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How vertical toolmaking adds flexibility and extends mold life

By Ron Pleasant on May 30, 2018 9:53:00 AM

In 1976, Ron Pleasant founded Pleasant Precision, Inc. with his wife, Carol, to produce tooling for the plastic industry. Now located in a 54,000 sq. ft. building in Kenton, OH, Team PPI produces tooling for a wide number of industries that use injection molded components, including consumer products, medical, automotive, appliance, and electrical and electronics industries. Ron Pleasant invented the Round Mate System of tooling in 1989, and developed System II tooling as an advance on Round Mate technology in 1997.

The Round Mate System is an interchangeable insert molding system with the capability of reducing lead time by 40%, reducing mold cost by 35%, making mold changeovers in 10 minutes, and reducing cycle times with an uptick in quality. Here, we go through the different advantages of vertical toolmaking and how interchangeable inserts can be valuable for any moldmaker.

Below is also our view on the inner workings of these interchangeable inserts, and some of the original technologies that have built up to it. To learn more about productivity in injection molding, be sure to check out this article.

Where Standard Mold Bases Began

By inventing the safety razor, King Gillette changed the way people shave. Rather than having a personal straight razor, men and women now use disposable blades held in frames that are used over and over again.

Just as disposable razor cartridges and permanent handles helped reduce the costs of tools used for shaving, standard mold frames and mold inserts can help to reduce costs for injection molds. Investments in tooling for new products, or for prospective contracts, become costly as production moves from prototyping to smaller volume, then to high volume, high speed.

“Straight-razor” style tooling makes each step economically hazardous and, as production volumes increase, financial risks grow for molders as they are forced to buy additional molds. Tooling that uses a more thoughtful approach can grow with production, and can be a financial ally for original equipment manufacturers and injection molders.

By using a frame to carry the molding cavity, intelligently designed tooling moves the focus of tooling costs to the repetitive chase work and mechanics of a tool and away from the mold cavity. At the same time, changing this focus gives injection molders the ability to amortize the cost of tooling from initial investments at the earliest planning stages to the full manufacturing life cycle of their products.

Furthermore, such a new idea in tooling provides built-in flexibility, so that high-quality parts can be made this year and the same reusable frame can be reconfigured to produce high-quality parts next year, giving manufacturers significant competitive advantages. Molds that grow with production, molds that are flexible, are molds that are used. They do not sit on a shelf in a tool room taking up space because they are obsolete. Instead, they provide profitable returns for injection molding operations.

With a master frame designed for products such as bottle caps, a manufacturer easily and productively moves to a new line with minimal risk.

Just as standard mold bases helped to drive tooling costs down in the 1950’s and 1960’s by providing stock configurations for moldmakers, the interchangeable insert-mold systems provide savings by adding another layer of standardization to injection molding tools. The system puts a “handle” on mold cavities that can be reused again and again. This unique idea - vertical tool making - increases versatility, flexibility, and the life span of the mold while reducing costs and increasing profits.

Interchangeable systems give injection molders savings on the costs of their tooling through the use of standardization, modular construction, and close-tolerance machining. In vertical toolmaking, standard mold components are designed for maximum flexibility and life span. An evolutionary step in mold making, vertical tool making combines simplicity and elegance of design with speed and precision. Standard master frames are developed as the main body of the mold, comparable to the handle on a safety razor. These master frames are designed to accomodate 4-inch, 6-inch, or 8-inch interchangeable insert which, unlike razor cartridges, are not disposable but can be reused.

How Vertical Toolmaking Works

With vertical toolmaking, the combination of the master frame and the insert is what reduces costs while expanding versatility. The idea of vertically designed tools permits the expansion of the mold to adapt to several product families and differing product volumes, regardless of whether the molds use the standard or the customized master frames. The changes in product families, or in design or in the volume of the parts made, are based on changing the relatively inexpensive inserts and can be done in several ways.

The master frame bears as much of the mold chase work as possible, and the insert encompasses the mold cavity. Made of 4140 tool steel and stainless steel, master frames include guided ejection, center sprue gating, standard or extended nozzles, hot sprue and/or hot manifolds, and built-in water jackets for cooling. Master frames can be set up for any plate combination desired, including stripper plate and unscrewing configurations. The master frames are completely covered with hard chrome coating to provide durability and corrosion resistance. Standard master frames eliminate the duplication of mold chase work. Expensive chase work is already provide in a master frame that can be used for prototype, small-volume and high-volume production, and for the production of similarly designed parts in the future. With traditional tooling, a prototype mold, a small-volume mold, and a high-volume mold would be required, and each mold would need its own chase work.

To adapt to changes in production volume, master frames are made to be used with a single insert or multiple inserts, each of which can have single or multiple cavities. Adjustments in the number of cavities on any given tool can be made throughout the production cycle to serve production demands.

Prototyping may be done on a master frame with a single cavity pocket using an insert with a single cavity. As production begins to ramp up, requiring additional parts, the insert can be replaced by an insert with multiple cavities. Similarly, if mold segments are used in an insert for a prototype, additional segments may be added to the production increases. In this way, a master frame with a single cavity pocket, which is used to produce a single prototype, can be changed in a matter of minutes to produce four products. By using multi-position master frames, the potential number of cavities per tool is increased. For example: A master frame set up to receive four separate mold inserts can be used to produce four, eight, sixteen, or more products, depending on the number of cavities per insert used in the frame.

Increasing production volumes through the use of vertically expandable tooling can allow huge savings of time and money. As noted, the first cost advantage is due to the elimination of expensive chase work for the master frame. This makes the master frame a significant capital expense, but it also gives it versatility. A well designed master frame is adaptable for use on a wide number of products and families of products.

For example: The design of bottle caps may vary slightly over the life of an application, and new inserts may be used with the same master frame to accommodate those changes. However, if an application line is dramatically changed or scrapped entirely, the bottle cap is likely to change as well. With a master frame designed for products such as bottle caps, a manufacturer can easily and productively move to a new product line with minimal risk.

The second cost advantage arises from the reduced expenditures needed to duplicate the tooling inserts. Once an interchangeable insert is cut, the cost of reproducing that insert for high volume production is low because the tooling design and machining parameters have already been established. The costs of duplication often are based only on the machine time needed to cut the steel. Using the same example as a bottle cap manufacturer, a prototype insert could be used to prove a design. Once proven, that design can be placed into production - again at minimal risk - by increasing the number of inserts and mold cavities. At some time in the future, if demand skyrockets, additional production capacity can be added quickly and easily because the master frames are standard and readily available, and the inserts are in stock for prompt shipment.

Vertically expandable tooling can provide significant savings by eliminating the duplication of molds for prototypes and pre-production runs.

Traditional moldmaking does not allow comparable speed, nor does it offer the same versatility at competitive costs. Moldmakers, who have accepted standard mold bases during the past 40 years, should be aware of the efficiency and savings offered by vertical standard tooling concepts.

In the production of consumer products, vertically expandable tooling can provide significant savings by eliminating the duplication of molds for prototypes and production runs, and through the reduction of economic risk for the injection molder. With Round Mate System II, several iterations of test products can be put through trials using the same master frames and different inserts until the design most suitable to consumers tastes is determined. Furthermore, should a prototype be entirely offbase, the master frame can be used for tests of other products, eliminating the potential for waste.

Vertically expandable tooling

With this tooling option, manufacturers can gain speed in their product design and prototyping, and can move much more quickly to market with new products through the ability to move to higher volume production faster and at less risk to injection molders.

Vertically expandable tooling is a new level of standardization that permits easy ramp up to production at minimal risk, and it provides new value and is moving the scale of value for injection molding tooling. As an evolutionary step forward it gives manufacturers new options for their products and production by moving the value of tooling away from the mold cavity, so that each time a part is produced, it does not have to support the repeated costs of the mold’s framework, mechanical actuation, and mold-cooling system.

PPI uses vertical toolmaking to reduce changeover time, reduce mold costs, and improve the quality of parts, taking advantage of its great capabilities. The Round Mate System is how we share that advantage with you. Want to learn more about how it can benefit you? Check out this free download, and be sure to follow our blog for more news and helpful tips.

Topics: injection molding, plastic, quality, certification, systems, lean manufacturing, advanced manufacturing, processes, methods

Author: Ron Pleasant

Copyright Pleasant Precision, Inc.