By: Steve Kline, Jr. 3. July 2015

May Mold Business Index Reports Industry Virtually Unchanged for Three Months

With a reading of 50.0, the Gardner Business Index showed that the moldmaking industry contracted was unchanged in May. The previous two months had very slight contractions. Therefore, the industry has been virtually unchanged for the last three months. Overall, the industry remained at its healthiest level since 2012. However, compared with one year ago, the index has contracted nearly 10 percent or more each of the last three months. And, the annual rate of change contracted in May for the first time since February. So, the industry remained strong in May but there were signs of softening.

New orders increased somewhat in May after being unchanged the last two months. Production increased for the eight month in a row, but the index has fallen the last four months. Production has been relatively stronger than new orders. So, the backlog has fallen at an accelerating rate since the third quarter of 2014. The backlog index was at its second lowest level in May since September 2013. Trends in backlogs showed that capacity utilization in the industry will grow at a slower rate or contract for the remainder of 2015. Hiring increased for the third month in a row. The employment index has been on a steady rise since September 2014. Exports continued to contract, although the index has seen modest improvement since the summer of 2014. Supplier deliveries lengthened at their fastest rate since February 2012.

Material prices have increased the last two months after decreasing the two months prior to that. But, the rate of increase in material prices was still well below almost any other point in the index’s history, which stretches back to December 2011. Much of the price decrease and smaller price increases was likely on the molding side of the industry due to lower resin prices. Prices received have contracted at a modest rate throughout 2015. Future business expectations improved slightly from last month. The expectations index has been hovering around 70, which is roughly the historical average, since November 2014.

Facilities with 20-49 employees contracted for the second time in three months. Companies with fewer than 20 employees have contracted every month but two since August 2012.

Both custom processors and metalcutting job shops have not grown in the same month for three straight months. May saw custom processors expand somewhat. These companies have grown every month but one since October 2014. Metalcutting job shops contracted in May and have contracted two of the last three months. Conditions in these companies have been much more up and down since August 2014 than the conditions at custom processors.

The North Central – West was the fastest growing region for the second month in a row. The rate of growth has accelerated significantly each month. The Northeast has grown at steady but slower rate than North Central – West the last two months. The North Central – East had a significant drop in its index in May, to 41.2 from 51. 3.

Future capital spending plans remained very weak. Spending plans in the last two months have been less than 50 percent of the historical average. And, the one-month rate of change has contracted more than 25 percent for seven consecutive months. The annual rate of was contracted more than 26 percent in May.


By: Christina M. Fuges 2. July 2015

Key Elements of a State Skills Strategy

The second of a four-part educational webinar series from MMT, answering the question: What are the Most Effective Ways to Fill the Skills Gap?  aired last month and is now available for download.  The webinar focuses on an Industry-Driven Approach to Manufacturing Education to Fill the Skills Gap: Key Elements of a State Skills Strategy.

This webinar spotlighted The Michigan Advanced Technician Training program (MAT²®), which is an innovative and industry-defined approach to education. The model was developed in conjunction with global technology leaders that combines theory, practice and work to train a globally competitive workforce. Watch video on the program here.

The presenter was Ryan Hundt, a Project Coordinator with the Michigan Economic Development Corporation’s Talent Enhancement unit, working primarily with college retention initiatives and partnership outreach.

Some of the questions raised during the dicussion include:

1) I understand that companies have to pay the tuition fee to the community college over three years. Does this tuition fee cover just credit hours, or does it also cover things like materials, books, supplies, etc.?

2) What happens if a student quits or is fired at any point during the program?

3) What happen if a student decides to leave during the 2-year commitment after they complete the program? (can be coincided with Question 2, since the answer is almost exactly the same).

4) Does the employer have to have a company-designated individual on hand with the students during the work periods, to serve as a mentor?

5) Are there any other occupational areas that MAT2 may expand to in the future?

To hear the answers, listen to the archived webinar here

The next webinar in the series will be: 

September 3, 2015

Getting Real about Manufacturing Education to Fill the Skills Gap: Key Elements of a Local Teaching Strategy

Craig Ceigleski, Cardinal Manufacturing and Jacob Hostettler, Northwoods Manufacturing

Click here to register.

By: Matthew Danford 1. July 2015

“Smart” Technology Boosts EDM Efficiency, Quality

 AgieCharmilles-brand sinkers like the Form 300 incorporate the Intelligent Process Generator (IPG), which forms the basis for the new developments detailed below. In essence, this roughly decade-old technology works by generating less-powerful sparks with shorter on-time to reduce the risk of degrading the surface without sacrificing speed. 

How much would your customers appreciate an EDM’ed mold surface that’s virtually guaranteed to release plastic without any sticking? How much would your EDM programmers appreciate technology that removes much of the tedium and guesswork associated with configuring the process? What about the ability to use even smaller electrodes for particularly complex mold features? Based on what I saw on the morning of June 19, all of this is already reality.

That Friday was the last day of "Solutions Days," an open house event at GF Machining Solutions’ U.S. headquarters facility in Lincolnshire, Illinois, and staying in Chicagoland an extra day after the conclusion of Amerimold 2015 was well worth it. Although innovations on display ranged from automation to milling to laser texturing and even software and other technology from supporting partners, my discussions at the event were dominated mostly by the aforementioned EDM developments. Here’s a quick overview:

3DS. The latest of the company’s EDM innovations, 3DS builds on the success of the Intelligent Process Generator (IPG) that has long been a standard feature of most of the company’s AgieCharmilles sinkers. After extensive experimentation with the generator, the company has zeroed in on particular combinations of settings to achieve surfaces with far less friction. As a result, plastic parts are far less likely to stick to the mold surface.

Notably, a surface generated with 3DS isn’t necessarily any smoother—at least, not in terms of the roughness average (Ra) value. For most molds, the “sweet spot” is about 0.2 Ra, and 3DS technology typically has no effect on that measurement, explains Eric Ostini, product manager at GF Machining Solutions. Rather, 3DS adjusts root mean square (RMS), a different formula.

To explain the difference in practical terms, he compares how two hypothetical mold surfaces, both with the same Ra value, might look under a microscope. The surface generated without 3DS resembles a bed of gravel, while the one generated with 3DS looks more like a closely compacted group of lily pads. That is, the average height across the microscopic peaks and valleys are the same on each, but those peaks and valleys are spaced further apart on the 3DS surface. Taking advantage of 3DS requires simply selecting the desired setting, and the CNC software does the rest.

Techform. 3DS isn’t the only example of generator settings and control software combining to enable faster programming and better parts. Techform technology enables users to select a generic compromise between burn speed and electrode wear based on the priority for any given job, and the CNC adjusts power supply settings accordingly, says Gisbert Ledvon, director of business development.

Techform smooths the transition to different generator settings during the progression of the burn according to the user's priorities (in this case, speed, as indicated by the broken green line). Like a driver shifting gears, this avoids abrubt transitions (red line).

This occurs throughout the duration of the cut and responds to changing conditions, thereby reducing the need for an operator with the expertise (and the time) to manage the intricacies of amperage, voltage, on/off time and other such settings. It also leads to a more stable process, Ledvon explains. For instance, spark power should decrease as an orbiting electrode moves closer to a sidewall. Techform ensures that this not only happens, but that the transition is smooth—that power is adjusted in increments rather than jumping straight from one setting to another. “It’s like driving a car,” Ledvon says. “Gears 2 and 3 smooth the transition from 1 to 4,” he says.

iGap. Yet another generator advancement, iGap alters the discharge current and pulse duration in real time to improve cutting speed and reduce electrode wear. This is particularly useful for small, intricate burned features, Ledvon says. Electrodes must typically be machined slightly undersized to effectively burn a cavity feature. iGap enables using more power and, thus, faster cutting speeds, even with small undersizes. This is of particular benefit to shops using very small electrodes, and it could even enable the use of smaller, more intricate electrodes than would otherwise be possible. Like 3DS and Techform, this capability can be easily selected in the machine’s Form HMI CNC touchscreen interface.

For more on technology from GF Machining Solutions, visit the company’s website

EDM certainly wasn't the only highlight of the event. The texture visible on the top of this model head was created via laser texturing, a technology that could be catching on for imparting leather grains and other surfaces on automotive industry molds. Read this March-issue feature article to learn more. 

By: Christina M. Fuges 30. June 2015

VIDEOS: Manufacturing Matters: Help Spread the Word

Those of us involved in manufacturing know how innovative, high-tech and fulfilling a career in this industry can be, but we need to spread the word to attract and retain that next generation of skilled workers. One way to do just that is video. To support this effort Gardner Business Media and its partners are commited to educating and promoting professional opportunties in manufacturing today with the Manufacturing Education video series initiative. You can help spread the word by sharing these video resources with your local community, high school students, parents, educators and industry to grow and train the next-generation workforce, while driving interest and awareness in manufacturing.

Manufacturing Education Series

Volume #1:  Does This Teacher Have the Winning Formula? 

Volume #2:  Meet a Manufacturing Engineer

Volume #3:  What Is It Like To Study Manufacturing? 

To learn more about the Manufacturing Education Series, visit:


MoldMaking Matters Series

Volume #1:  Your Career Can Make A Difference

* NEW Volume #2:  Your Road To Success 

Presented by: MoldMaking Technology, Plastics Technology, Gardner Business Media, The American Mold Builders Association, SPI – The Plastics Industry Association, The Society of Plastics Engineers and Creative Technology


By: Matthew Danford 29. June 2015

Beyond Indicating

Stringent inspection routines are a big part of Dynamic Tool’s scientific process for manufacturing molds like this one, shown here being qualified via a similarly scientific process in the company’s brand new technical center (read the article to learn more). (All images courtesy of Creative Technology Corp.)  

Although this article cites on-machine probing as a major new development at Dynamic Tool & Design, the winner of this year’s Leadtime Leader: Honorable Mention award has had probes on machining centers for about 2 years. These probes have saved a great deal of time by eliminating the need to manually indicate workpieces (and by virtually eliminating the potential for human error during that process). However, the company now has far more ambitious plans for its machine-mounted probes, says Dave Miller, president at Dynamic. Not only will they be used to indicate; they’ll be actually measuring parts, too.

Having had the mantra of “a machine not cutting chips is not making money” drilled into my head during my earliest days as an editor, I questioned this idea. After all, every minute spent inspecting parts could be spent machining them instead. Beyond that, a milling machine is designed to cut, not to measure. Could it really act in the same way as a CMM?

Miller had a ready answer for both points. The efficiency of the overall process trumps the efficiency of any individual workstation, he says. Given the scientific nature of Dynamic Tool’s approach, its quality control department handles quite a load—a load that’s often sufficient to cause a bottleneck. Thus, the whole idea behind probing on the machines is to limit pressure on CMMs and other downstream inspection resources. “We don’t have a 24/7 CMM operation,” Miller explains. “If too much gets in the queue to be inspected, we can wind up waiting for those inspections before we can proceed with finishing operations. Inspecting on the machines instead will take time out of the process.”

As for the equipment itself, I wasn’t totally off-base. “It has to provide the same results as what we can do in the inspection room,” Miller says. Machine tools have come a long way, however, and accuracy and precision haven’t been a problem for the three hard-cutting machines and the boring mill that currently incorporate probes. (For a full equipment list, scroll to the bottom of the Leadtime Leader article). As opposed to addressing any physical machine limitations, most of the work of implementing probing routines has involved integrating the equipment with the very same software that runs the CMMs in the company’s cleanroom.

Quality control isn’t limited to post-machining inspections. Here, Mike Retzer, CNC operator, uses the shop’s Zoller presetter, which is employed to measure each and every tool assembly prior to use. In addition to detecting any problems, this strategy helps eliminate human variation when inputting offsets and lengths. Every new tool also undergoes in-house testing to verify the correct feeds and speeds for different conditions and materials.

Hurdles still remain. Just one example is the need to ensure parts are clean enough to inspect. At the time the Leadtime Leader article was published, the shop was experimenting with adding blow-off sequences to programs to ensure stray chips and other contaminants don’t interfere with probe readings.

Suffice it to say that using a machining center like a CMM involves far more than simply installing the right probe and software. Yet, if past experience at Dynamic is any indication, the shop’s efforts will be more than worth it. Taking labor out of the process has long been a top priority here ever since the company’s earliest experiments with unattended machining in the early ‘80s. Read the article to learn more.

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