amerimold 2012: Conference Highlights and Take-Aways

This year's moldmaking conference track included panel discussions and roundtables on technology topics such as mold maintenance and repair, conformal cooling and five-axis machining as well as business issues such as how to be a part of our skilled workforce dilemma and how to retain customers and gain new business. Here participants share their feedback and insight they are bringing back to their shops.

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Takeaways from our Mold Maintenance Panel from James Bourne, Toolroom Supervisor for SRG Global include:

Organization - anything else is undirected chaos.  The facility needs to be organized, the repair methodology needs to be organized, the supplies need to be organized and the training needs to be organized.

Documentation - working without historical context is like trying to thread a needle in the dark; you know what you want to accomplish, you have the right tools & components but you can't see what you're doing.

Training - repair is a different animal than building.  I couldn't agree more with Scott, clearly define the goal,  create mold repair technicians and get them on-board with the plan.  The concerted effort of a group is more effective than individual hero's trying to save the day.

Learned lessons from Scott Phipps of United Tool & Mold include establishing systems to plan your work; work your plan; get company buy in and set goals; make sure everyone is on same page; eliminate open-ended directions; set boundaries per goals; train according to plan; think long term; get a training program set up; start training a new workforce; forget hiring moldmakers and create repair technicians … it is a new world and we must rise to the occasion in order to be a global player; training is the key to future success; supply a good organized work place;  supply the proper equipment that promotes success.     

Information offered at our New Business/Retain Business Panel included a discussion of coalitions led by John Hill of Midwest Mold—working together; resources help as you can turn to your coalition for help as well. Dave LaGrow of Maximum Mold is part of a current coalition and explained how they work. Competition was a big concern, but emphasis was placed on necessary rules given upfront. The advantages of coalitions include: being able to service your customers better by keeping up with workload by using partners in your group that you can trust; they are a way to gain new work by selling a larger package—e.g., one shop can mold the parts, another can do the assembly and automation, another shop can do all the machining of the components, and any fab work can go to a welding/ fabricating company in a coalition.

One of the main points from the conference was resources. If you have the resources to be attentive to customer needs, you will retain those customers and attract new business.

Neal Goldenberg of Polymer Technologies mentioned a number of interesting ways to get and retain customers. He explained Google Alerts. Whenever your customer makes a business move that hits the internet and appears on Google, you can get an email alerting you. That means your customer expands into a new product line, you’ll hear about it and can contact your customer, congratulating him and offering your services to help his new product line.

Joe Grippe of Proper Group explained the role of the larger shop in getting and retaining business. His main point was to learn about your customers and pick and choose the customers that fit your business profile.

John Hill also discussed his success with Web marketing prompting an attendee to contact his local MMTC rep who is now working with them to duplicate what John has done.

In our Conformal Cooling Panel the process and its advantages were covered with some emphasis on its cost and the role of  computer simulations to determine the cost differentials between traditional cooling methods and conformal cooling. Most molds are built as "one of a kind" so there is no actual way to determine what the advantages of conformal cooling would be without first doing the simulations. A few misunderstood facts about the DMLS process were discussed including that it will produce a part that is structurally inferior to machined metal parts. The fact is that the parts produced by this process are very similar in nature to H-13 tool steel and can be heat treated to a hardness in the range of 50-54 RC. A review of  several companies that provide the needed services from doing the moldflow analysis to producing the actual DMLS inserts was also provided.

Our Five-Axis Machining Panel focused on three main points: real world applications, programming considerations and machine considerations.  Gary Eckel of Freeman Co. provided real world examples of the process and procedures that his company used to successfully use a 5 axis work cell.  Full 5 axis movement was not regularly used and avoided due to blending and accuracy issues as machine performance is improved by not moving slower axis.  Gary also said that in his applications he took one part and ran the machine attended by the operator to make any needed adjustments so that the machine could complete the rest of the parts unattended on the weekend.  All programs were run through a complete simulation program to ensure that no machine or tool holder collisions would occur.

John Welch of Open Mind presented key issues and benefits to consider when programing for 5 axis.  Collision checking and tool length, 3+2 advanced, auto indexing, 5-axis surface controls, shape offset roughing/finishing, 5-axis swarf cutting, 5-axis z-level machining, 5-axis rest machining and simulation.

Greg Pozzo of Makino presented key issues to consider when purchasing and implementing a 5 axis machine.  He put emphasis on the relationship between the machine tool builder and the customer.  He also provided some insight on the different types of 5 axis motion and the impacts it had on machine performance.  He also stressed more 3 + 2 machining. 2 +3 is really not continuous 5 axis, 2+3 is simple, more rigid (locked axis), easier to control, less lost motion, more accurate for critical features and better surface finish.

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