Small Breakthroughs

With market competition increasing, it is important to stay up to date with industry trends. Innovative Mold of Washington, Mich., stays ahead by cutting and shooting molds in their shop, allowing them to understand the entire molding process.

"There's more to mold making than just cutting steel," says George Kasper, president of Innovative Mold Inc. "You have to understand the full process to know how your work influences the end product and also to see where the industry is going. This is what led us to complex molds, such as two-shot rotationals. We wouldn't be able to produce these new types of products if we didn't invest in state-of-the-art technology, like our Makinos."

LEARNING THE ROPES

Innovative Mold was started in 1989 by George Kasper and his brother Dave in a small rental space with a few small mills and two grinders. Despite their simple beginnings, the Kaspers were well versed in molding applications, having entered the industry as apprentices and quickly climbing the ladder to become managers.

"It didn't make sense for us to work so hard and not own a piece of the business," comments Dave. "We saw an opportunity in the small dimensional tools market and relied on our reputation and broad understanding of mold making to move into this niche, opening our own shop."

Innovative grew quickly in the industry, providing services to a number of tier-one and tier-two automobile manufacturers, supplying molds to both new and domestic OEMs. In recent years, they've picked up customers in the consumer goods and medical industries and provided machining services to mold and die shops.

"Our best form of advertisement is the product we produce," says George. "Our customers know we are the people to come to when they need someone who understands the molding process, from concept to parts."

UNDERSTANDING THE PROCESS

"Small details can severely affect the quality of a finished part in complex mold making," says George. "By providing injection processes in shop, we have learned that details while machining the mold must be accurate to 10 thousandths of an inch or parts can turn out deformed."

Innovative owns two injection-molding machines and has injection molders on staff. This setup allows molds to be tested the day they're completed and assists in perfecting the mold-making process. This knowledge and experience in mold making and the injection process led Innovative to begin producing more complex molds, including two-shot rotational molds.

"Two-shot rotationals reduce the cost per part produced and achieve better part accuracy," says Dave. "Our equipment was able to produce these complex molds, but parting-line inaccuracies were forcing extensive labor and spotting times. In order to compete on price and improve part quality, we had to look at high-performance machine tools."

ACHIEVING ACCURACY

Two-shot rotational molds pushed Innovative to look at machining centers that could handle the features and exacting details of such molds, while reducing their dependence on EDM and to reduce long lead-times.

The first Makino purchase was two vertical machining centers, the SNC64 and S56 in 2003. The SNC64 worked as their graphite machine, providing electrodes for their sinker EDMs, which Innovative still relied on at that time. The S56 vertical machining center was their introduction to hardmilling, showing them the full benefits of high-speed milling and finding uses in other applications such as roughing and hardmilling, due to the machine's rigidity.

"We were impressed by the performance of the Makinos," says Quinn Sova, Innovative's CNC department manager. "The training we received at Makino's facilities paid off. We started producing quality parts right away, receiving pats on the back from our customers for the mold quality the Makinos helped produce."

To keep up with increasing business, the company later purchased additional machines, including V56 and V77 vertical machining centers, and most recently an EDNC85 Ram EDM. Each machine has remained busy since installation, consistently providing superior part qualities.

"Since adding the Makinos to our shop floor, we've seen drastic improvements in both standard and two-shot rotational molds," says Sova. "We've almost eliminated benching, where the product is not seen by the consumer because molds come out of the machines with finished part quality in nearly every operation, and spotting has been reduced by up to 80 percent. This has a huge impact on our labor costs and our ability to deliver molds and prototype parts to our customers much more quickly."

Innovative now takes on more orders, including those that require deadlines it couldn't have achieved prior.

"For example, we just completed a 200-ton rotational mold, spotting it in one day, when that type of mold used to take us one to two weeks to spot," adds Sova

"Without our Makino vertical machining centers and the accuracy and consistency they provide, we would be out of business, like so many others," says Dave. "We've also reduced labor on our single-shot molds, saving us enough time to bring in overflow machining from mold and die shops, including hardmilling applications in 48-plus Rockwell that others aren't able to handle."

Two-shot rotational molds run only on the Makinos to ensure transitioning lines are eliminated and the injection processes are run smoothly. The machines have provided everything Innovative expected and more, changing their cavity and core milling to EDM ratio from 50-50 to 90-10, nearly eliminating all EDM processes. The EDNC85 is the only EDM left in the shop and provides the exacting accuracies needed for molds with very deep ribs and tight corner radii that can't be milled.

REVVING UP AUTO PART PRODUCTION

Word of Innovative's abilities traveled quickly, leading to an order for an automotive grille piece that put their injection molding knowledge to the test.

The grille mold was constructed of P20 steel and featured complex ribs 50 thousandths of an inch wide, 350 thousandths of an inch deep and 20 thousandths of an inch corner radius. The two-cavity mold was machined on the V77, using a 0.8-mm ball endmill

In order to produce a finished part in the required, very tight deadline, Innovative had to complete the process without any EDM. Prior to their machining investments, a finished part such as this would have required three days of EDM and three days of spotting, a factor that would have kept them from winning the job in the first place. The new V-series vertical machining centers were able to save 100 hours in processing time

"Many shops say they can machine this mold, but not without manual labor," says Dave. "We were able to finish the mold with nearly zero spotting time. Prior to investing in the Makinos, we could have produced this mold, but never in the deadline set for us, which means we would have never gotten the job in the first place."

As Innovative receives more orders, they have begun expanding to other industries outside of automotive. A recent order for a medical part was placed, presenting yet another challenge for the shop to overcome. The mold was machined with a 40 thousandths of an inch ball endmill using a half-degree profile cutter on the V56, chosen for accuracy and ability to direct-mill complex features. Once completed, the mold underwent only one hour of spotting press time.

"The big advantage many foreign competitors have over North American operations is their low labor costs. Everyone knows that," says George. "With the right technology in place, we can beat their quality every time, and when you add in the fast turnaround times we can provide, we're a better value--not to mention our prices go down as our labor goes down."

DOWN THE ROAD

By understanding the full process, Innovative understands that high-performance machining is necessary to reduce labor time, while simultaneously achieving the accuracy needed to produce complex molds, such as the two-shot rotational and complex molds that have become the core of their business.

"The tooling process as a whole is about three things," says George, "Quality, delivery and price. By investing in high-performance machines and understanding the whole process, we're able to provide all three, securing our ability to bring in business for the future."

Innovative Mold, Inc.
Washington, MI
586-752-2996
www.innovativemoldinc.com

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