Design engineers need to remain firmly in charge of the mold maker selection process as many American companies, particularly in automotive, drive toward huge cost reductions and offshore outsourcing. Failure to pick the right supplier or to manage the mold development process well can lead to disastrous outcomes financially. Significant project delays are possible and you may be stuck with a mold that fills poorly, is off-line frequently, or is not repeatable on critical tolerances. Cutting corners on tools through constant new purchase order cycles is not the road to success, especially when you consider that any additional upfront costs can be amortized over millions of pieces over the life of a tool and recovered hundreds of times over. High-Tech Molding talked about this subject recently with Nick Schommer, director of tooling services at Phillips Plastics, Hudson, WI.
Why should design engineers think more about a supplier’s mold making capabilities?
It’s important to think about the manufacturability of a tool right from the beginning of a project. Phillips Plastics internal designers are splitting the tool in their minds soon after they start. They are looking at the manufacturability of a mold, and that does a few things: it makes a mold easier and less expensive to manufacture. It also makes the mold more robust when it’s all done. The other thing our internal designers benefit from is they are talking to manufacturing engineering all of the time. So when they are thinking about product design they are thinking about long-term manufacturability of that part and they are also thinking about how to make that mold at a value that our customers like. When our mold manufacturing teams get that geometry, we can really fly with it.
How much can be added to the cost of a project by failing to pay attention to these areas?
That’s hard to answer. There are times when we get a geometry that is not manufacturable. What it does is add significantly to the leadtime. Not getting to market first or on time can translate to millions of dollars.
Do you see a lot of simple design engineering mistakes, such as poor draft angles?
The majority of our customers do a good job. If our customers want, our design engineers will work with them to help them in advance to head off some of these problems and to ensure we have a robust design. It can vary dramatically if we aren’t involved.
What effect are new manufacturing technologies in your mold manufacturing shop, such as high-speed machining, having on design?
The new technologies are driving us to hard machine as much as possible. This drives us to use larger radii where ever possible. It also changes how we approach our electrode design and what we want to burn. While we may not be able to eliminate all burning, we can minimize it. This speeds the mold manufacturing process.
Business problems at American mold makers get a lot of press because of pressures from Asian tool builders. Is Phillips making investments in its mold
We have invested more than $3 million in the last two years. These investments support our customer’s needs in the medical market, automotive, telecommunications and many other markets. All three of our mold manufacturing locations now have a high-speed machining cell, with capabilities up to 42,000 rpm. The oldest machine is less than three years old, and we are planning to buy at least two more machines. Recent equipment purchases at Phillips Plastics include: three Roeders RFM 600 High Speed Machining Centers, two Mazak Nexus 510 Machining Centers, one Haas VF3SS, three new Charmilles Sinker EDMs, two Charmilles Wire EDMs, and three System3R robotic systems.
How would you describe Phillips Plastics’ strengths in mold making to a design engineering audience?
Quality, speed and long term value. These are our biggest strengths when competing against offshore sources. Most of our customers, particularly medical, are very concerned about quality. They have to make sure that tool is running well, not just for production start-up, but five years from now.
What is Phillips Plastics’ most important capability for its customers, from a mold manufacturing perspective?
It’s our ability to get customers to market faster than anybody else. And that’s because of the services we have upfront and how well they are integrated into our production services. On our prototype side, the average lead for our prototype tool is 10-15 days. We use a combination of aluminum, P-20, and a proprietary process called RP Tech, or Rapid Process Technology. What we try to do is verify the design while it’s still under development. And we want to get spec resins parts very quickly and at a fairly low cost compared to conventional prototype tooling. We’re not wedded to any single process or type of tooling for prototypes. We stand back and try to understand what our customers needs are and then match our product development capabilities to that. We can supply a full model and go all the way to market. Our upfront capabilities are so integrated with our production capabilities; it gives us very great strength in getting our customers to market.