building a pyramid of success
Pyramid Mold & Tool started business operations very humbly 10 years ago, growing from the garage hobby of owner Stephen Hoare to its current position as a leading Los Angeles-area die/mold operation. Pyramid now competes against the best mold shops in the world.
From its new 31,000 square-foot headquarters in Rancho Cucamonga, California, the company produces molds for plastic injected parts. These parts are primarily for medical devices, irrigation components, connectors and optical devices.
But reaching its current position and status was not an easy achievement for the 32-person shop. “We were going to close our doors in 2001,” says Hoare. “We were in pretty bad shape. We cut costs and we restructured how we did things in the shop.
“We also realized we had to invest in newer machine technology in order to become globally competitive, and made a decision to purchase Makino equipment. The investment was a necessary risk. We never spent so much on a milling machine before. It was a big step for us.
“Without a doubt, the acquisition of the Makino technology has given us the capability to deliver molds to our customers quickly, more efficiently and with a higher level of quality than ever before,” says Hoare. “Our robotic and cellular approach with the Makino equipment has also helped us to secure more business.
“Most importantly, it operates flawlessly. We have utilized the Makino machines for three years now, and it has given us capability far beyond expectations; ‘smart capability’ that has helped us become a global competitor.”
Building the Pyramid
Pyramid Mold first acquired a Makino SNC64 to produce graphite electrodes for the EDM burning of mold details. “We wanted a machine that would provide the quality and detail we needed,” says Hoare.
“We got that with the graphite mill, which we integrated with a robot to create an electrode machining cell to feed our EDM machines. We then acquired a Makino S56 as a stand-alone machine to do close tolerance hard tooling and venting.”
“Both Makino machines are very accurate,” adds Hoare. “Customers are asking for such tight tolerances on plastic parts today, often 0.0002 to 0.0003 inches, and we need to be able to achieve that.
“With the Makino machines, we can hold ‘tenths’ all day long. The Makino’s repeated and made good parts from the very first time we ran them. That’s what we wanted to do with those machines, and that is why we bought them.”
“I always heard good things about Makino’s core-cooled spindle technology. But the machines were more than we hoped they would be,” says Hoare.
“The thing that really sold me on Makino machines was how well their people supported their product. They helped us make the right choice in acquiring and then supporting this technology.”
The S56 has replaced several machines at Pyramid, says Hoare. “We have gained unattended machining time, allowing us to remain competitive. We can utilize one setup and run parts through the night, getting good results in the morning.
“What impressed me the most with Makino mills is how well the Z-axis height is controlled. That is a problem on most machines. If a machine cannot hold and control Z-axis height, you simply cannot consistently produce acceptable parts.”
“To tell you how accurate the Makino machines are, since the first day we set them up, the X- and Y-axis have never deviated. That is amazing to us,” says Hoare. “We have cut between 50 and 75 percent from our cycle times simply because of the increased accuracy of the Makino milling centers.
“Makino helped to increase our quality, as well as enhanced our capability of getting projects out the door on time. We get our mold repair work turned around quickly, which is an added value for our customers. That’s service our customers can appreciate.”
Bob Hedeman has been the CNC manager at Pyramid Mold & Tool for a number of years. He has watched the company grow with the Makino equipment.
“We’ve reduced our actual cutting time by 60 percent,” says Hedeman. “Having Makino in the shop makes everyone look good, and makes them want to do a better job—because they know they can.
“Due to abnormal shrinkage issues in the injection molding process, we typically have to adjust and re-cut the cavity steel. This helps our customer meet the specifications for the plastic part.”
“We must produce tooling very accurately the first time, ship it to the customer who runs the injection molding process, they measure the part and then send it back to us for adjustment,” says Hedeman.
“We may only need to adjust a surface by 0.0003 to 0.0005 inches. We are able to put it back on the S56 and do these adjustments. And it always comes out perfect.”
The S56 is turning out to be the operational workhorse of Pyramid, according to Hedeman. “We have eliminated many grinding operations. While once we were considering additional grinding machines, we’ve discovered we don’t need them due to the volume and accuracy of the parts being machined on the Makino.
“Eighty percent of all of the mold vents, which were previously surface ground, are now being machined during the milling process on the S56. These vents often run as small as 0.0008 inches and are machined on the Makino mistake-free.”
“Makino has opened our eyes for the future as to what we can do with automation. The graphite milling cell has replaced five machines previously used to cut electrodes,” adds Hedeman. “It’s not only time we save; it just works much better.”
“We are able to utilize smaller cutters while manufacturing our electrodes. By using 10 and 20 thousandths diameter cutters, we can machine more detail on one electrode, reducing the number of electrodes required. This not only reduces machine time but also reduces graphite costs and EDM time by 300 to 400 percent.
“When we completed an electrode we often had to polish it in order to eliminate all the cutter marks, step-over and dwell marks,” says Hedeman. “That operation has been eliminated due to the quality of Makino milling. We have also eliminated scrap and additional rework time.”
Combining the EDM electrode quality provided by the SNC64 graphite mill and the hard milling quality of the S56 has also led to some combination mold processes that have produced fantastic results, according to Hedeman. “We recently shipped a mold that we first EDMed with electrodes, and we then added a whole new cavity through hard milling.
“The customer needed a short turn-around time, so we tested this new application theory. By hard milling 90 percent of the new steel cavity on the S56 as opposed to EDMing it, we took two weeks off our delivery for just that feature. We now have a process that, when applicable, will allow us to cut weeks off of delivery.”
“The investment Makino made in California with its LA Tech Center was a big reason why we have and will develop a strong partnership with Makino,” says Hedeman. “Having Makino solutions and people on the West Coast is imperative to our operational maintenance and growth.
“We don’t have to wait for answers from the East Coast or from Europe, which is a challenge both from a geographic and from a time difference perspective. This commitment and support is important.”
“Makino is vital to our growth,” adds Hedeman. “We do have plans to grow, and that’s why we moved into this new shop. We have plenty of room to grow and business opportunities to fulfill.
“In addition to cutting electrodes overnight, we have plans for an automation system right down the middle of the CNC area, with a gantry-style robot feeding the Makino machines, cutting steel all through the night.”
Hoare adds that further developing a partnership with Makino is imperative to achieving those plans. “We look at all their different machines and see how they do in production, and how we might apply some of their solution techniques to our advantage in our markets.
“We are happy with the service as well as the machines. We believe Makino will play a significant role in our future, both with machines and automation.”
“We are focused on purchasing high-end machinery and robotics so we can produce more work with the same number of employees,” says Hoare.
“This will give us the opportunity to reward our people for their time and efforts within our company.
“That is one of our business goals, building layers from the ground up; that’s how you build a Pyramid.”
Pyramid Mold & Tool
Rancho Cucamonga, California