Three years ago, JK Molds, Inc. decided that if they were going to stay in the die/mold business, they had better automate in order to achieve the benefits of unattended machining time with fast, high quality overnight cutting and burning. The Upland, California, company spent a few million dollars updating its shop with technologically advanced equipment, adding robotics and positioning themselves to take on global competition.
“We have to compete with overseas operations. California is an ocean apart from the bustling Asian business expansion, but modern transportation makes it feel like it is ‘right next door,’” says Jason Van Noy, managing partner at JK Molds. “We had a lot of opportunities for work but no way to cost-effectively get it done. We needed to have lower labor costs and faster, more accurate machines in order to compete.
“That became our corporate perspective on how to combat overseas competition: speed, accuracy and less labor time. We needed advanced technology in order to be ‘engineering-driven’ to better serve our customer. And we turned to Makino to partner with us in this effort, as the machines they supply simply cut things faster and better.”
“But the biggest asset in partnering with Makino is that they have established a California Tech Center, “ says Van Noy. “Without this level of West Coast service and support, we probably would have gone somewhere else.
“The machine speed and accuracy are great, but we really wanted to have quality service out here. Most companies work hard to fix problems from the East Coast, but it is becoming too cost and time prohibitive. We just won’t do that anymore.”
“The two Makino V-Series machines we installed in our robotic work cell have enhanced our capability and doubled our capacity, and made us competitive with anybody,” says Van Noy. “We have actually reallocated staff to a second shift in order to monitor all of the overnight machining.
“Some of our bigger customers had long wanted us to enhance our operation, and they were impressed with our Makino acquisitions. We are only at 70 percent capacity of what we can do, and our customers like the idea that they can give us more work and get quality and timely delivery and enhanced results.”
Expanding with Technology
JK Molds began building plastic injection molds in 1970. Van Noy’s stepfather Jack Kelley (thus the name JK Molds) started the company, and Patrick Elliott serves as the president.
Expanding with TechnologyThey began making toy and automotive molds, and then switched in the 1980s to a market focus concentrating on medical and healthcare molds. About 90 percent of the company’s business is now OEM-driven in the medical arena, with 30 percent of those companies based in California and the rest from around the U.S. and Mexico. They also supply molds for packaging, home appliances, telecommunications, consumer products and electronics.
JK Molds produces a high volume of molds for syringes, catheter and respirator tubes, bottles and lids, disposables, pill dispensers, blood and tissue sample trays and liposuction tubing. At least 70 percent of the molds are for proprietary, brand-new products.
The company is trusted with making “engineering-driven,” on-time mold deliveries in order for its clients to get new, innovative parts manufactured, packaged and out to the hospital and medical office markets faster. This improved “time to market advantage” gives JK Molds a competitive edge on this level of work, against which offshore operations have not been able to compete.
The company operates with 35 employees out of its 25,000 square foot facility. “We really did not want to expand with more staff to enhance our business. We needed to expand with technology,” says Van Noy.
“We integrated two Makino vertical machining centers — a V33 and a V22 with the special graphite package — with a 3R robot, which facilitates the work flow of both machines.
“The robot picks up a part from a work station, places it in the machine on a 3R pallet, cuts it and places it back on the work station when it’s done. And then it automatically continues to the next until the job is completed, as the robot is programmed for all tasks and all work stations.”
“We program the robotic cell in our engineering group, and they send the programs in advance to the machines,” says Van Noy. “We manually load the 96 station carousel with work pieces, then the automation picks and places each item until the job is completed, through the day and throughout the night.”
“It is a compact, multi-functional cell, and it can be pulling and placing graphite electrodes for milling in the Makino V22 while it is pulling and placing steel molds for milling in the V33,” says Van Noy.
“The high functionality is due to the cell’s quick handling and changing of parts, which is done in mere seconds. Plus, we enjoy the interchangeability of the machines in dealing with both graphite and steel when needed.”
“The capacity of the V22 has yet to be fully challenged in cutting Poco3 graphite and copper. It produces five times the output of our previous machines in making graphite electrodes without much effort,” says Van Noy.
“And the accuracy the V33 holds in milling steel is impressive. Tolerances are within 0.0002 inches with superior part surface finishes, primarily due to the fantastic Makino SGI.4 software. The cutting capability of the V33 for such products as H13, S7 and stainless steel is so great in outperforming any machine we have ever had; I really wouldn’t know how to measure it.”
Driving the Engineering
Brent Havlicek is the engineering manager at JK Molds, and that group is the obvious catalyst for the “engineering-driven” philosophy of the company. “Quite simply, everything we do goes through engineering first,” says Havlicek.
“We do the concepts, review them with the customers, provide the scheduling for the machines and the programming to run them. Then when a project hits the floor, it’s done and ready to go. Our customers have grown to like, appreciate and depend upon that level of support.”
“We know that we are scheduling that cell and those Makino machines more than anything else in our shop,” says Havlicek. “They are the core pin of our shop; everything we make touches one or both machines. We provide superior service, keep our prices competitive and deliver quality, and our sales volume proves the success of this focus.
“This helps eliminate the temptation for our customers to send that work overseas. As most are OEM medical specialty firms, they prefer to keep most work close to their home operations.”
“Providing some type of R&D protection and proprietary support is what they expect,” says Havlicek. “We supply them with intricate, front-end driven support and service. They want that level of protection and partnership that they can control.”
“We are now able to cut very intricate mold rib details with the electrodes done on the Makino V22,” says Havlicek. “We used to have to put on multiple electrodes and conduct multiple burns to get the same detail and precision. Now they can all be incorporated into one thanks to the high-speed spindle technology and SGI.4 control software. This has cut down on setup time by at least 50 percent.
“The V22 does not drift, and we do not have to indicate the parts. Once we have indicated the 3R fixture, we don’t have to chase or change the parameters and offsets. This has virtually eliminated our scrap and any extra re-running time. These machines hold tolerance and there are no growth issues, with superior surface finishes, too.”
“On the V33, we can hard mill with greater speed and precision—details like holes, deep perimeter vents and shutoffs which we used to jig grind or burn,” says Havlicek. “And, we don’t have to break down the setups at all. We can finish the part within the robotic cell and never have to use another machine.
“Tolerances can be milled to 0.0002 inches with high-quality finishes. Materials up to 56/58 HRc can be milled, greatly eliminating bench work and hand polishing as well as the need for dual machining. We can use smaller tooling to finish cavity and core details and corners instead of milling 75 percent of it and EDMing the rest.”
Van Noy says that the technology transfer and setup of the robotic cell was achieved more easily than he expected. “Makino came in and helped set up different functions of the machines and cell. They had the entire cell up and running in less than two weeks.
Transferring Technology“I had my robotic engineers in at the same time, and the entire training process took only a couple of days. Everything went very smoothly.”
“The robotic work cell almost immediately eliminated many of our bottlenecks through unattended machining and overnight operation gains,” says Van Noy. “Utilizing this technology also helped eliminate inventory and material buildup and to become more JIT (just-in-time) compatible with customer needs.
“This improved work flow alone gave us more internal flexibility and reduced our manpower allocations, including substantial manpower reductions through such process enhancements as checking parts. We used to have to check 10 out of every 100 parts for accuracy; with Makino, we just have to check the first one, as we know the rest will be fine when they are finished in the morning.”
“That not only further makes us ‘engineering-driven,’” says Van Noy. “It is simply engineering for results.”
JK Molds, Inc.