Molds: Good, Fast and Made in the USA
Category: Manufacturing Technology • Aug 30, 2018
Industrial Molds of Rockford, Ill., specializes in all facets of injection mold manufacturing, including design, engineering, tooling and special machining services, notably EDM. In an industry where much of the work has gone offshore, Industrial Molds is keeping work in the USA through its management methods; high quality standards; and use of advanced technology, including automated CNC and EDM work cells with unattended running capabilities.
“To the best of my knowledge, we have the most productive automated EDM cell in North America,” says Andy Peterson, Production Manager, Industrial Molds. “We created this cell after visiting with exhibitors at IMTS 2016. We visited with three EDM manufacturers and ultimately selected two Sodick AG40L sinker EDMs. With Sodick EDM cells, we drastically cut burn time on high-cavitation molds. Our electrode count dropped significantly and the accuracy is far superior than our previous cell. We typically make one adjustment with our Sodick cell, where we were making two to four adjustments on our previous cell.”
For automation, Industrial Molds selected an EROWA Robot Dynamic, a long-term automation partner. An EROWA Robot Dynamic was already being used to automatically load and unload two Makino S56 vertical machining centers, which can also run unattended. The company developed the idea for this high-speed machining center after visiting IMTS 2008.
50 Years of Leadership
Peterson's grandfather, Jack, founded the company in 1968. Andy's father, Tim Peterson, is Vice President of the Industrial Molds Group (which also includes Pyramid Plastics) and uncle Eric Peterson is Operations Manager. The company celebrated its 50th anniversary in February.
“We design for manufacturing automation because it allows us to compete globally,” says Peterson. “By running unattended work cells, we keep our labor costs in line without reducing head count, so we can compete against Canada, China, Portugal or anywhere.”
Peterson explains that in the mold industry, manufacturers of consumer-oriented products want to quickly update packaging, bottles, containers and caps. Until the container or packaging is ready, new products can't ship. While some industries can afford to wait for molds to ship from overseas, the consumer packaging industry often chooses not to. Being U.S.-based and located 75 miles from O'Hare automatically gives Industrial Mold a geographic advantage for faster turn-around. A culture of excellent customer communication strengthens that advantage, as does the ability to provide steel heat traceability and the stability of a being owned and managed by the same family for 50 years.
“Customers are always welcome to visit our shop during the tool building process,” says Peterson. “When people see our modern machinery, witness our engineering and workflow management capabilities and meet our people, they understand why they're going to obtain predictable, repeatable results.”
When taking a tour of Industrial Molds, customers can't miss the OKK HM1000S, a large capacity horizontal machining center with a 1000 mm table and X, Y and Z axis travel distances of 1400, 1100 and 1000 mm, respectively.
“We use the OKK for our mold bases. With its dual pallet swap, we obtain significant unattended run time,” says Peterson. “We were looking at OKK, then used IMTS 2014 to pin down the purchase. Our previous machine was a single pallet. Because the OKK has two pallets, we are able to swap pallets throughout the night while no one is here. It really decreased our lead time on mold bases.”
Industrial Molds uses RFID chips to coordinate work flow in all of its automated cells. After cutting a graphic block to shape on a TL-1 lathe from Haas or a Mikron 600 Vario 5-axis horizontal machining center from GF Machining Solutions, each electrode is mounted on a brass pallet with a chamber to securely store an RFID chip. The base of the mold being built also contains an RFID chip that will stay with it through machining and the EDM process.
“The information on the chip coordinates work flow. When an electrode or base goes into the carousels that feed our automated cells, readers verify the component and its data,” says Peterson. “The cells will then load, machine and unload the part based on the priority set by the operator. Once customers see how quickly jobs move through to the finishing process as a result of automated high-speed machining and EDM, they fully appreciate the benefit of RFID.”
Retaining Good People
Peterson stresses that despite all of the automation, Industrial Mold's best asset is its people. During the 50th anniversary celebration, long-time employees were singled out. “It's amazing how many people have worked here for 20 years. Our people know our systems and understand how automation enables us to compress lead times,” says Peterson. “They know what our customers want and hold themselves to high standards. That's why we can deliver the best solution.”
Peterson has attended IMTS every year since 2008, the year he joined the company. “I keep going back because we constantly need new ideas,” he says. “Our focus changes. Some years we're looking at machinery; some years we're looking at fixtures. For IMTS 2018, I'm really interested in seeing machine monitoring technology with MTConnect. That's really growing, and I'd like to see what's available from the software side.”