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Articles from 1997 In September


Moldmaking alliances = package solutions

A high degree of automation of tools, parts, and process control allows Husky's plate manufacturing line to operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The more than 25,000-sq-ft facility specializes in the design and manufacture of hot runner systems for a wide variety of molding applications, and molds for PET bottle preforms and thin-wall containers.
Since it began, Husky Injection Molding Systems (Bolton, ON) has focused on providing complete mold, molding machine, and product handling system solutions to its customers. However, Husky recently restructured its own moldmaking strategies to concentrate on better serving its core customers. Today, Husky builds only PET preform and thin-wall container tooling. In the meantime, though, Husky introduced its G series of general-purpose molding machines, bringing it into a number of different, nontraditional markets, like medical, telecommunications, cosmetics, and automotive.

In March, Husky formally launched a new program that will expand its ability to provide complete system solutions to customers in its noncore tooling markets. On a project-by-project basis, Husky has begun partnering with moldmakers that already specialize in serving such markets. Its new Mold Alliance program gives Husky's sales force the ability to provide an alliance partner's mold with a Husky molding machine and product handling auxiliaries in a fully tested system, thereby expanding and diversifying the company's customer base.

Al Robinson, Husky's Mold Alliance manager, says the customer is the biggest beneficiary: "Our customers are ensured the best solution no matter what their application, and they can deal with a single supplier source for all equipment and integration services."

Husky describes its Mold Alliance partners as being world-class moldmakers. Each specializes in a certain range and type of mold. Many of the current alliance partners have demonstrated their expertise through existing relationships with Husky. Many are long-time customers of Husky's hot runners, for instance.

Alliance partners currently include the likes of Unique Mould Makers, Tech Mold, Top-Grade, Precise, and Reddog. Another alliance partner and long-time customer is Weber Manufacturing Ltd. (Midland, ON). As a matter of fact, the concept of the Mold Alliance program was something Weber had also been considering.

An Alliance Partner Profile

Jerry Smith is sales and marketing manager at Weber Manufacturing. "We were the first moldmaker to begin discussions with Husky leading up to the creation of the Mold Alliance program, even though we weren't the first partner," Smith says, smiling. That honor went to Top-Grade Machining, a leading maker of pail molds, since Husky was closing down its industrial container mold plant in Auburn, MA and needed to continue to meet customer demand during the Auburn plant phaseout. Curiously, Smith believes that the alliance concept originally proposed was considered as a viable possibility by Husky because, unlike Top-Grade and other companies that are now alliance partners, Weber was never a direct competitor of Husky's moldmaking activities before Husky restructured its moldmaking strategies.

Weber Manufacturing, through its two divisions, Weber Tool & Mold and Nickel Tooling Technology, specializes in big molds - molds greater than 3 ft square for molding machines 1000 tons and up to 9000 tons, and molds for pallets, TVs, appliances, aerospace, and automotive.

Weber is big in automotive. Within the year, it expects to receive its TE 9000 certification (a spin-off of the Big Three's QS 9000 for toolmakers). And it has been a customer of Husky hot runners over the years, even though it also builds its own. In fact, Weber is building some big tooling for Saturn right now with Husky hot runners.

Weber, with average sales of $20 million this year, ships molds worldwide for all major molding processes, and employs 147 people, 85 percent of whom are designers, programmers, moldmakers, master moldmakers, and NC machinists. For the past 30 years, Reinhart Weber, chairman, has built one of the most technologically advanced moldmaking operations anywhere in the world.

Since 1992, Weber has invested almost $20 million in sophisticated capital equipment and in building and construction. Its capabilities sheet is the stuff of dreams. One of its most spectacular recent acquisitions is a $3 million Ingersoll full five-axis CNC high-speed machining center with five interchangeable spindles. Weber bought its first NC machine in 1979. Today all machines are NC or CNC with more than 80 percent being CNC in the 100,000-sq-ft facility.

For example, when it comes to programming, all of Weber's machines are networked to Weber's engineering offices through its own company intranet. Disks are only occasionally used. Neither are drawing tables. CAD/CAM is used 100 percent of the time. Weber has 34 Silicon Graphics workstations, running Camax Camand and Euclid/Matravision ware. The entire plant is online, and Weber also is online with its customers. Weber has been actively using the Internet for years. It uses e-mail extensively ([email protected]), has its own website (www.weberman.on.ca), and almost always now works with customers who transfer mold design data via FTP through the Internet.

Weber Manufacturing feels no urgent need to pressure Husky into landing projects through the Mold Alliance program. Nevertheless, Smith believes the program will eventually lead Weber to new customers it can pursue here at home and in the global marketplace, like South America, where the business for big molds has big potential. It's a win-win situation for Husky, too. "By working with such moldmakers, we can provide better local support, and supply complete systems to a wider variety of customers," says Robert Schad, president of Husky Injection Molding Systems.

Settling into a strategic partnership

Patenaude has been in the toolmaking business since 1966. After vocational school, he served an apprenticeship with moldmaker Osley & Whitney (where his father, also a toolmaker, was employed). Following a stint in Vietnam with the Marines, he left Osley & Whitney to follow a vice president of that company who was starting Wilderness. Over the years, Patenaude worked his way up to vice president of Wilderness, and when the owners retired in 1992, he purchased the business from them.

The relationship between the moldmaker and the molder, however, had begun in 1986, when Patenaude saw a "need for a means of testing tools prior to sending them to customers, a need to debug them so that when the customers received them, they could just put them in the press and begin production runs."

So in 1986 he formed a 50-50 partnership with Ralph Healy and together they opened Mill Valley Molding. "We had difficulty at first convincing people to give us molding," Patenaude says, "because we weren't molders, we were moldmakers. We had to keep going back and knocking on their doors. After a while, they got tired of our persistence and started giving us their problem molds. We were glad to take them, and because I was a moldmaker, we were good at troubleshooting what was wrong with the tool. We'd snap it out of the press, run it over here to Wilderness, fix the problem, run it back to Mill Valley, get it up and running, and go back to the customer with a box full of good parts. Customers were usually quite surprised." This experience, according to Patenaude, "quickly made us good molders and better moldmakers."

"Once Mill Valley became successful, we realized that what the customer is looking for is one-stop shopping - he wants as many services as he can possibly get in one place. So we began to customize the businesses toward providing that goal, offering between us everything from product design to materials selection to moldmaking to molding and first-article inspection to secondary and finishing services," Patenaude says.

In 1995, needing to expand the moldmaking facility, a decision was made to relocate Wilderness adjacent to Mill Valley's 15,000-sq-ft plant, which is situated next to an I-91 off-ramp. Any other location was never considered - in addition to the relationship between the two companies, "We have a highly skilled workforce with very little turnover and a lot of teamwork, and we didn't want to lose that," says Patenaude. Wilderness employs 50 people; none will have to relocate, as all will stay within easy commuting distance.

The new 23,750-sq-ft Wilderness facility, constructed to Patenaude's specifications, cost $2 million; economic assistance was provided by the Massachusetts Industrial Finance Agency, which Patenaude contacted on the advice of his lending institution, Springfield Institution for Savings. MIFA offered tax-exempt industrial bonds, which enabled Wilderness to secure a "very favorable" interest rate and "easy" financing. Equipment includes new state-of-the-art EDM and CNC machines, CNC grinding and machining centers, and CNC high-speed electrode manufacturing equipment. The company also provides in-house micro-arc welding and heat treating capabilities for fast turnaround. The new "high-tech facility and state-of-the-art equipment will soon give Wilderness world-class status," says Patenaude.

Today, as in the early days, the two companies remain separate. Healy runs Mill Valley full time, and Patenaude is in charge of Wilderness Mold. "We intentionally did not put the two companies under one roof," notes Patenaude. "Mill Valley is probably just 5 to 10 percent of my business and I still do most of my business with other molders. But being side by side with it is a nice customer convenience. Customers can choose the services they want without having to pay to support all the services offered by one company. Each of us is able to focus on our expertise, which keeps us flexible, and makes cost-effective sense for the customers." Patenaude sees one-stop shopping as the wave of the future, and points out a growing trend of large molders buying up tooling shops for that reason.

If there's anything he'd do differently, it's "begin earlier. People need to realize that it is going to take four to six months just to get through the permitting process alone. It can easily be six months before you can even break ground."

By Design: The Envy of the World

In this bimonthly column, Glenn Beall of Glenn Beall Plastics Ltd., Libertyville, IL, shares his special perspective on issues important to design engineers and the molding industry.

In June of 1997, the leaders of the world's major industrialized nations held their recurring "Summit of the Eight" meeting in Denver. This was perfect timing, as the highly regarded Swiss-based Lausanne Institute for Management Development's May 1997 report rated the United States as first in world competitiveness. A stable economy, with seven straight years of growth, has created new jobs and the lowest unemployment in 24 years. Capital spending is the highest in 60 years, while inflation has been kept low. Welfare spending is being addressed, and the national debt is at least being discussed. America was the envy of everyone present.

The widespread usage of plastics in all types of products speaks well to this industry's part in this achievement. The positive attitude of this year's record setting National Plastics Exposition also indicates enthusiasm for the future.

In the past, much was said and written about what America was going to have to do in order to survive a global economy. The U.S. has apparently learned how to use and capitalize on the new technological advances and management philosophies that we have been investing in for the past 15 years or so. The growth in the economy, coupled with advances in manufacturing technology, has once again converted the U.S. into a world class producer of goods and services. Congratulations are in order.

Highs and Lows

America has been a world leader in the past, but it was not always this way. The U.S. was the only major industrialized country whose manufacturing facilities were not destroyed during World War II. While the rest of the world rebuilt, the U.S. prospered by supplying others with credit, food, equipment, products, technical know-how, and a military defense against opportunistic aggressors. Regrettably, the U.S. fell prey to the complacency that so often accompanies prosperity. By the late 1940s and early '50s, the rest of the world had re-equipped itself with the very latest of everything, and the U.S. began to lose its competitive advantage.

Jolted out of its complacency, the manufacturing segment of the U.S. economy reorganized itself. All through the '60s and early '70s, the U.S. was once again leading the world. But we did not maintain the effort. The U.S. had rebuilt its manufacturing capability, but the traditional top-heavy corporate structure remained intact. This bureaucratic, top-down management style had exhausted itself in upgrading its production capability and declared that it needed and was entitled to a vacation.

As we rested on our laurels and enjoyed the good life, European and Asian cars began to appear on the highway. Consumer products with unrecognizable names appeared in every store. Those foreign-made products were accepted as consumers cast their purchasing vote in favor of a radical new marketing philosophy.

Quality vs. Cost

It was always understood that there was a price associated with quality. High-quality products with a lot of desirable features would, understandably, cost more. If the consumer couldn't afford that price, it was his problem and he was expected to be satisfied with a lower quality product with fewer features at a reduced price. Manufacturers appealed to the whole market by producing top-of-the-line and economy models of their products. The new marketing philosophy in the late 1970s was based on the premise that what consumers really wanted was the best of both, or a combination of high quality and lower cost. This new approach was absolutely correct and U.S. manufacturers were, once again, caught flat on their backs in a hammock.

Americans are, by habit or necessity, good at the game of catching up. A massive re-engineering of both management practices and manufacturing procedures has once again made the U.S. a world leader. Is this country now positioned to retain its competitive edge, or is re-engineering just another short-term quick fix? Is there something in the American system of things that dictates that a decline must follow every success?

The American Disease

Management consultant Norihiko Shimizu defines the "American Disease" in an article published in Tokyo Business. He speculates that as American companies become successful, too many of them also become arrogant. This is unjustifiably followed by a sense of overconfidence, based on past performances. These companies generally believe that they know what is best for themselves, their customers, and their suppliers. This know-it-all attitude leads to indifference and the philosophy that what made them successful in the past will work just as well in the future. Customers' wants and needs are constantly changing. Any company that ignores what the customer wants while it concentrates on its core business in order to maximize profits will not remain successful for very long. Any company that is indifferent as to what its competitors are doing is setting itself up to be bushwhacked in the market.

Shimizu goes on to say that the American Disease is contagious. He believes that many Japanese companies who were successful in the past have now contracted the American Disease. He blames the recent decline of Japan's economy, at least in part, on arrogance and a we-know-best attitude that has made it difficult for Japan to change with the times.

Future Threats

It is difficult to think of a logical justification for a roller coaster economy, where a decline follows every success. There are, however, serious threats to the future competitiveness of the U.S. To mention just a few: an undesirable change in the currency exchange rate could have a drastic effect on the global acceptance of American products and services.

Government regulations that interfere with commerce are another major threat. Industries requiring high labor input are still in danger of seeing their business lost to low labor rates around the world. But the biggest threat of all is the resurgence of the American Disease.

Future Solutions

It is easy to find fault with the politicians in Washington. It must be admitted, however, that in spite of its shenanigans, the government is stable and our fiscal policies have been favorable to commerce. About all that business people can do in this regard is to keep pressure on the politicians to continue these policies.

A part of Europe's current economic problems is due to overregulation. It is frightening to note that this country is adopting many of those same regulations - solid waste and take-back legislation, for example. Many multinational corporations are now demanding that their suppliers be ISO-certified for everything. They justify this on the basis that it makes it easier for them to do business in both the U.S. and Europe. What about the rest of the world? The effects of overregulation in Europe are apparent. Does the U.S. really want to copy the same system? The Society of the Plastics Industry (SPI) has the only worthwhile state and federal lobbying activity representing the interests of the plastics industry. All plastics industry companies who want to remain competitive should currently be supporting SPI's battle against this overregulation.

Industries requiring high labor input must continue to become more efficient. There are many new labor saving procedures, such as the use of robots and automated molding and assembly, that have not yet been fully utilized. Employee training in the plastics processing industry is still inadequate. Upgrading your employees will allow you to do more with what you are already paying for. Sending your labor intensive assembly or mold building offshore is only a temporary solution to the high labor rates being paid in America.

Success is a Journey, Not a Destination

Customers, stockholders, and employees always want more. Our competitors are always forcing us to do more. It would be fatal for the U.S. to, once again, relax and pause to enjoy the successes we've had in recent years. In the business world, success is a journey and not a destination. All of the elements that have once again made the United States first in world competitiveness are still present. All that is required is that we maintain the effort, while continuing to guard against the American Disease.

Bridging the project management gap for tools

Project management skills are sometimes sorely lacking at both custom molders and their OEM customers. This often leads to communication gaps and misunderstandings that can slow down the product development cycle resulting in costly delays in manufacturing.

Roland Krevitt learned this during 26 years of tooling and project management experience at Hewlett-Packard, Atari, and most recently Apple Computer as a tooling program manager. Downsizing in large corporations has often resulted in those OEMs placing the burden of major design engineering decisions on their molders and moldmakers (see "Can You Live Without the Tooling Engineer?" September 1993 IMM, p. 59). These vendors however, often complain that OEMs don't know what they want, forcing moldmakers to make decisions for their customers.

Krevitt agrees. "The biggest problem is that even big OEMs often don't know specifically what kind of help they need," he says. "I assumed it was true with small companies that didn't know what they needed, or didn't think they could afford to have the resources in-house," but project management problems afflict companies large and small. "Many of these big guys got rid of a lot of very talented and very knowledgeable people - key resources - when they wielded the ax in the name of reducing costs," Krevitt says. "They created a void I can fill while saving the ever sacred head count." So he has founded Redwood Engineering Co. (Scotts Valley, CA), to fill the role as a facilitator or matchmaker, as he calls himself. Krevitt offers management assistance to OEMs, molders, and moldmakers to keep projects running smoothly.

For OEMs, Krevitt's contract services include facilitating communication between industrial designers, product designers, moldmakers, molders, and manufacturers, finding the right moldmaker and molder for the job, assisting with the dreaded quoting process, managing the mold build, and directing mold tryouts and vendor troubleshooting.

Redwood Engineering also provides manufacturing feasibility evaluations including material selection, both plastic resin and tool steel; develops optimum tooling plans based on product life and tooling life requirements; and assists with tool procurement and coordinates manufacturing start-up. This is done with the overall goal of making sure that the project is good for everyone concerned up and down the food chain.

With a network of resources, both domestic and overseas, Krevitt's company can locate moldmaking and molding vendors based on the geographical requirements of the project. "In other words," he says, "if the tools are to be built in Singapore, China, Taiwan, Japan, or wherever, it might be best to run them over there, especially if the final product assembly is offshore."

Other projects lend themselves to domestic manufacturing, particularly if the program is short-lived and the client cannot afford time delay due to possible language problems or the tremendous expense associated with global travel to attend engineering meetings.

"Basically, I think of myself as Paladin - have gun, will travel," says Krevitt. "If you have a problem anywhere in the world, I'll go find out why the tools don't work, evaluate processing problems, and through my global connections, get help in solving the problems."

Krevitt says the response from OEMs, molders, and moldmakers for the services his start-up company offers has been tremendous. "Everyone recognizes the need for this freelance kind of service - utilizing the network of people I've developed over the years to solve project management problems and make the whole process work more smoothly and in sync to the benefit of everyone."

The Business of Molding #18

Editor's note: This series on business relationships of custom molders is from BIll Tobin, of WJT Assoc., a consultant in injection molding who believes in looking at the molding business in the most practical way.

There is certainly merit to running at an optimal cycle time. However, there are times when sanity and reasonableness should prevail in reaching that goal.

There are usually two cycle times: the one you quote the customer and the cycle time you actually run. The quoted cycle time should ordinarily be kept confidential, because this is the fraction of a machine's hourly rate that is a component of the part's cost. The customer who really wants to know, though, can easily do a little algebra and figure it out. This quoted cycle time, however, is meaningful only for the folks in sales to figure their commission and how the invoice is calculated.

A more important cycle time is the cycle time you actually run. Many people will stand in front of a machine and give you a cycle in seconds. While it's an interesting number, it is misleading. The real number of any interest is not how many times the press opens and closes in an hour multiplied by the number of cavities in the mold, but the number of good, shippable parts that are molded per hour.

This number must be compared with the resin consumed for that hour against what was estimated. By comparing the two, this method accounts for the scrap and gives a true picture of when the job will be done, how much material is necessary, how much regrind will be generated, and when the setup team will have to pull the mold.

There is a truism in molding: Nothing ever runs to the quoted cycle. It either runs faster or slower. So let's examine the implications of both.

Slow Cycles

This list provides scenarios of off-cycle tools that are slower than standard.
  1. Slowing down the machine and improving the net yield. Since the net yield per hour is what everyone should be interested in, slowing the machine in absolute time can actually be a productivity improvement.
  2. The job is much slower than the quoted standard. However, at this cycle the job produces good parts. There are no other jobs waiting for the machine. Is this profitable? Sure. An idle machine makes no money. One that is running is at least contributing to the overhead and profit. Slow cycles only become a problem when other jobs are scheduled for use in that machine.

    The problem most molders have is this: When they have finally filled up the capacity of the machine, it isthe slow mold that puts them onto overtime or weekend work. So even if a slow mold doesn't impact you today, that doesn't mean you shouldn't fix it.

Fast Cycles

What about tools that run substantially faster than predicted? These scenarios are equally interesting.

  1. Faster cycles get the job done sooner. While this may be good if you have more jobs to put in behind it, there is no saving grace if the machine sits idle. For this scenario, get more work for the machine so that you can take advantage of the productivity vacuum and fill it with another job.
  2. Assume the mold is running OK and the job is predicted to finish at 2 a.m. and you only set new tools during the day shift. Question: What instructions do you leave for the midnight shift? Should they shut the job off, wait until morning when the setup crew comes in to pull the tool, and either let the operator sweep the floor or go home with only 3 hours' pay? The right answer is none of the above. Have the operator continue to run the job for the balance of the shift and put the parts in your just-in-time warehouse. You will sell the parts anyway.

    If the machine is active, it is producing product that will sit in the warehouse only until the next purchase order. If there is housekeeping to be done, shut the job down only if you can justify sweeping and mopping as more profitable. Shutting down the job at 2 a.m. also makes sense if another job had to shut down for lack of an operator and starting it up will sustain that schedule.

  3. Faster cycles almost always make scrap faster. Faster is only better if the net rate of part production increases proportionately with the cycle time decrease. Examine the net amount before speeding up the cycle.
  4. Faster cycles usually generate customer complaints. This is because of the implicit "I thought I was paying for a 28-second cycle at $35 per hour and I see you're running it at 23 seconds!"

    There are two responses to this. The first is "Isn't it great! We're still the lowest price and now we have more flexibility for your increased schedule." A second, and perhaps more appropriate, response is to offer a split in profits. Never give a full price reduction unless the customer paid for the improvement that resulted in the reduction. Splitting the savings with him is an artificial price increase for you while lowering his total cost. You have only your expertise to sell; that's why you got the job.

Fast or slow doesn't really matter. Make good parts first, then settle the issue of cycle time. The customer wants good parts, on time, all the time, every time. Do this and he'll be happy regardless of the cycle. If you deliver late, short lots, or rejectable parts, it really doesn't matter what the cycle is. In many cases your 50- cent part goes into your customer's $300 product that someone wants 1000 of next week. If your parts are bad, you caused your customer to lose a lot of money. While he may forgive you, he'll never forget.

Design and prototyping for gas assist

In what he said is becoming his "annual rite of spring," GE Plastics' Jack A. Avery brought attendees at Molding '97 (March 24-26, New Orleans) up to date on the latest business and technology trends in gas-assist injection molding (see May 1997, p. 116 for details). Avery says gas assist is becoming more mature and is going mainstream, and he offers a number of insightful market observations supporting his theme, including the following: "Further evidence of this maturation is the fact that gas-assist prototype molding services are becoming available." He continues, saying: "Gas assist may contribute to the core value of the prototyping process: the ability to provide more parts faster, at less cost."

Papago Plastics Inc. (Rochester, NY) is one of the prototyping houses Avery mentions as being licensed to mold with gas. At his design and product development operation, which also provides prototype tooling and molding services, David Bank, Papago Plastics' president, intends to provide what both he and Avery agree is the most critical element today slowing gas assist's further channeling into the mainstream of molding, namely, "design assist" for gas assist. "It's time to bring design engineering for gas assist from the back room," Bank says. "Let's bring it to the front."

Papago Plastics bought its gas-assist equipment from Gain Technologies (Sterling Heights, MI), but Bank jokes, "We didn't buy it just to buy it." A global letter of intent between the two companies virtually turns Papago Plastics into the product and tooling development arm of Gain. In this strategic alliance, Gain can avail itself of Papago's design and tooling expertise when dealing with its customers, expanding its portfolio of services. And, in turn, Papago Plastics can avail itself of Gain Technologies' engineering guidance to service its growing global sales and expand its customer base.

When IMM visited Bank in August, his Gain gas-assist system had been in place only two weeks. Also, a 450-ton molding machine of Papago's was out at Epco in Ohio in the final stages of being remanufactured for gas-assist molding. Yet Bank wasn't wasting any time. He'd already designed two or three gas-assist tools in aluminum. Aluminum tooling, a specialty at Papago Plastics, is ideal for the gas-assist process. That's because the process allows relatively complex parts to be molded at lower mold pressures and in less costly aluminum molds.

"With gas assist, you don't necessarily need all those fine details, like ribs and bosses, that you need in straight injection molding, so designs can be simpler and less time consuming," Bank explains. Bank tells us of before-and-after part design Pro/E data files he's seen that were two to three times smaller after fine detail features like ribs and bosses were eliminated with gas channeling. "It really speeds up design time, just like it speeds up cycle time."

Papago Plastics is quite familiar with CAD/CAM files. It has 18 CAD/CAM seats - 12 running MasterCAM and 6 running Cimatron. As a matter of fact, Papago Plastics is a beta site for MasterCAM and Cimatron. It has no workbenches and no drawing tables. Its moldmaking machines, like its eight Milltronics machining centers, also are highly computerized. So its Solid View IGES translator is quite busy, translating design files directly into tool paths.

Bank says he's talking to suppliers of gas-assist CAE ware, like C-Mold, and that he also may purchase Pro/E-type software to further enhance his gas-assist activities for his customers, which include, among others, most of the big automotive Tier Ones. "Gas assist is not for every application. However, it's for more applications than you think. Avery says there are lots of places out there where gas has yet to go. Papago wants to take it there." And it wants to take it there fast. Bank's goal is to be able to go from design to tooling for gas assist in four weeks or less.

3-D printing speeds ideas to market

Santin's Z402 3-D printing system, based on the MIT 3-DP process, is capable of producing appearance models of several different design iterations with unprecedented speed.
Santin Engineering Inc. (Peabody, MA) is the first service bureau in the nation to install the Z402 3-D printing system from Z Corp. (Somerville, MA). According to Drew Santin, president of Santin Engineering, the Z402 is capable of building model geometries from .STL files 20 times faster than other rapid prototyping systems on the market today - like the SLA 500 - and up to 20 times faster than some others. It's faster, and it's a whole lot less expensive, too. Santin believes that the Z402 unit's model building speed, rather, its model printing speed, will change the way in which products currently are being concurrently engineered by accelerating the tangible iteration of design ideas.

The Z402 machine receives data from an .STL CAD file and produces 3-D appearance models, slice by slice and layer by layer, using ordinary starch-based powders. The powders are bound together by an adhesive. Waste powder is removed from the final part and the part is infiltrated by wax in the system's postprocessing unit to add strength and finishability. The Z402 system is based on the 3-DP process patented by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. This process was licensed for commercialization by Z Corp. (see August 1996 IMM, p. 66, for an initial report on MIT's 3-DP technology, and March 1996 IMM, p. 21 for information on Santin Engineering).

Build time for a 3-D print with dimensions of 8 by 4 by 1 inches takes only about 30 minutes. The Z402 machine's maximum build volume is 8 inches long by 10 inches wide by 8.5 inches high. Both the equipment and the safe, nontoxic materials used are less expensive than other RP systems. The total cost of the consumables for the Z402 system is about 65 cents/cu inch of the finished part. The machine itself costs $50,000, its software costs $3000, and training takes about an hour.

The manufacturers say the system is designed to complement - not replace - other RP solutions. Santin agrees, "It doesn't give you models with SLA-like accuracy and SLA strength. The models it makes are disposable. It's a different kind of tool, a very fast tool. It allows you to think from a different perspective. A model that might take overnight to build in a state-of-the-art SLA machine takes a couple of hours in the Z402 machine. What takes hours can be done in a matter of minutes." In fact, Santin says the Z402 system's speed can help make SLA modeling more efficient and cost-effective. That's because it lets designers be designers.

Design vs. Engineering

Santin explains: "Designers are different than engineers. Designers are concerned with how a customer's product looks. Engineers are more concerned with how it works. Designers need to make a dozen models of a design to create a stream of thought and capture a customer's concept. They want to expand on a thought and they have to be able to iterate fast. Engineers are more interested in refining a thought than expanding on it. Engineers can live with a one-week lead time refining a design. Designers need to move on. Designers don't figure out things like boss diameters and shrink marks . . . that's for engineers. Designers look at a design and say, 'Not quite . . . let's try something else.' With the Z402 system, you can print 10 different iteration models and hand them to the designer."

It's also a less-expensive tool, Santin found, when he 3-D printed models of a portable phone for a focus group put together by a local medical company. He'd had his Z402 system only for a week. "If you showed them Pro/E data of the design in different shapes, the nurses wouldn't get it. We printed 12 models, two builds of six at a time. They cost $200 each. Out of the 12, each the size of a portable telephone, each with keys and LCD windows, the nurses gravitated to two designs. They could hold and carry the telephone. It was a done deal! Engineering picked up the one they selected and took off. With SLA the 12 models would have cost $800 a piece." A week later, an SLA part was made from the engineered rendering of the 3-D print the nurses selected.

Santin also likes his Z402 machine's portability. "It's an RP machine on wheels. It's like a copier that uses wax and a food product." He has taken his Z402 machine in a van to customers in other states, plugged it in in the conference room, fed it a Pro/E .STL file from a laptop computer, and started making parts. "I've started it at the beginning of a meeting and had parts to pass around at the end of the meeting." He sees them getting even more compact and more portable in time, "like a 3-D printer for a computer."

The 3-D prints can be used to verify CAD files with speed and cost-efficiency. The 3-D prints it makes can be used as patterns for lost-wax investment casting applications (this is different from Soligen's MIT license, which prints ceramic shells). Also, the Z402 system's 3-D prints of mold components and mold halves from CAD files could be used to test a number of things, like complex parting line designs.

Water treatment WITHOUT chemicals

Wolverine Plastic Technologies is a 13-press custom molder based in Ada, MI, just east of Grand Rapids. Until a year ago, says maintenance supervisor Mike Ward, Wolverine was spending about $800 each month maintaining and repairing clogged, corroded, and caked heat exchangers, heating elements, and other components of the water system. "That doesn't include the labor of me or anyone else here at the plant," says Ward.

That labor was often hard as Ward had to chisel and chip away at calcium and other deposits that were crippling his water distribution system. "It was an everyday deal," reports Ward. He says he tried several chemical treatment systems, but with little success. The minimum flow rate for each water line going into and out of a mold at Wolverine is 1.5 gal/minute, with rates as high as 3 or 4 gal/minute on larger presses. Ward says several parts were flashing, shorting, and running hot. When he checked the molds to see if they were getting enough water, "it wasn't even showing on our flow meters, that's how bad it was," he explains.

Several suppliers recommended he shock his system with hydrochloric acid to slough off the buildup. "You know, with all that copper piping, it doesn't take but three or four shocks with acid before you really have problems," Ward says.

He was also concerned about the kinds of chemicals he was dumping into the environment. The companies supplying his chemical-based water treatment systems were understandably reluctant to divulge to Ward the proprietary recipe for their systems. Looking desperately for a system that works, last summer Ward and Wolverine put the word out that they were looking for a chemical-free water treatment system. That's when they heard from Innovative Water Technologies (IWT), just down the road in Kentwood, MI.

What IWT showed Wolverine was its TowerKlean cooling tower water treatment system, a chemical-free system that left Ward skeptical to start. The system is admittedly spare at first glance. It consists mainly of an electrical box, a stainless steel filter housing, some piping, and a tall, narrow, cylindrical reaction tower. "I kind of laughed when I first saw it," says Ward.

Wolverine installed the Tower-Klean and started running its water through the system. On its third day in operation, says Ward, the water system had so much scaling sloughing off and breaking loose that he had to shut down the entire system to clean his cooling tower. Two weeks later Wolverine had another massive slough-off, purging the system for good. Ward hasn't looked back since.

So how does it work? It's actually simple. At the bottom of that tall, narrow, cylindrical reaction tower is a proprietary nonchemical, nonhazardous mixture that creates the same chemical reaction as oxidizers and reducers. The mixture, says IWT president Joel Kusmierz, is a patented alloy of 50 percent copper and 50 percent zinc granules. When water passes across the surface of this medium, an electrochemical reaction is generated that controls algae, biofouling, and scaling. The reacted contaminants then pass through a sand filter in the stainless steel housing; they are backflushed out of the filter when buildup reaches a certain pressure.

Molding problems related to water quality and flow are now history for Wolverine, says Ward. The water, he reports, is crystal clear. Recent tests for the presence of algae in the system showed levels were "phenomenally low," according to Ward.

Kusmierz admits that the simplicity and unconventional operation of the TowerKlean leaves many skeptical at first, but he's met many molders who've reached the end of their rope with chemical-based systems and are willing to try the system. "The norm has always been chemicals," he says. "That's been the comfortable technology, even though it doesn't take care of all of the problems." Kusmierz says that at NPE this year he met a potential customer who'd just pumped hydrochloric acid through his water system to clean it out - damaging much of his equipment in the process. "He said he'd wished he'd met us sooner."

The copper/zinc medium, says Kusmierz, lasts 12 to 14 months, at which time the surface area effectiveness of the metallic granules starts to decline. The customer can either take the material to a local metal recycler, or send it back to IWT, who will recycle it. Kusmierz says replacing the copper/zinc mix can be done easily and costs about $400. The only threat to the medium is oil or grease, which coats the granules, creating a barrier the water cannot penetrate. Fortunately, the solution is simple: Wash the granules in detergent and put them back to work.

The TowerKlean is looped off of your cooling tower's reservoir. Capacities for the system range from 20 gal/minute to 100 gal/minute; respective prices range from $12,640 to $23,890. Ward says the Wolverine TowerKlean has already paid for itself. He replaces his first batch of copper/zinc medium this month.

Lessons on partnering with customers

What's a moldmaker to do when there is more work than employees to do it? JM Mold Inc., a Piqua, OH-based moldmaker with a plant in Easley, SC, ran into that problem two years ago. Ed Kinsella, sales and marketing manager for the company, tried to recruit local talent, but with so many mold shops in the Dayton area, JM wasn't having any luck.

Kinsella then got the idea for "partnerships" with molders and machine shops as a way to tap into local talent without raiding other shops for employees, and expand not only JM's business but other business in the area. Are these alliances as easy as they sound? No, says Kinsella, who learned some hard lessons about what it takes to be and have a "partner" after one relationship with a molding company fell apart.

The First Try

In December 1995, Kinsella approached a molding company to which he'd been referred as a possible partner. "We could do the molds and it could do the molding," says Kinsella, explaining how the partnership would work.

JM started off slowly at first. It took three months to get a few jobs from the molder, but on one job JM beat the delivery time by two weeks, doing a 12-week job in 10. Then came an emergency mold repair job on which JM pulled "some all-nighters" to finish the work and get the mold back in the press. JM's mold polisher, who owns his own airplane, even flew some spare parts down to the molder for an emergency repair.

"We really pulled out all the stops for them," says Kinsella. "It was a good relationship and we were doing a lot of things they appreciated." And the molder showed that appreciation by making payments to JM earlier than required. "It was a nice, easy relationship that evolved," Kinsella adds.

Trouble Brewing

However, behind the scenes at the molder, the engineer that JM worked with wasn't getting along with his management. He spent a lot of time at JM, something that his bosses didn't like because it took away from his job at the molder. And the engineer complained often to JM about his bosses. Then the inevitable happened; the engineer was gone.

JM then began dealing directly with the salesperson, which improved the relationship somewhat. Quoting seemed to be easier and things smoothed out. Then, the molder hired a new engineer who was thrust into a situation in which he was told, "Here's your job, here are your problems, and here's the tool shop you deal with." At the time, the molder had a very demanding customer who wasn't very knowledgeable in plastics, but knew what it didn't like. "The engineer was thrown into the fire and felt like he was forced to deal with JM," says Kinsella.

There were material shrinkage problems that threw the part out of tolerance. The engineer wanted JM to rework the steel, but JM wanted the molder to work on the problem through processing. At one point, the engineer told JM, "I don't care what the steel looks like, it's the part that matters to me." This didn't endear the engineer to JM's moldmakers.

There were some other jobs that had problems too, and the new engineer wasn't as patient or forgiving as the previous engineer had been. "It got to the point that the molder decided it didn't want us to finish the mold and pulled the job," says Kinsella. In a matter of a few months, JM went from hero to enemy, and a partnership went down the drain.

Lessons Learned

Kinsella says the lessons learned during the two years with that molder partner have helped him in forming subsequent partnerships. He has now established several "really solid" partnerships with molders and machine shops, whose relationships have benefited from the lessons learned. Kinsella calls his formula for maintaining successful partnerships "PIZZA."

  • "P" stands for patience. "Go slow and be selective in whom you choose for a partner," advises Kinsella. "Get to know potential partners and how they do business."
  • "I" is "initiating your potential partner as a supplier first," says Kinsella. This gives you an idea how it does business. Kinsella explains that his new molding partner first did some mold sampling for JM, who was then able to learn how that company works with its customers.
  • "Z" is for "zero defects won't happen." It needs to be understood from the beginning that someone won't be happy with something. "We know what it feels like to have our work picked apart," says Kinsella. "Nothing's perfect. Sometimes the schedule slips. Something gets broken. Having your partner as a supplier first helps in the long run when the tables are turned and it finds itself slipping a schedule."
  • "Z" is also "zap, the lightning of empowerment," says Kinsella. Provide empowerment to key employees to check out the supplier. Don't ram the relationship down their throats. Give them the opportunity to go to the supplier and check it out, then ask their opinion on what they think of the company. "By empowering them to make their own decisions about a supplier, the relationship works better," he adds.
  • "A" is for "appreciation of the entire organization." Kinsella says that appreciation goes a long way to strengthening the partnership. In one case, a simple mold sampling became a major undertaking when JM's customer suddenly demanded 100 samples instead of 30, and in two colors, specially packaged and sent to the OEM's plant located in Alabama "tomorrow."

To show appreciation to the molder's employees for accommodating the unexpected demands, Kinsella threw a lunch-time pizza party for the whole company. "Now, they want to sample molds for us because they remember that we brought them lunch for going above and beyond the call of duty," says Kinsella. "That's the key: appreciating the whole organization."

Perhaps one of the best rules of thumb when creating a partnership, says Kinsella, is to have more than just one person on your side at the other company. This goes for alliances with molders, moldmakers, or with OEM customers. The first engineer at the molder thought JM walked on water; others in the molder's organization weren't as familiar with the company. When the engineer left, the relationship left, too.

"Develop relationships with those all up and down the food chain in the partner company," says Kinsella, whose truck driver gave JM logo hats to the shipping and receiving department at one molder. Now, JM's truck gets unloaded first; the receiving department doesn't make him wait. "Even if the specific individual doesn't leave, it's still important to develop relations with everyone," says Kinsella.

Another molder became a partner after performing mold sampling for JM, which allowed the molder to see the type and quality of molds JM builds. The molder soon began asking JM to quote molds for its customers. Kinsella says that the way to approach a potential partner is to go to a company and say, "'Hey, I've got some work for you.' This approach works a lot better than saying 'Hey, have you got any work for me?'"

MARKET FOCUS

If you're an automotive molder, you may have had a few nightmares involving this popular phrase: QS 9000. This automotive expansion of ISO 9000 is putting a lot of pressure on molders trying to comply. Says Bob Marsh, director of sales and marketing for the automotive division of M.A. Hanna Color, "QS 9000 is probably double the effort of getting ISO 9000 certification." Several automakers, says Marsh, require their suppliers to either get third-party certification for the quality standard or follow the standard without necessarily getting certified. However, Marsh points out, if you're going to go to the trouble of following the standard, you might as well get certified. All accounts so far indicate that the QS 9000 standard is heavy on benchmarking.

Marsh has also noticed a few other trends and changes in the market over the last few months. Cost pressures, he says, are forcing more molders away from ABS to PP, a traditionally cheaper resin. "Cost is more of an issue," he says. "Every year it gets tighter." Illustrating that distance between the two materials is the above table, which shows the percentage of material used by injection molders in the automotive market. Data is courtesy of the Plastic Buyer Profiles database, compiled by Phillip Townsend and Assoc. (Houston).