Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Toolmaking is really the oldest profession, and it needs your support

An article written in 1996 continues to resonate

June 22, 2016

Those of you who have been in the plastics/moldmaking industry for more than a couple of decades probably know or have heard of Jobst Gellert, the founder of Mold-Masters. As I was going through my filing cabinet (yes, a real filing cabinet, not computer files), I came across an editorial written by Gellert in the December 1996 issue of Modern Plastics International . I saved this article because I thought it was so timely, but as I re-read it, I realized that it’s even more timely for our industry today. Here it is: “Why We Must Promote the Oldest Profession.”

Image courtesy Tom Simpson/flickr.

The oldest profession on Earth is not what you may think it is. As long as people have inhabited the Earth, this profession has existed. Think of the first inventions of mankind: Clothes to endure the elements, hunting weapons for food. People needed tools to make them. The oldest profession on Earth? Toolmaking.

The first toolmakers were indispensable. But young people no longer choose toolmaking in the numbers they did. Even those who see plastics as a career choose design or engineering over toolmaking.

You may argue we don’t need as many skilled toolmakers adjusting spindle speeds and table feeds because CNC machines do that automatically. You wouldn’t be entirely wrong, but you’d be missing the point: Toolmaking is more than the art of cutting and fitting—it’s the science of creating something useful. It’s understanding a need and manufacturing a solution.

I went through a toolmaking apprenticeship. I was taught to think in black and white: An idea works or it’s garbage. It’s been said that good toolmakers have fingers of gold. They create value-added products. If you look around you’ll find many toolmakers own plastics companies. The skills they learned in their profession gave them the opportunity. Is that not a desirable career path?

What makes a toolmaker good? Invariably, it’s the intangibles: The ability to see a workable solution to a manufacturing nightmare; to suggest improvements to a design; to know what works and what won’t. It’s not a question of intelligence, but of having the knowledge that comes from experience. This is the essence of toolmaking and why apprenticeships are vital.

Everyone talks about the importance of apprenticeships, but we should do more. In the United States, programs exist that contribute half of an apprentice’s wages. The National Tooling and Machining Association and the Society of the Plastics Industry are creating guidelines for apprenticeship standards. But the effort should come from companies.

For example, Tech Mold in Tempe, AZ, has had a successful program for several decades. The company understands that to reap the benefits of apprenticeship programs, it must incur some cost and risk (such as the occasional apprentice who leaves at the end of training). Tech Mold will tell you what it took to make the program successful: Patience and total commitment. Some of their best toolmakers are graduates.

Mold-Masters has an 8000-hour program that combines a four-day work week with a classroom day. We accept the cost because existing educational methods don’t work.

Bring students to industry. Use the industry infrastructure of machines, bricks and mentors. Toolmakers remember how important it was to have a mentor, and most take pride in tutoring others.

It’s a simple, workable concept. It’s unfortunate, however, that in most countries there is little government assistance for companies that use their machines for training, or for toolmaking masters who share their knowledge. Maybe if there was greater assistance, we wouldn’t be faced with a shrinking supply of toolmakers and companies wouldn’t be so concerned about the cost of apprenticeship programs. But when you think about it, the cost of not creating tomorrow’s toolmakers is higher.

As someone who thinks in black and white, the question is simple: Are toolmakers needed? If you answer yes, do something to save the oldest profession. Promote toolmaking and apprenticeships at every opportunity. Create apprenticeship programs within your organization and remain committed to them.

Let’s not wait for the government or industry organizations to decide what we need. We need designers and we need engineers. And, as proven by hundreds of thousands of years of history, we need toolmakers. Industry has the infrastructure and the mentors to produce them. All we need is the patience and commitment to bring this effort to fruition.

What Gellert said two decades ago holds true today, perhaps even more so. We’re losing our long-time, experienced moldmakers, and when they retire, we will lose the “tribal knowledge” that is so important to the mentoring of which Gellert wrote. It’s time that the industry take Gellert’s advice and create a future for the industry and for the many young people who will find a great career in toolmaking . . . if they are given the opportunity.


Wednesday, June 1, 2016

CAM Software/Machine Matchup Save Time, Boosts Efficiency

CAM Software/Machine Matchup Saves Time, Boosts Efficiency

A five-axis machining center and better CAM software helped this mold shop dramatically improve throughput and profitability.

Click Image to Enlarge
Open Mind Technologies’ hyperMill software can verify tool paths for machining complex details into a mold cavity such as the one for a massage ball shown here. The software offers dynamic collision checking during toolpath calculation and will automatically offer solutions before moving to the next section of tool path. Image courtesy of Open Mind.
M.R. Mold’s lead programmer, Nhut Nguyen, is shown programming five-axis tool paths for the Yasda-Vi40 using hyperMill Version 2016.1.
This is the actual cavity after cutting and the matching massage ball it produced.
M.R. Mold and Engineering Corp. in Brea, California, is known for its expertise in building molds for liquid silicone rubber (LSR) and gum stock (also known as high-consistency rubber). Recently, the company invested in two tools that together, it says, have helped to dramatically improve throughput and profitability in its manufacturing process: a five-axis machining center and better CAM software.
Because working with silicone is inherently more difficult than working with plastics, M.R. Mold created proprietary cold runner systems that offer customers cost savings through shortened cycle times and less material waste. Until last year, it used its EDM and three-axis machining centers to manufacture the silicone molds, but company President Rick Finnie knew that to cut job times and increase efficiencies it needed to invest in a five-axis machining center. After researching several options, the shop purchased a Yasda YBM Vi40.
“I was looking for a machine with the ability to perform very-high-accuracy machining of cavities with very complex details,” he says. “The Yasda met my requirements, and could do it quickly and efficiently.”
Previously, Finnie’s machinists were using long cutters in its three-axis machine to reach the deep cavities and then would EDM the detailed features required by customers. This was a time-consuming and costlier process, lead programmer Nhut Nguyen says, because long tools are prone to chatter when cutting in hard materials. The chatter caused the long cutters to wear faster, and Nguyen would often have to stop in the middle of machining to replace them with new ones. With five-axis programming, the machinists can now use shorter cutters that can more easily reach and machine tight areas. In addition, the shorter cutting tools made possible by the five-axis machine also significantly reduced the chatter and minimized wear on the cutters, and they have improved surface quality so that finished parts require little, if any, handwork. According to Finnie, machining time was reduced by as much as 20 percent.
Finding the Right CAM Software
Once the Yasda machining center was ordered, it was suggested to Finnie that the current software used at M.R. Mold was not going to be adequate for driving this high-speed five-axis mill. Jeff Johnson, tool die/mold product manager at Yasda distributor Methods Machine Tools, recommended that the company reconsider the programming software it had been using for years, because it could not calculate the code needed for the Yasda fast enough or with enough precision. “We needed a CAM software that was capable of optimizing the Yasda’s capabilities,” Finnie says, so he and his team began looking for new software that was up to the task.
They started with the list of possible CAM solutions provided by the machine tool OEM then conducted some online research to arm themselves with questions. Finally, after narrowing the field to two candidates, the team met with representatives of each of the solutions it was considering. Open Mind Technologies’ hyperMill software was one of those solutions.
“Much of our time together was spent in understanding their questions and showing concepts for five-axis machining ‘live’ in front of them so they could get an idea of the programming process, breadth of strategies, parameter settings and feedbacks available to a hyperMill user,” says Kevin Lewis, Open Mind account manager. “It is really about how the software works to help the programmer to complete the job quickly, how someone can minimize the number of iterations as a user moves from acceptable tool path to optimal, and how a safe and efficient motion can be delivered to the machine tool.”
Finnie says M.R. Mold chose hyperMill because it can make the Yasda YBM Vi40 “do what we want it to do: accurately cut difficult geometries in deep cavities. 
“The combination of machine tool and hyperMill software allows us to more easily hold tight tolerances and deliver parts with superior surface finishes. If we want to take off one-tenth (0.0001 inch), we can remove one-tenth. That is exactly the type of accuracy 
we need,” he says.
Nguyen says that the software’s dynamic (on-the-fly) collision checking during toolpath calculation and collision avoidance are key benefits in creating NC programs for the five-axis machine tool. “It automatically offers solutions before it moves on to the next section of tool path,” he says. “Our previous software would only check for collisions while in simulation mode after a tool path has been calculated. If a collision was then detected, we would then have to go back to either manually find a solution or change some parameters and recalculate, and then simulate again. As a result, hyperMill is much faster and more efficient to use.”
Customized Training
The learning curve in switching to a new software can be a challenge, especially when it occurs at the same time that a customer orders a very complex medical part. Although the job was one that M.R. Mold had completed in the past using its older equipment and process, “nobody here had ever operated a five-axis machine tool before,” Finnie says. “Suddenly we were faced with a machine that could rotate and tilt and move all axes simultaneously. On top of that, the programmers had to get up to speed on hyperMill so they could operate the Yasda and deliver the job on schedule.”
To help ease the learning curve, Open Mind delivered a training program on site that was entirely focused on M.R. Mold processes, upcoming projects and machine tools. Postprocessors for all the shop’s machine tools, including the Yasda, were delivered during training, and operators even ran the machines during class.
After the five-day training course, Nguyen programmed his first hyperMill five-axis job, machined it on the Yasda and completed it several days ahead of schedule. “We were able to eliminate most of the EDM operations, and as a result saved about two days’ worth of electrode manufacturing time,” Nguyen says. “With our old process, we also would have had to use multiple setups and several fixtures to tilt the cavity for the three-axis mills. On the Yasda, the whole job could be run completely unattended in one setup.”
Efficient and Accurate
M.R. Mold’s team recently finished machining a mold for a massage ball that is completely covered in spikes. Finnie says that if the shop had built that mold a year ago using its old process, it would have had no choice but to manufacture a whole series of electrodes for the project.
“I estimate that it would have taken us two days to design, program and manufacture the electrodes, plus another two days of vector EDM time on each half of that mold to produce all the undercuts on the cavities,” he says. “Instead, using hyperMill and the Yasda, our guys programmed and machined the entire mold in just one day, not six days as expected. So in my opinion, the machine tool and software are already paying for themselves.”
Finnie says the company now owns two seats of the software and, with the comprehensive training provided, two programmers are proficient with it. Additional programmers are expected to be trained in the future. Due to the success of the entire system, the company is also looking to invest in a System 3R robot and pallet changer for the Yasda sometime this summer.

Monday, May 23, 2016

LightFair 2016 HUGE success

M.R. Mold was invited to be part of the ShinEtsu booth at LightFair 2016.  The partnership ShinEtsu put together included ShinEtsu, Arburg, M.R. Mold, and Graco.   

The material produced a magnifying glass out of ShinEtsu's KE-2062 which ran in a 4 cavity mold by M.R. Mold & Engineering, mounted onto M.R. Molds' universal base featuring a 1 drop cold runner system.  The entire process ran fully automatic on Arburg GmbH's electric Allrounder A 100 ton with an Integrated Arburg robot multillift 6kg, assisted by a Graco, Inc's F4-5 pumping unit which features increased precision and better color control..

The interest in OPTICALLY CLEAR SILICONE was evident at this event!  What applications can you bring to the table with optical clear silicone?

M.R. Mold Exhibits its Technology at MD&M Minneapolis



M.R. Mold & Engineering will have molds running in 

Engel's Booth 1125 - in mold slit duck bill
Arburg's Booth 925 - Optically clear silicone lens

Discount offered for Silicone Elastomers Course

- a comprehensive course on silicone elastomers - 
JULY 25-28, 2016                                    AKRON, OHIO
Course Number: AP3276
Cost: $1,700.00 USD if registered by June 24, 2016. 
Additional discount now offered:  GROUP RATE:  register 4 or more from one company and receive 10% off each attendee.
This 4 day course offers a comprehensive overview of silicone elastomers, including basic silicone chemistry, types of silicone elastomers, manufacturing processes, fabrication techniques, problem solving and application areas.
Presented by a panel of experts in the silicone field, this course is a MUST for entry-level and experienced rubber technologists, rubber chemists, process engineers, laboratory managers, supervisors, technicials, shop foremen, quality assurance managers and engineers, technical sales personnel and rubber producers and users.  Everyone will find takeaways from this course.
Mel Toub, MT Consultants
Rick Finnie, M.R. Mold & Engineering
Craig Lustek, ShinEtsu Silicones
Stefan Scheibner, Arburg, GmbH
John Timmerman, Starlim North America
Bob Pelletier, Elmet 
Dr. Jelynn A. Stinson
Manager Training and Testing
225 E. Mill Street
Akron, OH  44325

Thursday, April 21, 2016


Manufacturing may benefit, as students spurn exorbitant college tuitions and dubious career paths.

By Clare Goldsberry in Injection Molding, Blow Molding, Business on April 11, 2016
Trade schools just might be on the cusp of a resurgence as college enrollment declines. A Bloomberg article on Oct. 4, 2015, “Decline of college degree seen in falling enrollment,” pointed out that college enrollment has fallen for three consecutive years after climbing for many decades.
The reason cited for this drop “is simple economics,” said Bloomberg. “College costs have risen dramatically, with much of the price tag going to pay for the salaries of administrators. At state schools, the rise in net costs—tuition minus financial aid—has been especially steep. But the actual out-of-pocket cost to students has been much higher than the rise in tuition.”
Additionally, “more people are questioning the benefits of college,” said Bloomberg. This is especially true among students “on the margin” for whom a college degree has a low value relative to the cost of tuition and being out of the labor market for an extended period of time.
That brings us to the manufacturing sector, which is hungering for employees skilled in various trades. While some politicians, such as Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, are promising “free college tuition” for everyone, it’s already evident that the “college for everyone” drive isn’t panning out so well. High costs and low job/salary opportunities are causing both parents and students to rethink their career choices. Let’s face it, college isn’t for everyone.
When I was working in the plastics industry, one of our moldmakers was an engineering student at Arizona State University, where I was also a part-time student. This moldmaker had taken some apprenticeship training and learned machining and then moldmaking while attending ASU. He made a very good living, upwards of $40,000 (in 1980s wages) at the mold company, which means that when he graduated he not only had a trade but an engineering degree, to boot!
We’re seeing more and more movement in the plastics/mold manufacturing industries toward apprenticeship programs; companies are feeling the pressure to attract and train the next generation of students. Trade schools are coming back in many areas of the country, and even high schools are starting to take notice. However, there are some caveats for these schools.
Keith Campbell, author of On The Edge , an online blog, recently wrote about how schools ignore the law of supply and demand. “Why,” Campbell asks, “do we allow high schools and universities to ignore supply and demand when admitting students into educational programs and providing financial aid?” Campbell goes on to question why, when visiting “high school career and technology centers, you will find beauty shop classrooms overflowing with young women, machine shop classrooms nearly empty, and probably no classroom at all for industrial maintenance technology?”
Campbell aptly notes that high schools, colleges and technical/trade schools need to look at where the skilled jobs demand is greatest and implement programs that will best meet industry needs. While many graduates will have a difficult time finding work because they chose a career path where there is more supply than demand of employees, “manufacturing companies are crying for workers to fill the shortfall of two million skilled workers that are projected to be needed over the next 10 years for much higher paying jobs.” This same phenomenon applies to universities, which often graduate hundreds of students with degrees in areas of low demand, and very few in areas of high demand.
I would add that there are several reasons for this. While I’ve seen some very successful technical and skilled-trades programs in community colleges and trade schools, they are largely successful because they hire teachers who are closely linked to manufacturing. They also have tremendous support from the manufacturing community, including suppliers that provide the very expensive equipment the students need to get proper training and local manufacturing companies that offer internships and on-the-job training.
When Wittmann Battenfeld donated an EcoPower injection molding machine work cell to the UMass Lowell Plastics Engineering center, students really benefited from that. For example, Mitchell Corneau of Providence, RI, has decided to pursue a master’s degree at UMass Lowell after he graduates with a B.S. in plastics engineering in May. His interest in plastics came from working in his uncle’s company, Plastixs in Charlton, MA, who encouraged him to look at the UMass Lowell program.
“It’s the only school in the country that offers post-graduate degrees in plastics engineering,” he said. “They run an extremely challenging program, but we know what we learn every day applies directly to the real world.” Mitchell recently returned from a three-month internship at GE Appliance Park in Louisville, KY, and has already learned how to operate the new Wittmann Battenfeld machine.
Craig Cegielski, Cardinal Manufacturing
Craig Cegielski (right) of Cardinal Manufacturing with state Representative Wayne Petryk.
Eleva-Strum High School in Strum, WI, has a manufacturing program that goes above and beyond most high school or even community college and trade school programs. The Cardinal Manufacturing program was designed as a local way to address the skills gap in advanced manufacturing and to engage students in meaningful education by exposing them to the potential of manufacturing-related careers, said the school’s information. While it provides them with technical skills, the program also instills the “soft skills and professionalism” that employers want.
Taught by Craig Cegielski, who recently won the 2015-2016 Monsanto Fund Rural Teacher of the Year award given by the National Rural Education Association, Cardinal Manufacturing is a student-run manufacturing enterprise. It has real customers, real deadlines, real quality issues and ultimately earns real money through its welding, machining, woodworking, automotive and CAD classes. Students take classes in the ninth and 10th grades and then can apply for positions in Cardinal Manufacturing in the 11th and 12th grades. Profits from the enterprise are divided among the students at the end of the school year. Cardinal Manufacturing is supported by businesses, organizations and individuals.
While a four-year college or university offers many benefits to students, the price tag and difficult job market for many of the degrees offered are giving people pause. And it might also be giving people a reason to really explore where the jobs are, such as manufacturing, and look for schools that offer technical and mechanical skills leading to good-paying careers.
Campbell concludes that “we need to stop turning out students that have too-high expectations and too-little preparation for the real jobs and careers that are available. To those who say that kids don’t know what they want to do and college is a rite of passage, I say, work or the military will mature them faster than college, and they will figure out what they want to do. Then college, if necessary, to achieve their goals will deliver a real return on investment.” ( www.ontheedgeblog.com/article/do-our-schools-know-about-law-supply-and-d...


Friday, February 5, 2016

Reshoring Remained Strong in 2015

Reshoring Plus FDI Remained Strong in 2015
The number of companies bringing jobs back continues to increase

CHICAGO, Illinois, January 21, 2016 – The Reshoring Initiative®, an organization committed to helping manufacturers recognize the profit potential of local sourcing and production, has announced that “reshoring plus FDI remained strong in 2015” and surveys consistently show that the trend is increasing.

About 240,000 manufacturing jobs have been brought to the U.S. from offshore in the last six years, according to the Reshoring Initiative’s calculations. That job gain is the result of both new reshoring—the return of manufacturing work by U.S. companies—and Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) by foreign companies into our manufacturing sector. It also represents about 28% of the total increase in U.S. manufacturing jobs since the low of 11.45 million in February 2010. About 12.32 million Americans are now employed in the manufacturing sector. In fact, our research shows that more manufacturing work is now coming to the U.S. than leaving the country.

A strong reshoring trend in 2015

According to the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) Annual Survey released in December 2015, “the percentage of companies actively moving operations back to the U.S. continues to increase.” Of particular interest was the number of 2015 studies documenting the strength of the trend:
  • BCG: Multinational industries actively reshoring increased 140% from 7% in 2012 to 17% in 2015 1
  • Medical Design Technology: 49% of medical device companies outsourced offshore. Almost half of those, 45%, are returning 2
  • Plastics News: 70% of plastics industry manufacturers have or will soon reshore 3
  • Alix Partners: U.S. is favored over Mexico 55% to 31% 4
  • Walmart continues to make good progress towards its $250 billion 10-year goal
  • Reshoring Initiative’s preliminary statistics for 2015 show that reshoring and FDI resulted in around 66,000 U.S. manufacturing jobs. Final results will be released in early 2016. 

“I spoke to AGMA and ABMA [Gear and Bearing Manufacturing Associations] in May 2015. In a poll of attendees, 54% had reshored or said that their customer had,” commented Harry Moser, founder and president of the Reshoring Initiative.

Tools for better supply chain sourcing decisions
The Reshoring Initiative offers many tools and resources to help companies make supply chain sourcing decisions. The Reshoring Initiative’s Total Cost of Ownership Estimator® is the best-known tool for this purpose. It uses advanced metrics that allow users to easily determine the total cost of offshoring by accounting for and understanding the relevant offshoring costs, which include inventory carrying costs, shipping expenses, intellectual property risks and more.
About the Reshoring Initiative
A 50-year manufacturing industry veteran and retired President of GF AgieCharmilles, Harry Moser founded the Reshoring Initiative to move lost jobs back to the U.S. For his efforts with the Reshoring Initiative, he was named to Industry Week magazine’s Manufacturing Hall of Fame in 2010. Additional information on the Reshoring Initiative is available at www.reshorenow.org. The Initiative’s many sponsoring associations and companies are also acknowledged on the site.

2 Medical Design Technology Magazine, Reshoring in the Medical Device Development Space, Aug. 2015http://www.mdtmag.com/news/2015/08/reshoring-medical-device-development-space

3 Plastics News, Analyzing reshoring’s impact on the market, May 2015http://www.plasticsnews.com/article/20150528/OPINION02/150529920/analyzing-reshorings-impact-on-the-market

4 Alix Partners 2015 Survey: Strategic Manufacturing Sourcing Outlook: Promise and Challenges in Global Nearshoring, Aug. 2015, http://www.alixpartners.com/en/LinkClick.aspx?fileticket=tXnSgoLGgec%3d&tabid=635

Sandy Montalbano, Reshoring Initiative