Process Insight

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Adopting a Production Mindset to Mold Making Brings Global Advantage

By Darrell Johnson, Consumables Product Group Manager, Single Source Technologies

Today’s die and mold shops are experiencing many demands. Not only is every job different, but molds are also increasing in complexity when it comes to geometric designs and how they are processed. Customer requirements are continually changing as well, requiring shorter lead-times, greater repeatability and improved quality. Added to this is the growing pressure for lower-cost tools, especially with competition from a global marketplace.

Internally, there are other challenges. Complex workpieces require more frequent changeovers between machines, affecting timing and repeatability. Operator skill sets vary, too, with some personnel having one year on the job and others bringing 30 years of mold making experience or more. This disparity can affect speed, efficiency, consistency and, ultimately, quality.

To successfully overcome these growing challenges and meet customer demands, shop owners must think about mold manufacturing in a new way by “productionizing” their mold making processes. What this entails is the transitioning of a product or process from one-off fabrication to a series of common procedures that can increase productivity and efficiency, and reduce the probability of errors that cause delays and scrap. These common procedures can be realized throughout the mold making process, including using CAM toolpath templates to standardize many of the cutting parameters, standardized tooling and assemblies, and the adoption of new, modular work holding.

Taking on a production mindset is imperative in order to succeed. Streamlining the mold-making process can help companies achieve the following six goals:

  • Shorten lead-times
  • Reduce setup times
  • Improve machine utilization rates
  • Cut machine cycle times
  • Decrease spotting times
  • Address human factors, such as operator skill sets

Addressing Setup Inefficiencies

One of the primary sources of inefficiency in today’s mold shops is setup procedures. Mold manufacturers have grown accustomed to numerous part setups. From the initial squaring up of parts, to roughing, heat treating, finishing and EDMing, manufacturers oftentimes run through more setups than they care to count. Moreover, these setups frequently entail changeover between multiple machine platforms. Substantial labor time results, hindering manufacturers’ ability to reduce lead-times. In addition, it increases the risk of errors due to being unable to locate the workpiece.

Setup issues become even more troubling as design complexity increases with multi-face machining requirements. If a manufacturer is operating traditional 3-axis machining centers, an application calling for machined features on two or more sides of a workpiece could entail multiple sequential setups on multiple machines. Mold shops that try to improve workpiece accessibility through custom setups have their own unique challenges, including positioning inaccuracies and demand for an incredibly experienced operator skill set. This is where new modular work-holding solutions, such as the FCS clamping system, have the greatest impact.

Designed to provide quick, custom setup options for unrestricted access to five workpiece surfaces, the FCS system enables mold makers to spend less time on setups and more time on machining. The system creates a three-dimensional grid in every machine installation that maintains positioning repeatability within 6 µm (0.0002 inches) on every setup. The base gage features a grid of threaded holes and precision counterbores spaced evenly apart by 50 mm to within 5 microns, allowing for quick and precise modular setup adjustments that are safeguarded from human error.

Positioning accuracy is further enhanced by the modular clamping system’s TiN-coated hardened steel rings. These rings are installed between the workpiece and a cylindrical clamping body, held tightly in place by an H7-class precision counterbore in the workpiece or base gage and precision ground tapers on the other. The result is a secure fit with micron-level repeatability. The rigidity of the system is developed by serrations in the clamping mechanism with matching serrations in the rod. As the clamping mechanism tightens on the rod, the serrations pull on the rod’s matching serrations delivering precise tension on the rod, the seat and the ring to secure the workpiece.

Advanced users of the FCS system can also take advantage of the optional Guideline software, developed by BCK of Italy. This virtual-design software enables users to design FCS work-holding systems based on the CAD model of a workpiece. Guideline software projects the FCS grid onto the workpiece to position the most efficient workpiece positioning for machining and chip evacuation. After checking for possible interferences with other holes, it automatically arranges the FCS features (Drilled and Taped hole and H7 Class counterbore) based on the dimensions of the workpiece and combination of pallets and clamping available.

Creating a Global Advantage

The competitiveness of today’s mold-making market demands the highest degree of precision and efficiency from companies’ setup procedures. Applying a production mindset to mold manufacturing can be the edge that a shop owner needs to gain an advantage globally.

Several of North America’s leading mold shops are already successfully applying modular work-holding solutions to drive down costs and improve responsiveness to customer needs. The FCS system, in particular, has enabled shops to reduce setup times of complex applications from hours to as little as 15 minutes. The system’s innate positioning accuracy and repeatability are transferred throughout the mold manufacturing process, from machine to machine, leading to reductions and even elimination of spotting and manual finishing operations. Additionally, the use of Guideline software lets fixturing locations be completed during the CAD/CAM phase so that manufacturers can further “productionize” their processes with preplanned tool paths and work holding.

The FCS system is incredibly simple to deploy, even for novice operators, despite the complexity behind the system’s design. With the prevalence of skilled-labor shortages and growing demands to reduce scrap and unproductive time, this clamping system enables mold makers to simplify manual-labor activities and eliminate setup error while operating more efficiently and profitably.

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