Unique Tool & Gauge Teams Up With Alcan To Set New Industry Standard

Unique Tool & Gauge teams up with Alcan to set new industry standard: largest block of 7000-Series aluminum ever forged used to produce a high-volume production injection mold for the automotive industry.Officials from Unique Tool & Gauge and Alcan Aluminum announced that a production aluminum injection mold recently built and having successfully completed trials was machined from the largest block of production tooling-grade aluminum ever forged anywhere in the world.

Unique Tool & Gauge teams up with Alcan to set new industry standard: largest block of 7000-Series aluminum ever forged used to produce a high-volume production injection mold for the automotive industry.

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Officials from Unique Tool & Gauge and Alcan Aluminum announced that a production aluminum injection mold recently built and having successfully completed trials was machined from the largest block of production tooling-grade aluminum ever forged anywhere in the world. Alcan Technologies supplied, through a production licensee, an 11,000 lb. forging of Alumold 500 that measured 70" x 52" x 31". The application for the tool is the front wheel well liners for a high volume sedan, which is produced in the US.

"The 31" thick block Alcan forged for us for this wheel liner program is, at the time we began work, the largest forging ever done in 7000 Series aluminum," said King. We've had huge success with 7000 Series aluminum grades, and Alcan's work in producing larger block sizes on their Alumold 500 product is going to open up new application areas for production aluminum tooling for us," he added. "Our automotive customers stand to realize considerable savings if this program remains successful."

Dan Popescu, Manager of Customer Applications Engineering for Alcan says "We were approached by both the OEM and by Unique Tool & Gauge in parallel on this project, and we had some initial concerns of course with the total cost of the program, as well as the risk involved. As far as cost goes, we knew we would need to forge two blocks, not one, so that a significant number of sections could be cut from one of the blocks and tested for mechanical characterization and uniformity," he said.

"As for risk," said Popescu, "we just hadn't done anything that big before, and of course we had some natural concerns. On a day-to-day basis, most of the larger Alumold 500 forgings supplied by Alcan are anywhere from 16" to 25" thick. However, we had produced forgings of up to 27" thick and we were confident that we could go bigger. It's really a combination of designing the right alloy that will behave properly and that will also retain its properties under stringent processing conditions."

The forging begins as a very large block of metal that is shaped into a rectangle by successive rotations and movements, and the composition of the alloy has to be optimized to lend itself to this processing. The other factor was the design of the forging process and having the equipment available to performing these operations on the alloy. According to Popescu, "there are not too many forging presses in the world that are capable of performing that task."

"This is a major step forward for the North American plastics industry," said Darcy King, President of Unique Tool & Gauge. "Our experience working with aluminum has effectively proven the cost and productivity advantages of aluminum for automotive production tools. Now our company has driven aluminum tooling technology to the next level through our work with Alcan," he said.  

"It's becoming more well known that tool makers like us can produce a automotive production tool faster and at less cost in aluminum versus P20 steel, and that tool will run with cycle time reductions of anywhere from 30% to well in excess of 50% versus P20 steel," noted King.

"The added advantage of a large aluminum tool is that 7000 Series aluminum is roughly 1/3 the weight of P20 tool steel. That means we can use smaller cranes in our customers' production operations that will also see less wear and tear. The tie bars and platens on our test machines and our customers' production molding machines will see less stress. They can use smaller machines with less clamp tonnage and reduce injection pressures on production runs. They'll save on cycle time, their maintenance costs will go down and they'll save significant energy over the long haul.

"Aluminum tooling is not only a high performance molding technology, it's an energy saver and a cost saver," said King.

Darcy King
Unique Tool & Gauge
519-737-1159
dking@unique-tool.com