MMT Blog

Concours Mold Inc. (Lakeshore, Ontario, Canada) makes it a priority to keep its machinery and equipment up to date to ensure competitiveness. From its enterprise resource planning (ERP) system and advanced scheduling system, to its radio frequency identification (RFID) tool management system, to rigorous quality-check procedures, not to mention five-axis machining centers, the company does whatever it can to continually improve its processes. In fact, the company recently invested millions of dollars in new equipment, but one machine, the Unisig USC-M, has so improved Concours’ machining processes that, according to Ed Ergun, corporate sales manager, it has been a game changer.

 

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The necessity for productivity reigns throughout manufacturing, and that certainly includes moldmaking. Recent CAD/CAM software advancements can help achieve significant improvements throughout the shop and moldmaking process from quoting, programming and roughing operations through to finishing, deburring and shop connectivity.

New tools in CAD/CAM packages are geared toward CAD solid model preparation and are designed to make the file cleaner, smaller (data size) and easier to work with. In toolpath creation, dynamic roughing tool paths continue to become smarter, and now even finishing operations are enjoying a boost with new algorithms. Also, certain CAM packages offer highly focused moldmaking tools for electrode creation, core/cavity model separation and parting line creation.

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Last year was a big year for MMT, with most of our attention focused on our 20th anniversary, NPE, Amerimold and IMTS. The growing interest, understanding and use of 3D printing and additive manufacturing technologies and processes within the mold manufacturing community was an area that stood out to me throughout all these events. It’s exciting. So, I did an informal survey to get a better handle on how to cover this constantly-changing additive landscape. Here is a simplified look at what I discovered.

Most of you consider yourselves “somewhat” familiar with additive manufacturing/3D printing and can explain the difference between the two. Simply put, 3D printing is the process at the center of additive manufacturing (AM), but AM involves so much more. The most understood 3D printing processes are FDM, SLA, direct metal laser sintering (DMLS) and hybrid sintering/milling machines. The majority of respondents are not applying additive manufacturing/3D printing in-house due to budgetary constraints and undetermined ROI. Current AM applications include prototyping and conformal cooling. About half of respondents are contracting these services out to a facility specializing in AM/3D printing to print prototypes, steel cavities, aluminum inserts and conformal-cooled inserts. The processes respondents want to learn more about include: material jetting and hybrid DMLS. The moldmaking applications that respondents believe have the most potential are complex cooling in mold bases and small mold inserts that are difficult to machine, low to mid volume part production, reverse engineering of old components, replacement parts, repair, fixtures, end of arm tooling and mold components.

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International trade policy impacts every mold builder, and policy shifts matter even more. Each decision potentially makes it easier or more difficult for a mold builder to export or to push back against unfair trade practices originating overseas. After a year of laying out a comprehensive, and very controversial, trade agenda, the Trump administration began to implement dramatic shifts in 2018. Our nation has plenty of policy irons in the fire, including unilateral tariffs on steel and aluminum imports, a new NAFTA and face-to-face negotiations with Beijing.  

Here’s a quick rundown of some of the decisions that the government will need to make, along with some of the issues it needs to address this year.

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The Mechanical Engineering Industry Association (VDMA) forecasted at its January press conference that the tool and moldmaking sector in Germany would have a very positive year. Average turnover increased by 8 percent in 2018 compared to the previous year. However, Marco Schülken, chairman of VDMA’s toolmaking division, stated that he is worried about unfair business practices by some major customers in this sector that caused a “hemorrhage of German tool and moldmaking shops.” This hemorrhage includes pre-financing of customer-specific projects, massive discounts on existing contracts to secure renewal contracts, and delays in mold approvals as a reason for working with tools that have not been paid for yet. Tool and mold exports, on the other hand, were very positive in 2018, Schülken says, with the U.S. remaining the biggest export destination, increasing by 20 percent last year. Due to the situation between the U.S. and Mexico, exports decreased by 15 percent at the same time.

These numbers illustrate that German technology and tools are still in high demand, but when it comes to innovations, trying new things and leaving the tried and tested path, German companies are lagging behind U.S. companies, says additive manufacturing (AM) expert Marc Dimter from Trumpf in Ditzingen. “Companies here enjoy new technology, including additive manufacturing,” he says. “But the Americans are much more adventuresome in that respect. My colleague Christoph Dörr is looking into the U.S. die-casting market, as conformal cooling (which can be realized with AM) is much more common in that industry sector than here in Europe.”

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