The demands of mold manufacturing help to set the pace for modern technologies. So, technology suppliers are motivated to reintroduce and develop technology for this niche marketplace. Plus, technology suppliers and economists predict that moldmaking should continue to grow as the shift from work sent overseas back to the U.S. continues and many of the markets served remain strong.
Data we collect monthly via Moldmaking Business Index has shown that the past 7 months have seen an expansion in overall activity levels. Moldmakers have grown for five straight months, and the rate of growth has been relatively strong and consistent. Larger facilities are still growing at a strong rate, while smaller shop are contracting. Future capital spending plans have been increasing, aand growth has been seen in new orders and production with backlogs higher than a year ago … a positive sign for capacity utilization and capital equipment investment.
Today the more complex work is continuing to return from overseas and moldmakers still need to be prepared to take it on or it will be a lost opportunity, and getting more efficient is key. And that is where technology and IMTS come into play.
Moldmakers are looking for technology to optimize their processes and to help them get a part off the machine with a bench-free finish. They want to save time and money without sacrificing quality.
Two main areas of interest for moldmakers this year are the two As: automation and additive manufacturing.
Automation in terms of streamlining the EDM process and production assembly operations as well as design and programming, and even software for monitoring bottlenecks as automation is added. And when it comes to additive manufacturing they want learn about incorporating 3D printing into building molds, using conformal cooling in prototype and production tooling and further improvements to the additive and subtractive hybrid systems introduced in the past year.
Moldmakers also continue to be interested in high-speed, five axis machining, but the key is also finding the right software and cutting tools so they can use this process effectively.
The guys I spoke with earlier were also coming to check out: integrated CAD/CAM, tooling for hard milling, data management software, workholding solutions, vision systems, sinker EDMs, graphite cutting machines, roughing and finishing tools, machine and spindle technology that delivers better accuracy for complex geometries, advanced CNC controls to process greater volumes of info, faster; and, refinements in tool geometry, insert grades and coatings to extend tool life and remove more material faster.
A few of the highlights include, a live automated machining cell in the Absolute Machine Tools’ booth that is producing multiple cavity and core components. It integrates a die sinker EDM, a machining center and a robot, showing electrode management, robotic part handling and advanced control intelligence.
Vero Software demonstrated the latest version of its Visi CAD/CAM that is well-suited for the mold and die industry. It provides fully integrated wireframe, surface and solid modelling; comprehensive 2D, 3D and five-axis machining strategies; and industry-focused solutions for plastic injection tool design.
DMG MORI ran its Lasertec 65 hybrid machine that combines additive and subtractive processes to produce a complete part from powder. Unlike additive machines that use powder bed technology, the Lasertec 65 uses a powder spray technique. It then uses conventional milling/turning processes to remove material from unwanted areas.
Hurco had two machines of particular interest to moldmakers: the three-axis VMX42HSi and VMX6030i milling centers. The VMX6030i offers 30” of travel in the Y axis, with 60” in X and 24” in Z. According to Hurco, this model was added to the series to satisfy mold customers who wanted more Y-axis travel without having to jump to a larger footprint.
And O.R. Laser showed its HTS EVO mobile laser welding system, developed specifically for mold, and tool and die makers, as well as mobile service providers. The system is equipped with software to enhance its automation capabilities.
September 10, 2014