What's in Store for 2001: Editorial Advisory Board Speaks Out

Time compression coupled with new cutting-edge technologies and materials are on the horizon as the weapons moldmakers will use to remain competitive and thrive in a global marketplace.

So say the illustrious members of MoldMaking Technology's Editorial Advisory Board when asked to comment on the state of the industry throughout the next year. They share with us their expertise as well as what they think is in store for the moldmaking community.

What developments do you foresee in the moldmaking industry in 2001?

Derek Beattie, owner of Polysurf Mold Design (Galt, CA), a consulting, mold design and solid modeling company.
It seems like software will continue to be updated and competitive. Several mold design packages seem to be getting better with their time compression. What I see coming as far as improvement in software is being able to better recognize parting lines, being able to cycle through different options, the ability to take a hard model and automatically recognize where cores and cavities are, getting more analyzation of a part and turning the mold design around more quickly. One software company is already taking the initiative for speedily making electrodes through improving its solid modeling and 3-D creation stations. That to me seems like that's what we are moving toward - better software automation.

Walt Bishop, executive director of the Society of the Plastics Industry, Moldmakers' Division (Washington, DC).
Laser cutting is the new buzzword among moldmakers these days. They are vague as to what its eventual usefulness will be, what its chances for longevity are and what its impact will be, but they know that it's going to be something big. It's a very young technology so maybe the new year will show us.

What we are seeing in terms of the plastics industry is the processing of exotic materials: ceramics, liquid injection molding - all part of a process called MuCELL. This is cutting-edge technology that moldmakers will have to understand when it all comes down the pike. They'll have to understand what the technological requirements will be and what the steel requirements are as well as the mold conditions. What special processing will you need in your mold to accommodate these exotic materials? Those are just some of the issues we see here.

Thomas Fenton, toolroom manager for Minntech Corp. (Plymouth, MI), a medical device and solutions manufacturer specializing in dialysis solutions, dialysis reuse systems, Endoscope cleaning and reprocessing systems, hemofiltration and polysulfone fiber.
I see more of the laser sintering happening next year. That's what we are going to be working with. We are going to be trying this technology on more products to see how long the molds last. We'll continue to do SLAs on all of our new products.

Joe Genc, engineering coordinator for P.M. Mold (Schaumburg, IL), a total service toolmaking company that engineers and builds plastic injection molds, compression molds and diecast dies.
I think the new palm-held computers - which have many different ways of being used - may take the place of the laptop computer at some point. What will happen soon is that your cell phone will be used as an option to your palm-held computer. It's going to become much smaller. It will eliminate much of the laptop use, which will become more of a technical tool. Because of all of this, many companies have been offering cell phone options to gear up for the latest fad, which will be this palm-held computer. They are out on the market already. There is a massive interest charging up for this new thing already. You will see this surge forward. These will be made through RP and SLA.

Jim Koppe, engineering manager for Northwestern Tool & Die (Buffalo Grove, IL), a designer and manufacturer of injection molds.
I think we are going to see great strides in the medical instrument field for 2001. We deal with medical companies and because of all the safety issues with needles and possibly getting pricked, we see improvements to the needles' delivery system coming down the pike. Several people I know are working on just this thing and have made some advances. It's going to be a safety needle that locks after the needle is used so no one gets stuck. They tried to come up with needleless injections before, but were not successful. That's in the design tool field.

Jean Kroes, owner of J.H. Kroes Consulting (Ottawa, Ontario) a consulting firm specializing in small business matters.
While rapid tooling aspects are in, many rapid tooling suppliers will have to continue to warn that theirs are not permanent tooling. We will probably see better quality products coming from overseas, such as the Far East and Southern Europe. In the equipment field we might see some emphasis on tool change time reductions on the part of the machinery and equipment manufacturers. However, these improvements are going to be minor in comparison to what needs to be done on the shop floor.

Where the moldmakers will need to put their concentration is in reduction of employee turnover, training costs and time. More emphasis will need to be put in retaining not just key employees, but any employee other than absolute labor hands. There will be more emphasis on product prices - competition will remain tight. While cost will be important in quoting, service will take a stronger role than ever before, all the while retaining high quality. Finally, I can foresee a number of mergers and takeovers, creating larger pools of suppliers for a wider supply of mold-related products in order to remain or become more competitive.

Jim Meinert, owner of Snider Mold (Mequon, WI), which builds large compression, injection, RIM and structural foam molds.
Future developments must include a global strategy, the latest technology and of course time compression! At the machine tool show we saw a laser mold-cutting machine that is also worth looking into. The main thing I talked about at the recent joint Canadian/American conference in Whistler, Canada is differentiation - or specializing - in toolmaking, which can be done by type of work, size of work, location of work, etc.

Louis M. Papp, an industry strategist for the Canadian Association of Moldmakers (Windsor, Ontario).
I'm hearing some complaints that while plastic injection molding is great stuff, it's becoming too costly and many moldmakers are looking to other means to produce the same part - like rapid prototyping, composite materials, new materials, different types of molding and so forth. Also, there is talk about using water jet machines to replace wire cutting EDM. There also will be more high-speed machining applications and five-axis machining. Metal removal must be sped up and new steels are coming out now for molds, and the moldmakers will have to understand what they are cutting and how to stress relieve it if necessary. In other words, they have to take a real close look at the metallurgical aspects of what they are doing.

Lean manufacturing also is being talked about - cutting costs right to the bone on everything you do - including design concepts, machining and reducing leadtimes. I foresee a lot of the smaller shops cooperating more closely with their previous competition - resources are few and leadtimes are being shortened by the customers - demands like these will force them to probably combine two or three shops into one leadership role. They have to start working closely together in order to remain competitive in a global marketplace.

Dave Randal, owner and operator of Randal Welding and Machine (Santa Ana, CA), a specialty tool steel welding house.
We are seeing more injection molding in the business. One trend that I am seeing is that suppliers are trying to standardize the mold block, where several sizes will be able to fit into one mold. We also are seeing shut-off runners where molders can shut off a larger runner and go to a smaller runner. For example, if you run a 16-cavity mold and one cavity fails, we are seeing more runner shut off. Moldmakers can literally reach in with a screwdriver, rotate the runner and shut it off rather than keep it running. It saves time in inspection, it saves material in injection molding and they can run the tool longer without having to pull it.

Tony Stefanic, owner of Techline Engineering (Alsip, IL), a consulting, product and mold design company.
I would say that the biggest thing for the coming year is in the area of materials. I think that for a while SLA and those technologies came up against a wall - it was nice to be able to create one part, but it was out of a material that, other than looking at it, you could not do a whole lot with. We managed to take it to the next level and create plastic tools. We also made spray metal tools but they had limited success. So I think that the next step would be some type of a powdered metal around the model to create a core cavity and be able to run them.

Eventually, the accuracy may get to the point where they can make a mold out of it. That would be the next step. That's the path we are going to have to follow.

Terry Wohlers, president of Wohlers Associates, Inc. (Fort Collins, CO), an independent consulting firm that works closely with manufacturing organizations to uncover the best approaches to rapid product development.
Finding talent [experienced moldmakers]; thermal management [heating and cooling the mold] to reduce injection mold cycle time and to mold good quality parts; reducing the time it takes to construct the mold; reducing the risk when sinking tens of thousands of dollars and weeks into a new mold; and understanding the different rapid tooling options for prototypes or for bridge tooling and how they compare to conventional methods.

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