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By: El McKenzie 9. April 2015

Slideshow: NPE2015


NPE2015 was the largest show in its 69-year history and featured products from suppliers and manufacturers across the plastics industry. Click on the image above for just a small sampling of what this year's attendees saw.


By: Matthew Danford 8. April 2015

Better Machines for a Better Process

In an example of the possibilities unlocked by laser texturing, a close look at this airbag cover mold reveals three different grains that morph together seamlessly. The tool was textured in Europe on lasers from GF Machining Solutions, which supplied this image.

This March-issue feature article details an application that, as far as I (or my sources) can tell, is the first instance of a major automotive OEM specifying laser texturing for cosmetic interior tooling in North America. Having already caught on for such work on Europe, the technology offers a number of advantages over the traditional chemical etching processes—advantages that could provide time and cost savings for everyone in the supply chain, including toolmakers. Read the article to learn more.

Given the article’s focus on the process, it didn’t touch much on the machinery itself. That technology is worth a look, given how far it’s come since Custom Etch, the texture house detailed in the article, purchased its first laser from GF Machining Solutions in 2011. “Four years ago, the biggest hurdle by far was speed, but they’ve come a long way in addressing that,” says Don Melonio, vice president of Custom Etch.

Curious to learn more, I made sure to relay that statement to Gisbert Ledvon, head of business development at GF Machining Solutions, when I called as part of my research for the story. It turns out that recent years have seen the company introduce newer, more powerful laser sources that enable removing more material in a shorter amount of time. Today, machines are available with lasers ranging to 100 W, versus a maximum of only 50 before. More powerful lasers have also led the manufacturer to refine designs for cooling systems and dust evacuation systems, particularly for the Laser 4000, it’s largest model and Custom Etch’s most recent laser purchase.

The workzone of Custom Etch's Laser 4000 is large enough to handle even the largest molds without disassembly.

Yet, Melonio’s comments on speed likely referred to more than just the rate of material removal. Getting a job ready to run is faster now, too. In the past, applying a grain pattern to a 3D model—a process that involves a great amount of data—might have taken 20 to 30 hours of postprocessing time, Ledvon says. Thanks to a new algorithm, postprocessing is now about 60 times faster.    

Gains don’t stop there. Ledvon adds that the company’s latest laser machines can also be calibrated more quickly after a lens change compared to previous versions. That’s thanks largely to new calibration software and camera, which, together, eliminate the need to manually calibrate the machine for the correct focal point.  

Finally, Ledvon points out that not all recent developments relate to speed. The company also has a new patent for how patterns are applied to the 3D surface. For a large surface, such as a dashboard tool, the texture pattern must be divided into sections—so, the laser machines the pattern in one location, then moves over and duplicates it in an adjacent area of the surface. GF Machining’s software overlays these “patches” in a way that eliminates visible seam lines when processed by the laser, Ledvon says.

This latter capability struck me as particularly important critical, given that a primary advantage of the process for automotive molds is its ability to blend patterns seamlessly across any geometry and multiple parts. Read the article to learn more about the potential of laser texturing for this sort of work.   

This part, a cover for a component used to attach the passenger-side seat to the vehicle’s body, was one of three automotive interior tools chosen for laser texturing as part of a minor redesign of a luxury crossover SUV.


By: Christina M. Fuges 7. April 2015

Recruiting & Reshoring, Resources &Recommendations

Although there is a lack of future skilled workers, there is no lack of ways to do our part to help build that future workforce, including a new recruitment tool, a refreshed resource and data on the recruiting/reshoring connection.

1. Check out our MoldMaking Matters: Your Career Can Make a Difference video. It serves as a new recruitment tool that you can view and share with your local community.

2. Listen to the first installment of MMT's 2015 Educational Webinar Series on How to Fill the Skills Gap. Harry Moser of the Reshoring Intiative provides insight on recruiting strategies, reshoring data, and how one feeds the other to bring work back to the States and attract a new generation of workers.

3.  Check out an upgraded website for Manufacturing Day 2016 with more features and ease of use for volunteers, sponsors, host companies and event attendees. The event is scheduled for Friday, October 2, 2015.  Users can now sign up to host events, find events in their areas, and learn more about sponsorship opportunities through the newly updated interactive site. With user-friendly links to social media channels, scholarships, and success stories, potential participants, manufacturers, educators and students can better collaborate and access important industry resources.

 


By: Matthew Danford 6. April 2015

All About the People

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The assembly station in this video is a typical example of Ameritech Automation Systems' work.

 

To say that Ameritech Die and Mold relies heavily on automation would be an understatement. Here, automation isn’t just a means to improve manufacturing efficiency—it’s a whole segment of business in and of itself. Yet, the evolution of that business demonstrates that regardless of how far things have come, the people behind the technology remain as important as ever. 

Ameritech has relied on robotics, pallet systems, standardized workholding and the like for some time now, both at its main location in Mooresville, North Carolina and at a second facility, Ameritech South, in Florida. Early last year, however, the latter operation found a new niche. Operating under the name “Ameritech Automation Systems,” the new division focuses on engineering and manufacturing solutions for pick-and-place, degating, assembly and other such operations at custom molders and other customers.

The division got its start when a custom molder located near the Florida facility ran into trouble with one of its automation solutions providers. One veteran employee thought he could do better. He’d just need a reliable, trustworthy machine shop, one with whom the company had a good relationship to execute his plans for a new assembly system. Enter Ameritech. However, both parties lacked the necessary experience with interfacing the pneumatics and hydraulics.

This shot depicts the wiring and enclosure for the system shown in the video above.

Fortuitously, Rusty Rotman, Steve’s cousin and manager of Ameritech South, knew just the guy. Joe Johnson, whom Rusty met at church, had the requisite experience, and he was nearing the end of a temporary job. Johnson was quite eager to come on board for that project, and today, he’s program manager at Ameritech Automation Systems. “Joe offered the capability to help develop that division for us at a higher level, with multiple customers,” Steve Rotman says. 

These five workstations that assist workers in assembly of automotive components.

Ameritech South’s earlier diversification into aerospace industry work in 2009 is a similar story. Again, there were plenty of synergies—the company certainly had the expertise and technology to machine discrete parts, and it found plenty of mold work in that sector, too. However, Rotman credits the hiring of an aerospace industry veteran, Chuck Laymon, for providing the necessary experience to guide the company through the process of earning AS9100 certification.

These aren’t the only two individuals that make Ameritech South and Ameritech Automation “tick.” For instance, Johnson credits much of the latter division’s success to dedicated toolmaker Rich Smith. “Rich is quite literally the backbone of what we do here,” he says. “He has been able to take vague concept ideas presented from the customer and turn them into working equipment before I ever came on board and helped with creating complete designs. He really helped to drive realization that this is something Ameritech could do as a service for our customers.”

I didn’t speak to Smith, but I’d guess he would likely say similar things about other team members, who would likely credit other coworkers, and so forth. Indeed, singling out everyone’s contributions would be impossible. Suffice it to say that Ameritech views people as far and away its most important resource. If the above isn’t evidence enough of that, consider the fact that the company’s workforce development efforts have attracted at least as much attention as its automated, standardized approach to manufacturing. As a founding member of Apprenticeship 2000, the company has long focused its efforts on developing talent, and a large portion of the staff at its North Carolina headquarters facility is less than 40 years old. Rotman comments on the program in this Q&A from last year


By: Randy Kerkstra 3. April 2015

The Designer's Edge: Plastic Part Sticking, Part 2

 

Oftentimes a sticking issue is easily resolved, but there are always challenging ones. When you are investigating a sticking issue, the first step is to remove anything obvious from the list of possible root causes, including burrs, damage and unpolished areas. If the issue persists, your next step depends on which side of the tool the issue resides. If the part is sticking to the cavity (nonmoving half), add undercuts to the core (moving half).

Remember that some materials will stick to uncooled areas or details (such as GF nylons) from a lack of cooling in the tool. Other materials release easily with an increase in temperatures like that of polypropylene. Still others will run varying water temperatures to address sticking issues. You also need to be careful with running different water temperatures, especially on large tooling. The difference in thermo-expansion can cause wear adn other unwanted issues.

And the same is true with a tool's surface finish. Some materials will stick to highly polished surfaces and prefer a paper draw polish. For others, the shinier the better. I've had numerous instances where removing a high polish and moving to a draw polish was like turning on a light switch, eliminating the sticking issue. Again, this is material specific. Some materials prefer a higher polish and others, such as TPE or TPU (rubber) prefer a textured or blasted surface for release.  It all depends on the durameter of the TPE/TPU. Some prefer a glass bead finish versus an aluminum oxide finish. On parts that require high polished surfaces, coatings can help to reduce sticking or drag marks.

I hope sharing these variables will help you diagnose future sticking problems. Later this month, I will share how to hold the part to the core (moving half) without aggressive undercuts.



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