Opportunity Found with Technology Upgrade

A hybrid vertical machining center helps save time and money when manufacturing components for moldmaking.
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In the midst of the recent economic woes, one precision tool manufacturer found that investing in top-of-the-line equipment was a significant help in overcoming moldmaking and fiscal concerns while capturing additional market share.

Future Products Tool Corporation (Detroit, MI) and Metal Punch Corporation (Cadillac, MI)—a division of Future Products—are family-owned companies founded in 1963. Today, founder Irvin Swider, Sr. is chairman, and his son Irvin J. Swider is president. Over the years, they have grown into world-class ISO 9000:2000 quality suppliers to the metal forming industry, specializing in the manufacture of precision interchangeable die and mold components, largely for the automotive sector.

A significant part of Future Products' business is in manufacturing electrodes and probes for the die and mold industries. Die and mold manufacturers are faced with many of the same challenges. There are many situations where the geometry of the cavity allows hard milling rather than sinking with EDM. While EDM is still required for tight corners and detail, the speed and efficiency of high-speed milling is benefiting moldmakers and die manufacturers. Recently, Future Products has added high-speed milling and this has had a significant impact on its business.

In 2003, Future Products was 35 percent below the levels seen in 2000. However, Swider, Sr. had positioned the company well. He turned the company reins over to his son without any debt and a strong dedicated and loyal workforce, retaining many of its skilled workers that had been with the company for more than twenty years.

In 2003, both father and son decided they needed to invest in the latest technology to properly position the business for the next decade. They determined that one thing they could use was a new high-speed, high-precision vertical machining center (VMC). A core functionality for this equipment is efficient manufacturing of electrodes for use in moldmaking.


The Search

Future Products already had a dedicated graphite mill at Metal Punch, so its need was for a machine capable of producing extremely close tolerance electrodes with superb finishes, but with the capability of hard-milling tool steels as well. The company also wanted a machine that could quickly change over from graphite to hardened steels with superior support and service.

The decision-making process entailed researching six VMC manufacturers to find the best hybrid machine, among them was Mitsubishi EDM. "We visited rpm Carbide Die in Ohio to view and assess the Roku-Roku GR-658N (distributed by Mitsubishi EDM/MC Machinery Systems)." says Swider, Jr. "We knew the machine could mill graphite quickly and accurately with superior surface finishes, but we wanted to see if the HSK-E40, 32,000 rpm spindle could cut hardened steels efficiently."

The finishes they saw in 62 Rockwell H13 were impressive, but what surprised them was the excellent tool life because of the precision balancing abilities of the spindle. The spindle design allows for more balanced tooling, resulting in better finishes and longer tool life. These add up to very efficient machining.

"As we strive to squeeze costs out of our manufacturing processes, one factor contributing greatly to our bottom line is tooling cost," explains Swider, Jr. "Carbide cutters are not cheap. The Roku-Roku is capable of producing surface finishes that require minimal benching—a labor intensive process that is not profitable by any means."


Mitsubishi on Top

The Roku-Roku was the only machine that met all their specific criteria and Future Products ordered it just two days after visiting RPM Carbide Die. In addition to the equipment's capabilities, the company cited Mitsubishi's accuracy, reliability and service as some of the differentiating factors. "The Roku offered true versatility with the ability to machine electrodes beautifully, and changing over to cut steel is quick, easy and clean," says Swider, Jr. "The Roku has exceeded our expectations for performance. The machine's consistent accuracy with electrodes improves the entire diemaking process—it eliminates the need to invest in expensive shrink-fit tool holders to achieve adequate tool balancing. With the service and support from Mitsubishi EDM, we have a win-win scenario."



The company benefited immediately from improved machine times and surface finish that not only helped maintain current customers, but also has helped develop new ones. In one instance, they won back a major assignment with a tier-1 automotive supplier producing C.V. joint tooling. Making the electrode required for the C.V. joint manufacturing process used to take three hours using a conventional grinder. The same job using the Roku-Roku now runs twenty minutes. For this client, Future Products is delivering approximately sixty electrodes per month. This translates to an estimated time savings of 144 hours per month, and a cost savings of over $100,000 per year.

"In the past, Future Products has been traditionally a 2-D shop with a strong emphasis on wire EDM and turning," he says. "However, more complex 3-D work will be harder to send offshore, and because of this, there are many opportunities for shops with this unique capability."

Ray Rice, a sales executive with the company, says he is now able to attack previously unquotable work. With the machining ability the Roku provides, he and Tracy Inger, his sales manager, can quote jobs more predictably because of consistent feeds, speeds and superb surface finish capability. That translates directly to higher profitability.

"We will continue to explore new markets," explains Swider, Jr. "The attrition of many manufacturing companies has left incredible opportunities for those of us who have invested wisely and will continue to invest in new technology."