Machining Center Reliability Offers Key to Profitability at Holland Molds
“People are often surprised when I tell them that we’ve never been in debt, but we can’t imagine operating any other way,” said Dave Schissel, general manager of Holland Molds, Wadena, Minn. “Being a debt-free operation has been a key to our success, allowing us to remain flexible during even the toughest times. We aren’t required to stretch resources thin, and we never feel limited in our investment decisions. It just makes sense.”
Holland Molds got its start in the early 1980s and has built a reputation for itself as a premier manufacturer of precision plastic injection molds. Approximately 70 percent of the company’s work supports the state’s robust medical market. The other 30 percent of its business is in the aerospace, automotive industrial and recreational industries.
Holland’s resiliency through several challenging economic climates has impressed several customers and onlookers, leading many to wonder about its secret to maintaining a healthy balance sheet. According to Schissel, a key component is its qualitative understanding of return on investment (ROI).
“Everyone is focused on the dollar signs, but how do you calculate the true value of a machine that allows you to perform at specification day in and day out for over 20 years with no concern for accuracy or reliability? Well, you don’t,” said Schissel. “While the market may dictate that all machine tools devalue over time, I would argue that the right investments can actually become invaluable over time.”
“While the market may dictate that all machine tools devalue over time, I would argue that the right investments can actually become invaluable over time.”
Holland learned this lesson early on in the ’80s, when Bruce Holland, company founder and father-in-law to Schissel, invested in the company’s first high-performance machine—a LeBlond Makino EDNC32 sinker EDM. Schissel attests that the decision was not made hastily; however, increasing customer demands at the time required a step beyond the company’s previous capabilities. The machine has since lived up to the company’s expectations, and it still runs on the shop floor today.
“While we no longer use the EDNC32 to produce modern tools, it has been reliably burning metal for us every day for nearly 30 years. It’s this type of value that changes the ROI equation and enables companies like us to succeed,” said Schissel.
Reliable Partners Bring Reliable Investments
One of Holland’s key resources for identifying reliable machining investments has been its strong relationship with supplier Productivity Inc. The company appreciates Productivity’s close ties with OEMs, and the high level of service and support that it provides.
Over the last 20 years, Holland has worked closely with Productivity on some of its most critical investments. One piece of equipment in particular that Schissel recalls is the company’s Makino SNC64 graphite machining center that was installed in 2000. He attests that even 13 years later, the machine runs just as accurately as it did on day one, without any significant repair issues along the way.
“When we look at cutting time and calculate the speed, inches per minute and the surface finishes we are achieving in S7, H13, Caldie and K294 powder steel, we are actually reducing overall cycle times by 25 to 30 percent.”
“Of the many Makino machines we’ve purchased over the years—including an EDNC32, two EDNC43s, an EDNC65S, and an SNC64—we’ve replaced one with another Makino and that was in order to obtain newer technology,” said Schissel. “So when we reached the limitations of our previous 10,000-rpm vertical machining center in terms of speed, quality and accuracy, Productivity and Makino were the first resources we turned to.”
Expanding Hard-Milling Capabilities
In 2012, Holland replaced its previous equipment with a new Makino F5 vertical machining center. The investment provided the company with twice the spindle speed at 20,000 rpm, improved positioning accuracy and greater tooling options. Together, these expanded capabilities have led to improved efficiencies in the company’s interchangeable tooling.
“It’s this type of cutting capability that enables us to reduce benching times by up to 30 percent.”
“We knew the F5 would be capable of handling the OEM part tolerances on our tools, but the real test was in shutoff quality,” said Ed Shepersky, shop manager at Holland Molds. “In some of our more recent orders concerning some of the new engineered grade plastics, we’re seeing flashing in just 0.0002 inches. This level of precision is critical when dealing with medical applications. If the A and B sides of a cavity are off by even 0.0002 inches, the resulting flash could negate the use or effectiveness of the final parts.”
The rigidity of the F5 spindle, along with the integration of heat-shrink tool holders, has enabled Holland to meet these finish requirements through the use of fine-diameter tooling. According to Shepersky, the result has been significant reductions in finishing times, even in applications requiring SPI-A2 and SPI-A3 finishes.
“By doubling our overall spindle speed, we expected to see substantial improvements in finishing capabilities; however, the improved spindle power and rigidity have added an extra level of efficiency,” said Shepersky. “When we look at cutting time and calculate the speed, inches per minute and the surface finishes we are achieving in S7, H13, Caldie and K294 powder steel, we are actually reducing overall cycle times by 25 to 30 percent.”
One of the first projects that Holland produced on the F5 was an overmolded throttle control handle for a large marine company. The original order consisted of three molds of varying sizes. The first two molds were completed using the company’s previous machining methods, while the final mold, which featured an additional inch of depth in cavity and core, was transitioned to the F5. According to Shepersky, the move to the F5 demonstrated significant reductions in cutting time, ranging between 30 and 50 percent based on the cutter selected.
“Although the F5 has only been installed for a matter of months, we have witnessed substantial improvements in each application we load into the machine,” said Shepersky. “In a recent interchangeable tool we developed for one of our medical customers, we were able to reduce cutting times by up to 50 percent, while simultaneously maintaining tolerances of plus or minus 0.0002 inches. It’s this type of cutting capability that enables us to reduce benching times by up to 30 percent.”
Holland has also reported saving time related to other aspects of its business, including a 25 percent reduction in EDM processes. Additionally, the company reports that investments in new work-holding magnets have reduced setup times by as much as 50 percent.
“The F5 completes those jobs faster, which not only saves time but saves labor,” said Schissel. “This translates to our being more competitive in our quotes. If we are able to cut something instead of burning it, we can reduce our price. It also frees up the EDM machines for other work.”
Cutting capabilities aren’t the only features of a machine tool that matter to Holland Molds. In fact, Schissel is also quite proud of his background in the computer industry. As such, he is committed to making the most of the capabilities that his equipment offers. So far, he and his team have been impressed with the flexibility and network integration capabilities of the Makino Professional 5 (Pro5) control.
“With its Windows CE operating system, graphical user interface and touch screen, the Pro5 offers PC-like capability for data management,” said Joe Starzl, hard-milling specialist at Holland Molds. “This means that I can easily load programs from our network without running around the shop or requiring a computer next to the machine. From an operator’s perspective, this type of capability eliminates a great deal of time and frustration.”
The Pro5 control offers additional options for operators to prepare multiple workpieces in a single setup in order to take advantage of the machine’s full work zone. The F5 can be preprogrammed for each job, and each program can be recalled via the network. There is no need to have someone at the machine to change programs, enabling operators to let the machine run unattended.
For additional unattended benefits, Holland has also established a wireless camera that operators can access via computer and monitor from home during evenings and weekends. If a job is nearing completion, the operator will know, and can return to the shop to reload workpieces, if needed. Such technology can contribute to a better work/life balance when operators are not tethered to a machine any longer than necessary.
“It’s important to work hard, but equally important to work smart,” said Schissel. “We do our best to always develop solutions that not only improve our manufacturing processes, but our relations with partners, employees and customers as well.
No Long-Distance Relationships
According to Holland Molds, the company’s ability to build strong customer relationships has given it a competitive edge over its offshore competition. These days, it’s no longer about overseas companies building molds inexpensively, because companies are looking at more than price. Technology has enabled Holland Molds to not only be competitive in its quotes but to also market the excellent quality and true partnerships that it can provide.
“We have proven that we can offer high-precision machining with the best possible lead-times, and we allow customers the convenience of being near their tool while it’s being built.”
“Offshore competitors used to have the best price and could beat us on delivery by putting a tool on a plane in order to get over here quickly,” said Schissel. “Now, the air shipping has become too cost prohibitive to do that. In addition, as we continue to buy better equipment and build strong relationships with our customers, these same customers see the value of staying stateside with us. The playing field has been leveled. We have proven that we can offer high-precision machining with the best possible lead-times, and we allow customers the convenience of being near their tool while it’s being built. If they want to make changes on the fly, we have the ability to do that seamlessly.
“With the kinds of equipment that we’ve put in our shop floor over the last decade, we have shortened our lead-times while maintaining quality. Both our customer and supplier relationships have paid off.”
As Holland looks to the future, the company recognizes areas for improved efficiency within its latest investments. Current results that Holland has achieved through the F5 have come with little adjustment to the shop’s operation. The company intends to maximize its performance by upgrading its CAM software and adding more third-party equipment to further enhance productivity.
“With the kinds of equipment that we’ve put in our shop floor over the last decade, we have shortened our lead-times while maintaining quality.”
“A good investment not only provides upfront enhancements to your machining process, but a level of flexibility to draw further improvements in other areas of the shop floor,” said Schissel. “With the reliability and longevity afforded by Makino, we look forward to the potential opportunities to adapt and strengthen our process engineering skills to gain an even stronger competitive edge.”
“A good investment not only provides upfront enhancements to your machining process, but a level of flexibility to draw further improvements in other areas of the shop floor.”
In the meantime, the company is confident it has the tools in place to handle whatever challenges come its way. No matter what market forces bring, Holland Molds is equipped to employ the kind of technology needed to generate the high-quality molds its customers demand.