When it comes to any new technology, the trick is determining the right time to buy in, and that has been a definite challenge for mold builders looking to invest in additive manufacturing (AM).
For a while now, everyone has been paying attention to additive technologies. We pay specific attention to the curve of new technologies. What I mean is, there is a point at which a shop can buy into technology too early and at a premium price, which ends up being cost-intensive when the technology supplier develops a better model.
we also warn against the other end of the investment spectrum; buying technology after it has been commoditized inhibits what the user can charge because it is so readily available.
We are around it, use it and see the value of it, but we are not a big manufacturer or consumer in the conventional additive manufacturing sense. We have been using 3D printing to make fixtures and prototype parts, and we have been buying additively produced inserts that we injection over-mold for implants.
this special company considers itself an engineering company that helps people develop products, not just new molds. This mission involves 320 people across three facilities—Custom Mold & Design, Paradigme Engineering and Teamvantage—performing a great deal of ultra-precision part and mold work for implants, surgical tools, pacemaker programmers, diagnostic equipment, hospital bed components and chemotherapy delivery systems. Their team focuses on finding creative ways to solve complex problems and AM, specifically hybrid machine technology to produce conformal-cooled inserts, is how they believe they can take advantage of additive technology to make better molds for customers.
this company had his eye on Matsuura’s LUMEX Avance-25 machine, which combines powder-bed metal selective laser sintering (SLS) along with high-speed milling in a hybrid platform. This combination of technology in a single platform enables the production of parts and component geometries in a novel way, including conformal cooling features in an injection mold or internal cooling passages in a part.
they traveled to Japan to tour Panasonic, which partnered with Matsuura to develop this hybrid process. Panasonic has built hundreds of molds utilizing this practice, and after seeing their operation, Newkirk and Jones felt it was the right time to invest in the technology. It was their belief they would be entering a flatter part of the curve where the likelihood of massive change on the Matsuura equipment was less likely.
This hybrid machine is on its fifth version, so Matsuura has been doing this for quite a while. They are constantly making improvements but more on the software side now.
But more importantly, it was the partnership. they created a relationship with Matsuura whose goal is not to manufacture product for people (outside of testing to demonstrate the equipment) but to sell the equipment, With that in mind, they came to an agreement that if Matsuura identified contract manufacturing work to make inserts on the LUMEX, they would manufacture them. This agreement helped push us along in our decision to invest. “We believed this was a real opportunity to partner with Matsuura and turn this into something special.
the company is also in a unique location which is also home to Matsuura’s national headquarters. Matsuura has a showroom for its AM technology, but they were looking for a partner to showcase the technology in a real environment. And having the LUMEX amidst CMD’s other highly precise machine technology, like its nine Yasda machine tools, does not hurt either. We are doing real stuff with the technology onsite instead of making pretty trinkets.
Another curve of technology is the learning curve, and AM has a tremendous one, You need to embrace the unknown and accept a temporary lower level of efficiency to achieve success, You cannot underestimate how big of a step it is to move to additive technology or how much it is going to cost in terms of money and time for people to learn it.
this step means taking someone proficient at a job and placing him or her where they are going to struggle for a little while. As the workload increases, it may seem counter-productive, but you need to stick with it. The team knew that if they did not push through it, they would never figure it out, and their goal is to be an expert in this arena.
However, another real advantage for them is the family of companies it operates within, which includes contract manufacturer Teamvantage and mold builder Paradigme Engineering. they can take lessons from making a part and then producing an insert for a tool, running it in a mold, and testing it, all in house.
A true partnership also comes into play with new technology. “By learning and working together, you both get smarter, the company is Matsuura’s local partner in offering contract Matsuura production and in the application of the Matsuura LUMEX technology for the mold industry. However, this role is not new to the organization. The company has worked through this type of learning process with its plastic injection molding machines, for example. It has a similar partnership with Sodick Plustech, who did not have much equipment in operation in the United States when Teamvantage purchased its first Sodick press. The organization learned how to help the technology supplier grow and expand so that Sodick Plustech could better support them.
As they identify issues with the hybrid technology, Matsuura is quick to develop solutions and is committed to keeping the machine current. Matsuura focuses on serving the mold manufacturing industry with these machines, so they work closely with mold builders to continually develop machine technology. As such, they acknowledge that mold builders consider certain aspects of the process that they would not consider themselves.
Mold builders think about the process from a practical standpoint because they are performing mold work all day, every day, whereas a machine tool builder would not naturally think that way.
For example, the base of the mold insert, where mounting holes and water inlet and outlets, are can be easily produced conventionally, This can then be used as the build plate with the laser sintered material added on top for the detailed molding surfaces with conformal cooling lines created inside the block.
Because we build high-end molds with tighter tolerances, we are zeroing in on all the process parameters that impact accuracy and nailing that down to where we can be a lot more consistent and precise, We are going to ask questions that Matsuura might not have ever thought of, which could help them improve their machine technology and, in the end, sell it to other mold builders.
Often referred to as a “one machine, one process” system, the Matsuura LUMEX series permits production of the most complex and challenging parts by combining both high-speed milling and laser sintering capability. The system produces highly accurate parts from metal powders that are sintered using a laser while surfaces are precisely milled at high speeds.
Matsuura’s LUMEX is an extremely effective method of creating conformal-cooled injection mold inserts. Inserts traditionally produced through machining and EDM contain straight cooling paths whereas conformal-cooled inserts produced with this hybrid process incorporate complex curved, shaped or spiral cooling channels. On top of that, this process easily forms the channels in small, narrow or awkwardly shaped inserts.
Compared to conventional post process cooling pipes, those created on the LUMEX are more efficient at cooling. Companies have seen improvements of up to 30 percent in cooling effectiveness with up to 40 percent reduction in cooling time. This is what we like to call the ‘magic’ of conformal cooling.
The benefits to the owner of the mold:
Improved cycle times, sometimes as much as 50 percent using conformal cooling
Improved part yields and enhanced quality
Shot-to-shot consistency and repeatability
Lower cavitation for high-volume production parts with a consistent molding cycle (which is 33-50 percent faster than without conformal cooling)
Improved injection molding machine usage with faster cycles
The result is a new generation of molds with consistent and accurate cooling across the entire forming area, even within small or complex shaped pockets. This technology also eliminates many of the distortion and poor part quality problems that are traditionally associated with inefficient cooling.
Today, this team has been working with the LUMEX equipment for a little less than 10 months. Time has been spent training with Matsuura’s application engineers, building parts on their own, and now they are experimenting with other ways to use the equipment to establish the limits of the process. There is a lot of collaboration going on between Matsuura engineers, Their personnel and customers who are looking for the utmost efficiency in the injection molds they buy.