MMT Blog

Apprenticeships work a little differently in Grand Island Nebraska, the location of Dramco Tool Co. Larry Patten is an owner of Dramco, which specializes in building dies and injection and compression molds with capacities ranging to 1,000 tons. The company has a 37,000-square-foot facility and employs 45 workers, three of whom were recently hired out of a local community college. “We have never had a formal apprenticeship program at Dramco,” Patten says. “A number of years ago, we started to focus on hiring students from a two-year technical college program to work part-time in the shop. We offered them the possibility of full-time employment after they had taken the required courses and graduated.”

In the past, Dramco typically hired about 90 percent of its employees after they had graduated with advanced, technical manufacturing degrees. The new hires came out of community college having learned basic machining skills, Patten says, and they had learned how to build and run a basic mold. That recruitment scenario has changed in recent years.

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A mold design can be like a soup. The designer has ensured that the movements that the part geometry requires are designed (the meat), the gates are properly placed to fill the part (the vegetables) and that the mold fits in the press (the broth). But, has the designer checked that the cavity and core blocks have the proper number of screw holes to retain them in the base, or whether there are any? Having a proper mold-design review and checklist can and will save time to market by ensuring that the designer has even accounted for the small potatoes, or the design details. Oakley has developed an extensive mold-design checklist and following are some of the top items that can be applied to all tool designs. Mold designers check that:

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Jeremy Fennelly was an intern at the University of Massachusetts Lowell back in 1992 when he answered an ad on the recruiting wall from Rubbermaid looking for engineers to work on a six-month system-integration project to help the company cut costs. The project entailed changing the configuration of the company’s manual tool-change process, which at the time used cranes and manual hookups into a side-table mold-change system.

The challenge was trying to figure out a way to decouple the ejector rods from the tool, which proved difficult with the waterline and manifold connection configuration that the company was using. Fennelly started researching options and came across an ad for couplers from Alba Enterprises (Alba).

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Every shop wants to increase productivity, and polishing is often the bottleneck. Although companies understand the value of polishing, many are not willing to deal with polishing because they do not know how to do it properly.

Polishing longer is not always the answer. Steve Smith, Gesswein & Co. polishing coach, says that the answer is more polishers. His experience has taught him that there should be one polisher for every ten people cutting steel. “So, if you have a 100-man shop cutting steel and programming, then you need ten polishers to keep up. Most shops would have three,” Smith says. He also stands by a 10-hour work day. Smith believes that nine hours is optimal, as a polisher’s fingers can only take so much of the vibration and abrasiveness associated with polishing.

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How does Franchino Mold and Engineering (Franchino Mold) find and attract the next generation of moldmaking professionals?

Brad Rusthoven, human resources manager: We have partnered with public schools and Michigan’s vocational education program since 1962 to hire and provide training for qualified employees. When I was hired in 2010, the apprentice program had lapsed because of the slow economy, so that was one of my first directives—to get it going again. First, we re-registered our moldmaker and CNC machining apprenticeship programs with the U.S. Department of Labor. Then we went back to using the curriculum we previously followed with Lansing Community College (LCC).

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