The major business issues being faced by mould makers worldwide are the customer demand for quick turnaround of high quality moulds, declining prices and profit margins, unavailability of skilled labour and global competition. These are but a few of the many that could be listed in a segment of the metalworking industry that has significance beyond its own borders.
Mould machining is often at the forefront of metalworking technology. The demands for highly accurate, complex machining in mould making drive technical advances in machine tool design, control technology, cutting tools, CNC programming, job planning/shopfloor control software and so on. Mould machining can be a glimpse of the future for machining in general.
Die/mould machining primarily refers to the machining of complex 3D forms. Stamping dies, forming dies, forging dies, injection moulds and blow moulds are all examples of tooling that might have complex shapes precisely mirroring or matching the intended shape of some final, mass-produced part. Complex fixtures and composite layup tools are also examples of milled parts that might have a similar complex 3D shape. High speed machining is an important topic for die/mould machining because of the need to take light milling passes productively in order to realise both the required geometry and the required surface finish. Hard milling is also important because many workpieces are machined in their hardened form. EDM is also used to impart the shape into the final die or mould tooling.
MLI Tool & Die’s recent purchase of a new Accutex GE-43SA wire EDM from EDM Shop
Paulo, Manny and José de Sa with José’s son Miguel at the back
New challenges for the die/mould maker have been the emergence of 3D printing and / or additive manufacturing (previously known as rapid protyping). For years, 3D-printed parts were used as nonfunctional prototypes, produced primarily for visual purposes in initial product development, but as the technology has advanced, these parts are now being developed to satisfy real-world applications or production requirements.
Success in mould making therefore requires a sophisticated business strategy. Innovation, imagination, integration and automation are all critical.
Family run MLI Tool & Die was established by Paulo de Sa in April 2007 when he decided he wanted to continue his profession’s proud heritage of skilled toolmaking and press tool manufacture. Paulo had qualified as a tool and die maker and spent 17 years with plumbing industry supplier Dutton Plastics in their toolroom manufacturing moulds for the company. Paulo then joined his brother’s company De Sa Industries, which offered injection moulding of accessories for security companies, the camping industry, the packaging industry, the motor industry, the communication industry and the mining industry. The company also manufactured its own moulds and between Paulo and brother José, who is also a qualified tool and die maker, they had built up a number of years of experience.
“The mould making department of a manufacturing company demands the same skill and attention to detail as an independent mould maker does. However, the manufacturing company puts more emphasis on throughput and versatility from mould making machines to ensure that moulds are ready in time to keep the injection moulding machines running and turning out products.”
A tool in the process of being manufactured at MLI Tool & Die
Some of the products that MLI Tool & Die has made the mould or tool for its clients
“I decided that this type of emphasis was not for me. My skill was at making moulds and not product. Looking back now I would say that the toolmaker that we had in the 1990s and prior to that, I don’t think we’ll ever see that type of person again. Dedicated, resourceful and skilled toolmakers are hard to find and those that are still in the industry should be treasured and used as mentors before it is too late. Fortunately I come from that era and at the age of 47 years I am still relatively young so I can continue to make a contribution.”
Milling is really quite thrilling
“Having said that the toolmaking profession has changed. While the trade had always been based on the development of skilled and well-rounded toolmakers, the technical schools are beginning to turn out candidates for jobs in basic machine operation.”
“But with the adoption of evolving machine tool technology has come new ways of doing things and you have to adapt.”
“Today’s machine tools continue evolving into multifunction machine platforms to meet new requirements and those that may be expected in the future. To be sure, multifunction machines are not new. Milling, turning, and drilling/tapping with on-machine measurement have a long history of working together in machines to produce large and small workpieces and tools. Toolmaking, as an example, has long benefited from the combination of grinding and eroding (EDM) to produce precision carbide and PCD tools, for example.”
“For anyone who owns, operates, or manages a machining center, these are exciting times. Never before has there been such an awesome assortment of high-quality cutting tools. Newfangled toolpath algorithms are removing metal like there’s no tomorrow. Toolholders grip tighter and more accurately, vices and fixtures can be swapped out in the blink of an eye. If your shop isn’t taking advantage of all the industry has to offer, the one thing you can be sure of cutting is profit margin.”
MLI Tool & Die has three CNC vertical machining centers. This one is a Jyoti 850i supplied by EDM Shop
Included in the equipment at MLI Tool & Die are two surface grinders
“Likewise with the software programmes that are now available, both for machining and NC control. New CAD/CAM/CAE software helps boost manufacturing efficiencies with improvements in high-speed metal cutting, design and visualisation tools. We did not have these tools at our disposal when I started and I have to admit that they add value. It is all about productivity while not neglecting quality.”
It was not long after establishing MLI Tool & Die that Paulo’s brother José had had enough of manufacturing plastic products and decided to join him. In the interim, Paulo’s dad Manny (Miguel), who had immigrated to South Africa from Portugal in 1979 and had worked with machine tools all his life, with an emphasis on metal pressing, also joined the company. The family connection is being continued with José’s son Miguel, who has recently joined MLI Tool & Die and is currently going through his apprenticeship.
MLI Tool and Die manufacture through hardened injection moulds for the packaging and general custom moulding industries. In addition to plastic injection moulds, they also manufacture vacuum forming moulds for vacuum formed products and blow moulds for blow moulded products such as plastic bottles.
Progressive press tooling
Manufacturing of progressive press tooling and forming dies also forms part of the company’s service offerings, as does general CNC machining.
“Most owners or drivers of cars don’t particularly care how vehicles are manufactured and assembled or where. As long as they get them from A to B without breaking down they are happy. But what they do not realise or contemplate is what has to happen to manufacture a vehicle. When it comes to vehicle development the likelihood that there will be a single material that pretty much handles all aspects of the construction of the structural and/or exterior aspects of that car is not likely in the foreseeable future. New materials and environmental pressure keep pushing for light weighting and are becoming more of an “essential” as part of the design and production process.”
MLI Tool & Die uses Edgecam as their machining and design software
MLI Tool & Die has conventional lathes and milling machines on the shopfloor as well
“However, it is the number of jigs, fixtures, gauges, patterns, moulds and dies that are needed during the manufacturing process to maintain quality and production efficiency that are too numerous to mention. It would be interesting to get a figure. Although these tools are virtually invisible when production is running smoothly, their importance becomes evident when problems arise.”
“For this reason, companies like ours become very important to the OEMs. We might be third tier or even fourth tier suppliers but we form an important link in the chain. A luxury German manufacturer with a big manufacturing plant in South Africa is currently tooling up for a new model and we have won a contract to manufacture two different progression tools for the manufacture of the fuel tank brackets. This emphasises my point of the amount of tooling needed by the OEMs, or more correctly the suppliers into the OEMs because at the end of the day they are largely assemblers.”
“It is not our first time supplying into the automotive market. We have manufactured ridge lock tooling and progression tooling for exhaust manufacture to Bosal, amongst others.”
“Other industries that we have been successful in are the medical, electrical, metal pressing and die casting industries. The different types of tooling we have manufactured can range from simple moulds to multi-cavity moulds and on the progression tooling side we have manufactured a relatively large one with dimensions of 1500 x 800 x 500mm.”
“We have all the equipment that a company in this industry needs. This includes three CNC vertical machining centers, two surface grinders, two spark eroders and a wire EDM and conventional lathes and milling machines.”
“For trials of the moulds or tooling that we manufacture we have an eccentric press and an injection moulder.”
“On average we manufacture between 10 and 15 progression tools a year and the same amount of moulds. We only have eight staff so we are kept busy.”
Seeking capacity – New Accutex wire EDM
Like all the previous purchases of machinery and equipment MLI Tool & Die’s recent purchase of a new Accutex GE-43SA wire EDM from EDM Shop was driven largely by the company’s need for additional capacity. MLI Tool & Die has been busy in recent times and the ever increasing demand for on-time delivery, consistently high quality, and competitive pricing from its customers has put pressure on the company’s capabilities even though the company owes its reputation to delivering on these requirements.
Another tool in the process of being manufactured at MLI Tool & Die. On average the company manufactures between 10 and 15 progression tools a year and the same amount of moulds
For trials of the moulds or tooling that MLI Tool & Die manufactures for clients they have an eccentric press and an injection moulder
“Wire EDM was among the most pressing capacity needs until our new machine was installed in September 2016. The Accutex GE-43SA machine is capable of 150m²/min cutting speeds using standard Ø0.25mm brass wire, and the Accutex SD (Stable Discharge) Master-powered servo control system enhances accuracy, repeatability and surface finish while minimising the possibility of wire breakage. The Accutex Intelligent Discharge Unit is engineered to maximise performance in changing workpiece thicknesses and water flushing conditions. A digital AC power supply facilitates high speed, electrolysis free machining.”
“The in-house-developed Accutex controller features automatic corner control that analyses cutting data, wire diameter, cutting angle and workpiece thickness to automatically determine parameters that will maintain the best corner cutting performance from roughing to finishing operations.”
“The machine’s 6-axis controller includes Z-axis positioning and 5-axis simultaneous interpolation to enable processing of any “turn and burn” application. An in-house-designed rotary table and controller can be applied to both vertical and horizontal applications.”
“It is challenging enough to produce a brand-new mould from a tool drawing, but not to have the modern equipment and software programmes that are available these days at your disposal, is putting your company at risk. The most time-consuming and costly phase of component or part production is the mould or tool design and the build process. What magnifies this is that when the designer makes changes or when the component / part to be tooled is discovered to be beyond the injection moulding machine’s or press’s capabilities. Open communication between the design parties is crucial to keeping the tool design and build on schedule.”
“Today, the use of software for mould design is experiencing a remarkable evolution. There are a variety of essential mould design tools available within your current product design software. With the new generation of 3-D solid modelling software, there are highly developed tools that speed up the mould design process, but also examine the part’s geometry, simulate analysis and forecast potential tooling problems.”
“The new machine is going to make a big difference for us. Processing speeds are so much more advanced than even five years ago. The capability to manufacture more complex moulds is already helping us. However, the journey is still ongoing for us. We know that we will have to make more capital equipment investments in the future.”
For further details contact MLI Tool & Die on TEL: 011 609 7005 or visit www.mlitooling.co.za