Moldmakers Share Benefits of Makino Die/Mold Expo

Three mold manufacturers share their takeaways from the recent Makino Die/Mold Expo.

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What do you gain by attending events like the Makino Die/Mold Expo that was held last week at the company’s Technology Center in Auburn Hills, Michigan? I asked three of the moldmakers I met there to share their personal takeaways and received three differently-focused responses. Here’s what they told me:

Don Snow, president of CS Tool Engineering in Cedar Springs, Michigan, says, “I make the effort to attend because this is an event that is geared to the tool and die trade with presentations that also support how processes in toolmaking can help you improve and get the maximum ROI. This year I was impressed with the surface finishes on the test cavity that was machined on the new five-axis V80S that Makino introduced. I also heard the presentations of Greg Daco of Oxford Economics and Laurie Harbour of Harbour Results. Greg's perspective of the world's economics and our domestic challenges was a positive insight. Laurie, who is always insightful, shared information regarding the different size tool and die shops and what the future holds for them. Both presentations cause you to pause your brain from the daily demands of riding the tool and die roller coaster and get a feel for the rest of the world and what the future challenges are going to be.”

Robbie Earnhardt, president of Superior Tooling in Raleigh, North Carolina, told me that he appreciates the higher level of contact and information-gathering. “I go to these sorts of events to keep up with technology. Things change so fast in our industry that unless I take the time and visit these shows I would find our shop falling behind. Our company is presently looking at adding to our five-axis capabilities. This was a good opportunity for me to see the different machines being offered. It also allowed me to become more familiar with the entire organization. At shows like IMTS you see everything that is offered but the crowd is so large and overwhelming that you don’t really get a good feel for the company like you do at these events.”

Wes Stephens, account manager at Industrial Molds in Rockford, Illinois, says he was impressed by Makino’s data-driven customer service. “I was impressed with how they partner with the customer to provide solutions, and they have a high-end inspection lab to quantify the results of machining processes, actually using data to discuss them with the customer,” he says. Stephens was also a guest speaker at Makino’s session on the benefits of automation. “At first, I didn’t understand how automation fit with building large, one-off molds,” he told the audience. “Our motivation for implementing automation was to reduce lead times, but there is so much more to it than that.” Benefits cited included increased capacity, reduced costs (due to the ability to redeploy labor to other areas of production), and reduced scrap because of the gain in quality. Automation also can help address the skilled labor shortage.

According to Makino, die and mold manufacturers can get to the point of effectively using automation by taking a few calculated steps. The first is to standardize all workholding and offline programming, which Makino says is the foundation of automation. Then, optimize, through an initial audit, the company’s current CNC equipment to stabilize the machining process. If a company is not comfortable with its current use of CNC capabilities, then it can’t optimize the automation process. Next, a company should reach the ability to perform predictable, manageable unmanned machining using standardized internal processes and offline setup. The point is to be able to trust automated systems, and finally, facilitate automated material transfer as well as automated data transfer. Process control includes stability, predictability (how closely can I meet my target objectives the first time?), repeatability (how closely can I replicate a previously-performed task or machining operation?) and accuracy. Stephens says, “Once you have standardization and processes, there is repeatability.” He recommended going to as many shops as possible to learn how they are using automation and build solid relationships with a vendor who can help guide the process.

Don Snow summed up the Makino event like this: “This is a ‘proactive’ event for our trade. The expression of ‘you can run with the big dogs or sit on the porch and bark’ is what Makino is doing for their customers with this event. Leaders in the trade attend this event for the presentations, sharing of ideas relative to advancements and the general networking with colleagues.”