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Innovation investments paying off for Canadian die and mould shops

by Tim Wilson

Die and mould shops in Canada are going through changes related to macroeconomic realities and technological advancements.

While some industries like automotive are challenging shop capacity, others are flat-lining. Whatever the business model, improvements in die and mould processes and materials are making a difference: those companies embracing innovation will have a better shot at ensuring long term profitability as Canada’s industrial landscape evolves.

“We have created a niche market in the development of aluminum tooling,” says Brian Bendig, president of Cavalier Tool & Manufacturing in Windsor, ON. “We now use a lot of aluminum instead of conventional steel tools to build the mould.  The benefit is reduced cycle times for the moulders.” 

He adds that although there are some resins that will not work with aluminum, the demand for aluminum tooling has picked up substantially. Typically, aluminum is low volume, perhaps 500 parts, but Cavalier can deliver for customers in production environments of 100,000 to 200,000 shots or more. “Most modern moulding machines have plenty of ‘mould protect’ features that allow aluminum tools to be used,” says Bendig. “They are not as hard on the tooling as in days past, because the features prevent the tool from slamming shut, which could cause premature damage.”

Aluminum is by its nature soft: it can get damaged quickly compared to a steel tool. But aluminum grades have improved significantly in the past few years, and this has created opportunities within production environments, where aluminum can be more cost effective because material costs are lower and machines can run faster.  

“A traditional mould might be 12 weeks, whereas we can be down to nine for the same tool in aluminum,” says Bendig. “The aluminum dissipates the heat much better. We might be able to get away with a 40 to 45 second cycle instead of a 60 second cycle.”  

Faster moulds bring challenges
In Canada, there is ongoing research into the role of aluminum and other materials in die and mould in the context of accurate and fast mould duplication and a reduction in finishing requirements. Depth of part, complexity, and wall thickness all contribute to determine cycle times, but the machinery is now in place for cavity and core mould components that can be made with excellent surface finishes, reducing the need for a lot of hand finishing.  

“When you look at CAD/CAM and how that works with advanced machining centres, the high speeds can deliver a decent surface finish,” says Rob Chittim, chair of the School of Skilled Trades at St. Clair College in Windsor. “In the past, to get the right surface, texture, and reflection might have taken weeks of polishing for a particular mould; now, the technology has taken a lot of the work out of it.”

However, higher machine speeds mean that cooling flow rates and line connectivity are a greater concern, as is the ease and speed with which a mould can be assembled and disassembled. Getting mould alignment right can make a big difference in terms of the overall viability of the mould and the end product.

“We’ve introduced mould alignment products that, when tested by an independent testing company, have not been able to get to fail,” says Glenn Starkey, director of engineering and sales at Progressive Components in Wauconda, IL. “Other locks on the market fail at just 40,000 cycles, but after 2,000,000 cycles, ours still show no wear.”

Starkey is referring to his company’s Z-Series locks, available in Canada through Progressive Components’ new mould component distribution partnership with Ontario-based Acetronic Industrial Controls. “We believe that these are the last sets of locks a mould will need,” says Starkey. “When a mould closes in perfect alignment for the life of the program, a whole host of problems simply won’t occur.”

Clearly, the die and mould industry will continue to drive solutions for a range of applications, particularly as lightweight and durable plastics find more use across industries. Getting moulds right, with faster setup and cycle times that don’t compromise quality, will help determine not only who’ll be standing to tell the tale, but also who thrives in the years to come.

Canada’s Reshoring Opportunity
The technological capabilities of Canada’s die and mould sector have resulted in some good news within our manufacturing sector: a trend toward the reshoring of some of the country’s manufacturing capacity within our borders.

“There are things that we can do better here, and that can’t get cranked out overseas,” says Rob Chittim, chair of the School of Skilled Trades at St. Clair College in Windsor. “The whole nearshoring and reshoring is happening also because we can meet timelines–a part doesn’t have to sit on a boat or truck. One of our competitive advantages is still location.”

Within automotive and other sectors that rely on die and mould capabilities there is a lot of assembly in Mexico–and that trend will continue. But this still leaves significant opportunity here in Canada.

“Mexico is all about labour content,” says Brian Bendig, president of Cavalier Tool & Manufacturing in Windsor. “They have the inexpensive labour to assemble cars.”

That means high value content from a company like Cavalier can be delivered here in Canada.

“We ship a lot of tools to Mexico,” says Bendig. “In fact, most of our tools end up in the United States and Mexico, with only about 5 per cent staying here in Canada.”

This is a widespread phenomenon that is also having a positive effect on the US side of the border. 

“The reshoring of tooling and moulding is not just an anecdote or urban myth,” says Glenn Starkey, from Progressive Components in Wauconda, IL. “We are seeing our customers receiving programs that had previously gone away.” SMT

Tim Wilson is a contributing editor. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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