South Coast Mold, Inc. (Irvine, CA) is not your typical mold shop, but a small sub-set (niche) of the broad injection mold business since its specialty is castings. Not only is it committed to providing the highest quality, most reliability and best performance for the moldmaking industry in precision castings—a worthy option for moldmakers to explore—the company also received the 2009 Energy Start Small Business Award by the U.S. EPA for reducing greenhouse gas emissions through effective energy management practices and innovative efficiency solutions. Serving the aerospace, electronic, medical, marine and commercial markets, the company has been able to boost efficiency on the shop floor by carefully analyzing and implementing energy-saving measures.
According to South Coast Mold President Paul Novak, investment casting has a number of advantages. “Miniature and complex geometry can be formed using this precision process,” he explains. “All fine detail can be included such as undercuts, serrations, threads and thin walls. Even twisted cores can be included. Also, a superior surface finish is achieved when compared to other processes such as forging or sand casting.
“Another advantage to investment casting is that virtually any alloy can be cast, even the so-called tough machining alloys,” he continues. “Stainless steel, inconel and titanium—among other alloys—can all be cast successfully. And these alloys will retain the part detail throughout the process. With some complex alloy parts, sometimes investment casting is the only way to go.”
Excelling in Energy Solutions
According to Novak, three major events propelled him to develop an energy-saving strategy back in late 2000 and early 2001. “California had a severe electricity crisis with erratic supply, regional rolling blackouts and price spikes,” he recalls. “In 2005, we moved and doubled our manufacturing size—which also doubled our electric bill. Then when the global oil and energy crisis came along in 2007 and 2008, costs increased dramatically and we realized we could no longer take electricity for granted.”
Novak sought assistance from ENERGY STAR—a joint program of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy that helps companies save money and protect the environment through energy-efficient products and practices. The company’s website provides tools and resources that are free. Novak registered as an ENERGY STAR small business participant and used programs from the company’s website like “Putting Energy into Profits: ENERGY STAR Guide for Small Business” and “Energy Management Basics for Small and Medium-sized Manufacturers.”
Novak also counted on Southern California Edison (SCE) for a number of tools and resources to streamline energy-efficient practices. “The monthly billings itemize energy usage and compare current usage with the previous month and previous year,” Novak explains. “SCE’s website offered details on energy usage, available rebates and incentives, and success stories. The energy usage history goes as far back as the start of the account—which makes analysis easy. The rebates and incentives can be a real bonus for equipment upgrades.
“As a roadmap for our program we used both ENERGY STAR 'Guidelines for Energy Management Overview' and SCE’s Online Business Energy Survey,” Novak continues. “Four sectors were selected for energy management: lighting, office, HVAC and CNC equipment. Lighting is very important because of the precision products made at the shop. Offices are fully equipped with CAD/CAM workstations and support equipment. HVAC is needed in both the office and the shop. Lastly, the largest energy draw is the shop equipment, which sometimes runs 24-hours-per-day.”
Once South Coast’s plan was in place, the company installed all-new, energy-efficient indoor lighting and reduced the number of outdoor lighting fixtures by 20 percent. Additionally, new HVAC units were installed that were qualified by ENERGY STAR. Novak used 'A Guide to Energy-Efficient Heating and Cooling' from the website to implement maintenance procedures. Other HVAC management steps included installing programmable thermostats, adding insulation to eliminate HVAC waste, and installing industrial turbine ventilators in the shop to use instead of air conditioning in mild weather.
The company’s machining equipment required special attention since this is the largest electricity consumption area. First, the company replaced an old piston-style compressor with a new, efficient rotary-screw model, which eliminated the severe usage spikes they had experienced. The CNC machines now have automatic power-down switches to shut off while unattended. The CNC tools power down and the new compressor create “lights-out” manufacturing to avoid energy waste. All equipment is shut down at the end of a production run.
This coordinated, well-planned effort has resulted in more than $1,600 annually in energy costs for the operation of his business, Novak notes.
South Coast Mold is fortunate to have a dedicated team of employees. “The average employee has more than 20 years of industry experience,” Novak points out, “and the average tenure at South Coast Mold is 10 years. This success is a result of management and employees working together.
“All of the toolmakers design and build their dies from scratch,” Novak continues. “Each toolmaker has the knowledge and experience in CAD solid modeling. They design a CAD model of the part and then a mold base around the part. All working components are designed. Then, the toolmakers create CNC toolpaths to cut the mold cavity. With precision cutting, final mold assembly and polishing is minimal. The toolmaker will then run a test injection to insure proper operation of the die.”
Novak adds that the company’s shift times are flexible to accommodate employees’ schedules for things such as commuting, family obligations or even exercise routines. “In the shop, while most employees manage their own projects, the atmosphere is one of teamwork and knowledge sharing,” he says. “This is especially important in toolmaking where every tool is different and poses different challenges. All employees bring differing industry knowledge and experience—putting that together creates synergy for difficult problem solving.”
Novak’s future plans for South Coast Mold include keeping a close eye on industry demand for larger, more complex parts. “This demand means that the dies producing those parts will be considerably larger,” he explains. “The challenges and opportunities for South Coast Mold will be meeting that demand for big dies. Any new equipment will be for CNC machining centers with increased travels.
“Larger dies also means that there is much more cavity to be cut—and with leadtimes decreasing—there will be increased pressure on already tight delivery schedules,” Novak continues. “To share the cutting load, we already have some high-speed CNC machining centers. Any future equipment purchases also will be for high-speed machines. All told, larger, high-speed equipment will increase shop capacity to meet the industry demand.”