Inspection Technology Improves Manufacturer’s Design to Validation Services

Aerospace/defense/medical manufacturer acquires tool builder to complete design to part validation services. The manufacturer also provides inspection lab technology, including computerized tomography (CT) scanning, to refine the mold builder’s processes.

The OCTEX Group of Companies acquired Choice Tool & Mold (CTM) in 2015. What was the strategy behind this venture, and how does Choice Tool & Mold fit into the OCTEX Group?

John Hoskins, president: Our culture is to engage, innovate and evolve, so the acquisition of Choice Tool & Mold was strategic, and the timing was perfect. We brought the company to the annex of our headquarters in Sarasota, Florida, and have since invested millions in modern machinery and talented staff. We are now able to offer a unique, leading-edge platform that we call Launchpad, which is currently transforming the cost curve and providing multi-pathway solutions. We have a brilliant staff of scientists, engineers and technicians, and we cultivate creative expression and problem-solving. Choice Tool & Mold was the missing link in a complete, full-spectrum solution. 

Your “concept to carton” motto is all about providing molders with a true turnkey package—from machining to automation, tooling, validation and processing. Can you explain some of the key technologies and strategies that enable you to achieve this level of service? 

Hoskins: For more than 25 years, we have studied countless facility layouts and machine logistics, and we have tested configurations and placements. All of this has enabled us to systematically make our turnkey processes for production, validation and launch more efficient. We are now able to offer customers a complete validation and product launch package, ready for plug-and-play deployment, which ensures a perfect part and results in faster time to market. Because our lab, production cleanrooms and tooling facility are on the same campus, we save considerable time throughout project tracking by leveraging these services. The result is a reconfigurable, production-ready manufacturing cell called Launchpad. We have customers already waiting for these services. 

The OCTEX Group and Choice Tool & Mold have just completed a 10-month research effort for the U.S. Department of Defense and the U.S. Armed Forces, where these strategies and techniques are being applied to rapid prototyping and agile manufacturing capabilities. The accomplished objectives will help enhance and certify these technologies and reduce the cost and lead time associated with traditional manufacturing. 

Inspection and measurement is a key element to the mold manufacturing process. Talk a little about the advanced metrology labs to which Choice Tool & Mold now has access as being a part of the OCTEX Group. 

Hoskins: Omnia Scientific is a leading metrology institute that provides the latest in computed tomography (CT) scanning technology, coordinate measuring machines, instant measuring machines, 2D and 3D microscopy, spectrophotometry and optical graphics technologies. Having access to these services on the campus makes it possible for Choice Tool & Mold to perform the necessary metrology and analysis it needs to guarantee that customers receive in-spec molds. 

How does Choice Tool & Mold validate tools and use full CT-scanning capability beyond what other mold builders do? 

Hoskins: These in-house services enable Choice Tool & Mold to be involved with the entire process from start to finish. Specifically, CT-scanning capabilities create the most efficient bridge between Mold First Off Tool (MFOT) and Mold Factory Acceptance Test (MFAT) activity. It provides true dimensional analysis of 100 percent of the features in 3D without any limitations in the number of dimensions or the number of points. When asked how many points were used to define a cylinder we reply, “All of them.” 

A data set without limitations provides feedback to a master toolmaker at the highest level. Components are compared to the 3D model and a topographical map then highlights deviations from processing or material shrinkage. Additionally, the 3D data set is converted into a workable CAD file in which it is possible to make corrections directly from the component instead of the theoretical CAD or a set of points that do not fully capture each feature. We have refined our process to such a degree that first article inspections of complex geometries are completed in as little as 30 minutes. This greatly reduces the time spent on troubleshooting, communication and problem resolution.

Provide details of a customer project that used inspection technology to solve a problem and got a better product to market quicker. 

Hoskins: One application involved our Advanced Team using non-destructive CT scanning to identify the cause of a fluid leak path in a medical device that required a 100-percent seal that was subject to a 10-year threshold of liquid nitrogen submersion. We then made the necessary adjustments to achieve a perfect hermetic seal between the polymer components of the device. Another application involved a medical customer who was experiencing ongoing fatigue failure leading to the cracking of a surgical implant screw. After a 36-month effort, the customer was still unable to ascertain the root cause of the failure. Upon evaluating the case, the Advanced Team applied CT scanning technologies and immediately identified the source of failure, which subsequently provided a path to resolution.

Data management and transfer is a challenge for many mold builders. How does Choice Tool & Mold tackle this area? 

Hoskins: Our chief scientist designed our network infrastructure. It was engineered using principles of synthetic biology and converged architecture. This makes it possible for shop machines, lab instruments, computer workstations and portable devices to communicate seamlessly while functioning independently. Choice Tool & Mold connections use fiber uplinks at and above the 10-GB threshold. These connections maintain an active link between the OCTEX core command and sister networks. Choice Tool & Mold’s facility uses EMC Isilon clusters for data storage, and policies are software-defined based on user requirements. By eliminating manual file transfers that traditionally employ USB, CD or SD card handoffs, our teams can rely heavily on the internal network protocols where all devices are interconnected and able to communicate in synergy. Data management in the medical, defense and aerospace markets demands special standards that are subject to strict scrutiny. Our network adheres to standards compliant with HIPAA, National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) SP 800-XX, ISO 27000 and Security Technical Implementation Guides (STIG -DoD/NSA), which ensures that company and customer data is completely secure and accessible. 

By eliminating manual file transfers that traditionally employ USB, CD or SD card handoffs, our teams rely heavily on the internal network protocols where all devices are interconnected and able to communicate in synergy.

You mention “taking the art and creating science.” What does that mean? 

Hoskins: We know plastics. We know science. We know that results save lives. When time is of the essence and all operations are mission-critical, we look at talent to drive technology. That means allocating considerable time to research, vetting the highest rated original equipment manufacturers, partnering when pathways to the cutting-edge align and developing proprietary, nascent applications, all of which we believe help us to lead the pace in the art and science of innovation. 

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