Forget about the sights, the food, and the wine. This corner of Portugal is all about injection molds. More than 150 companies here make molds—90% of which go for export. Yet for the largest suppliers, those with a global client base, mold making is no longer enough. Some of the bigger mold makers have in recent years evolved from strict producers of tooling into integrated suppliers of design and manufacturing services, serving primarily the European market.
"We started to offer an integrated package from design all the way through manufacturing in order to save time and cost through simultaneous engineering," says Joaquim Menezes, managing director of Iberomoldes S.A.
From its roots in mold making, which stretch back to 1975, the company has expanded into product design, injection molding, and even collaborative-engineering software. Iberomoldes still turns out more than 150 molds/year, according to Menezes. And the company has produced tools for North American companies like Rubbermaid, Samsonite, Ford, and General Motors as well as a list of European OEMs that includes Ericsson, Philips, Volkswagen, and Volvo. Take a look at what else Iberomoldes has started to do:
Ibermoldes has built on its tool making
roots and branched out into product design and
Product design and development. One obvious advantage in this department comes from producing part designs that can actually be injection molded. "We transfer a lot of knowledge from the mold making side of our business," Menezes notes. In recent years, the company has participated in the design and prototype of all sorts of consumer products—including a stylish electric kettle and automotive components like air vents, ash trays, and cup holders.
Prototyping. Iberomoldes supports its product design activities with a new computer-connected network of rapid prototyping machines across Portugal, the National Rapid Prototyping Network. As a toolmaker, Iberomoldes also makes a variety of machined prototypes and rapid tools on high-speed milling machines. The point of all this rapid prototyping diversity is to quickly have access to the right technology for the right task—from appearance models, to form-and-fit prototypes, to rapid tools for producing real parts. Iberomoldes recently applied three different prototyping methods to a single Samsonite suitcase, using different methods for the hard shells, handles, and hardware components.
Manufacturing and assembly. All the work with automotive interior components in 1995 led Iberomoldes to help open an injection molding operation in partnership with German automotive supplier Ohlo Technik. Menezes reports the plant, which has assembly and painting operations, not only supplies parts but also completed assemblies to both tier-one and OEM customers in Europe. One emerging specialty: Two-component molding as a way to create moving assemblies inside the mold such as air vent frames with movable slats during the same molding cycle. "These parts used to be assembled by hand," Menezes notes.
Engineering software. With Portugal not exactly the center of the industrial world, software tools that trivialize geography are welcome here. Working with a local technical center devoted to mold making (Centimfe) and the University of Lisbon, Iberomoldes has developed collaborative engineering software that tries to turn distance into a virtue. Called Round-the-Clock, the software fosters shared work between engineers in different time zones. "We developed the software because we had our own dealing with time zone differences," Menezes says. The software, which is available for license, consists primarily of a workspace for sharing CAD files and other engineering documents. Iberomoldes has been testing the software for three years, using nodes in China, Mexico, Germany, and Portugal to work on both product and mold design.
For more information about Iberomoldes: Enter 537