have priorities been set to evaluate which projects will likely offer the biggest payback in terms of cost savings, quality improvement, and time-to-market savings?
    9. Have you completed an ROI study to ensure that the CAE system will be worthwhile?
    10. Who will be responsible for system installation, licensing, and updates?
    11. Who will be responsible for running the CAE system, and have they been properly trained?

    Contact information
    Moldflow Corp., Wayland, MA
    (508) 358-5848; www.moldflow.com

  • Low-dewpoint, twin-bed desiccant dryers

    product_jan_02 (10K)GS Series dryers are designed for molders who want quick startup as well as quick shipping capabilities. These are low-dewpoint, twin-bed desiccant dryers. The user interface allows an operator to rapidly set up and start the drying process. The unit includes a seven-day clock, material-saver functions, and an optional dewpoint meter.

    All components are easily accessible and the units can be used beside the machine or mounted on a portable frame and beam stand.

    The TSC drying hopper is all stainless steel, with a solid cone and seamless interior. The drying system is also available with a dry-air conveying package to efficiently transport all dried resin. Depending on the resin, the drying capacity ranges from 20 to 250 lb/hr. Drying temperatures range from 140 to 350F.

    Universal Dynamics, Woodbridge, VA
    (703) 491-2191
    www.unadyn.com

    Replacement date insert arrows for 2003

    product_jan_02 (10K)Cumsa brand date insert 2003 arrows can be replaced while the mold is in the machine for fast, simple changeover. The insert is designed so that the surface is flat and parallel, no matter what position the arrow points. The arrows can be screwed in and out of the insert and set with a screwdriver. The design reportedly ensures alignment and produces an audible click when the arrow is fully installed in the seated position.

    The date inserts are said to provide clarity and depth of markings. They are available in a variety of sizes with various markings?i.e., hour, day, shift, month, and year. The arrows are guaranteed worldwide when used in conjunction with Cumsa brand inserts.

    PCS Co., Fraser, MI
    (800) 521-0546; www.pcs-company.com

    Mold-temperature controls designed for operating ease

    product_jan_01 (9K)A variety of features are common across an entire line of liquid-circulating mold temperature controls. High-capacity pumps in ratings from 3¼4 to 71¼2 hp come with bronze or stainless steel impellers to create turbulent flow.

    Long-life, low-watt-density Incoloy heaters from 9 to 24 kW reportedly resist corrosion better than copper or stainless steel. High-quality solenoid valves are said to ensure precise temperature control. An adjustable water supply pressure switch prevents operation at low supply pressure. A bypass line protects the heater and pump if process flow is shut off. The pump seal is made of leak-resistant material and is designed to last the life of the equipment. The unit provides removable side, top, and front panels for ease of access. The manufacturer can customize units with preengineered options or build custom-designed temperature controls for special applications.

    Berg Chilling Systems
    Scarborough, ON
    (416) 755-2221; www.berg-group.com

    Conveyor gently handles pet preforms

    product_jan_02 (10K)The Soft-Tec conveyor handles injection molded PET preforms. It?s designed to minimize the potential for preform damage during transfer from the injection molding press to the accumulation gaylord.

    The Soft-Tec conveyor was developed to gently transfer and load high-volume PET preforms from the injection molding press into two gaylords. Depending on the configuration of the injection molding presses, the conveyor can mate directly with the existing under-the-press conveyor or with a Tec-supplied prefeed conveyor. From this point the product can be moved into the Soft-Tec conveyor.

    The gentle drop of PET preforms into gaylords is ensured by an ultrasonic sensor and comprehensive control package. Mounted to the discharge end of the conveyor, the ultrasonic sensor registers the distance from the discharge end of the conveyor to the product deposited into the gaylord. This distance is fed into the controls, and the conveyor incrementally elevates to maintain constant distance resulting in a soft landing. Once the first gaylord is full, as determined by a preset number of injection molding press cycles, the conveyor automatically repositions itself to fill the second gaylord.

    In addition to a V-guide belt-tracking system, the Soft-Tec features a one-piece, 11-gauge CRS frame and slider bed.

    Tec Engineering, Oxford, MA
    (508) 987-0231; www.tecautomation.com

    Forming system creates IMD inserts concurrently

    A new forming system for inmold decorating (IMD) film inserts is capable of handling two jobs simultaneously. The DuoForm film insert thermoforming machine is a sheetfed system that uses two 15.7-by-5.7-inch forming mold set bases. Each mold set base has its own press and air-pressure tank. By sequentially indexing in and out of the heating chamber, the bases allow one job to form on both bases or two different jobs to form at the same time. The DuoForm is reportedly accurate enough to create inmold heating to optimize stability on a variety of substrates. This maximizes part shaping control, which lowers overall part rejects. Additional features of the DuoForm include forming tolerance of ±.1 mm, 12- to 30-second cycle times, cavity register pins, distortion control of each cavity, and easy access for the hand-loading of materials on pins.

    Preco Industries Inc., Lenexa, KS
    (913) 541-9088; www.precoindustries.com