New technology is breathing life into the American mold
manufacturing industry, which had to significantly restructure following a huge
penetration by Asian competitors in the last 10 years.
The top tier American mold builders are beginning to
resemble the top mold makers in Germany,
who compete on quality and technical complexity. The weakening of the American
automotive industry will further accelerate transformation of the American tool
industry into a smaller, and more competitive, group.
The face of the American tool industry may very much look
like NyproMold, which
de-emphasized automotive a long time ago. Nypro, its JV partner, made a big
move into China
and became one of the largest suppliers for the cell phone industry. But today
that has become a commodity business, with business moving to the next big
low-cost market: India.
Nokia and Motorola
have both established plants there.
NyproMold has sales of about $35 million annually, building
150 to 200 molds. "Our pre-tax profit target for the past years has been around
10 percent, and we've done just about that," says Bill Muldoon, a cofounding
partner and president of NyproMold. The company was founded in 1988, and
operates plants in Clinton, MA
and Gurnee, IL. NyproMold Inc. is 50 percent owned by
Nypro Inc., a large injection molder, but less than half of its sales are for
The goal at NyproMold today is to develop molds that improve
component functionality at a lower total cost, as rapidly as possible.
From a design engineering perspective, that means tools
offer opportunities to dramatically improve manufacturing and lifecycle costs
of new programs, but at a higher up front cost that requires close
collaboration during the product development process. If your company buys the
lowest possible priced tool through electronic reverse auctions, you'll
probably be dealing with tool makers in India.
One of the new high tech processes is called Laser Cusing.
It's a metal additive manufacturing process that can make inserts with very
tiny and intricate conformal cooling channels that efficiently remove heat form
a part and reduce cycle times.
Developed by Concept
Laser GmbH, Laser Cusing creates structures that are impractical or
impossible to produce with traditional machining processes. CAD-driven
solid-state lasers completely melt metal (steel, aluminum, titanium) and create
fully dense parts, an advantage over powder metal injection molding. When used
to create precise conformal cooling channels, tools are more productive. For
example, it's possible to receive the same output from a 12-cavity tool as would
normally be achieved with a 16-cavity tool. Channels as small as 1 mm in
diameter can be made with thin wall sections.
The process is only used for inserts because of the cost of metal
feedstock: roughly $175/lb. NyproMold has used the process for five years.
New software is also helping mold designers to better target
where the heat is. "A lot of times when you used to do the cooling design, it
was just an educated guess," comments Muldoon. One helpful new tool is fluids
analysis software called CFdesign from Blue Ridge Numerics
of Charlottesville, VA. Complex
mathematical techniques are integrated into a proprietary formulation tuned for
use with the Finite Element method.