Recent Article In….. <ul><li>Aluminum Tooling Speeds Delivery and Cuts Cycle Time Appears in Print As: Aluminum Tooling Goes Vroom September 24, 2009 Jessica Shapiro Printer-friendly version Nissen Chemitec America, www.londonind.com Unique Tool & Gauge Inc., Windsor, Ont., www.unique-tool.com Aluminum tooling for high-volume plastic-molding applications? Making the switch from carbon-alloy steel while maintaining part quality has been on engineers’ minds for years, especially in the automotive industry. Engineers from Unique Tool and Gauge Inc., Windsor, Ont., design aluminum molds for plastic molding that hold down tooling and production costs. For example, Unique built the tool for the rear tray on the Honda Accord which is currently assembled at Nissen Chemitec America (NCA), London, Ohio. Since August 2007, the tool has molded more than 350,000 production parts. But aluminum tooling isn’t for every application, say Unique’s engineers. It depends on the material, part geometry, production volume, and the number and type of secondary operations. Designing and operating aluminum tooling also have to accommodate the ways in which the metal differs from steel, especially its lower hardness and greater thermal expansion. Aluminum works best when molding polymers like thermoplastic polyolefins (TPOs), polyethylene (PEs), and polypropylene (PP). These plastics account for over 70% of the plastics in a typical car. . </li></ul>
Lower production volumes that come with lean and just-in-time operations also tip the scales toward aluminum tooling because there are fewer parts over which to amortize tooling cost. Aluminum tools cost 5 to 10% less and have 10% shorter production lead times than steel versions The biggest savings come with complex tools that have more mechanisms and greater depth. They require more machining, spotting, drilling, and benching operations which are accomplished more quickly and easily on softer aluminum than on P-20 tool steel. Tools for flat, low-profile parts requiring few man-hours will have lower cost savings. In fact, switching to aluminum may increase initial tool costs since aluminum costs more than tool steel. Aluminum tools can cut costs further in production. The metal’s thermal conductivity is higher than that of steel, so tools heat up and cool down quicker. This translates to production cycle-time reductions of 20 to 40%. Cycle time on the Honda Accord rear tray, for example, was cut 20% after switching to aluminum. However, tool cycle time alone is not the only factor to consider, says Shawn Hendrix, senior vice president of NCA.“If we have an aluminum tool that can run at a reduced cycle time, but also requires more labor to keep up with that faster pace, we have to look very closely at the trade-off between speed and additional cost,” says Hendrix. Preventive maintenance and repair are other factors to consider for aluminum tools. NCA reports preventive-maintenance requirements are similar to those of steel, although textured mold surfaces require more frequent cleaning.
<ul><li>Over 350,000 Honda Accord rear decks have been molded on aluminum tooling, which cut cycle time for each part by about 20%. The tools also cost about 10% less than comparable tool steel parts and were made 10% quicker. </li></ul>
Recent Article In The Windsor Star…… Industry-changing idea Unique's aluminum moulds to be used on GM's Chevy Volt By Ellen van Wageningen, The Windsor Star July 28, 2009 Darcy King and Al Standaert of Unique Tool and Gauge Inc. with an interior automotive panel for Honda products. Aluminum moulds they manufactured were used to produce the plastic part. Photograph by: Nick Brancaccio, The Windsor Star, The Windsor Star
Amid a growing number of padlocked shops and weedy lots in an industrial park that once thrived on the auto industry, a locally owned tooling company is swimming against the current and leading a small revolution. Unique Tool & Gauge Inc. and its 65 employees appear to have latched onto the right idea at the right time: building aluminum injection moulds to more cheaply produce plastic vehicle parts than traditional steel moulds. It is catching on thanks to a special relationship the company has forged with Honda. Three-and-a-half years after Honda's suppliers started using its aluminum moulds to make high-volume parts, Unique Tool is experiencing something almost unheard of among small auto suppliers these days. The big automakers and their Tier 1 suppliers have come knocking on its door. Unique Tool president Darcy King, whose family started the company in 1982, said it's hard to keep up some days. He and his staff have made presentations to executives from General Motors, Ford and Nissan. They've talked to all the major auto suppliers, including Magna, Toyota's Boshuko division, Johnson Controls, NYX and International Automotive Components. "It's probably the biggest thing happening in the industry today. We're excited because we're at the forefront of it," King said. So it may be fitting that the first non-Honda vehicle which will have a part made with an aluminum mould from Unique Tool is the Chevy Volt -- the electric car GM is betting will signal its renaissance. It's a rear door pocket that can be used for storing maps or a bottle of water. King said he and his staff encouraged GM and the supplier contracted to make the part to start small and get competent with the technology.
"We think there are tremendous opportunities with aluminum moulds going forward," said GM spokesman Dan Flores. "The potential benefits include reduced tooling costs, reduced parts costs and reduced energy consumption during the part making process.... We're actively exploring additional opportunities for this technology in future projects.” But it was Honda that helped Unique Tool develop the technology six years ago. At the time, the Japanese automaker was looking to form closer ties with a select number of suppliers. Unique Tool went through a rigorous two-year assessment and is now one of three tooling companies in North American involved in a co-management arrangement with Honda. It not only gave King and his staff a guaranteed amount of Honda's business, it gave them the automaker's ear. "It's a new idea and a lot of people don't want to jump on a new idea. Having Honda listening to us allowed us to jump onto an industry changing idea," King said. "If we weren't in co-management, this wouldn't have happened," agreed Tim Myers, department manager for technical purchasing for North America. Honda, which made 1.4 million vehicles in North America last year, saw enough promise in the use of aluminum injection moulds that it has been gradually increasing their use, he said. Parts made with the moulds are in five existing Honda models and will be in two more coming out later this year. Aluminum saves money two ways. Moulds can be made in less time. They also can produce parts faster because aluminum conducts heat better than steel. Honda's testing has shown it can reduce the time to make a part by 15 to 30 per cent, Myers said.
Unique Tool is made over 30 aluminum injection moulds for Honda. One of the most successful is used for producing the cover that sits behind the back seats of the Honda Accord. More than 410,000 of the polypropylene "rear trays" have been made with the mould by Nissen Chemitec America at its London, Ohio plant. The choice between steel and aluminum is a balancing act -- strength versus cost efficiency, said Phil Bates, a chemical engineering professor at the Royal Military College in Kingston who is an expert on plastic welding. Unique Tool may have found the optimum balance for certain softer plastic vehicle parts, he said. "You're probably not going to see that on the sticker price ... but to the automaker over thousands of vehicles it will make a difference.“ Newer aluminum alloys are harder and more suitable for standing up to the pressure and wear of producing hundreds of thousands of parts, King said. "We think there's a huge opportunity for us in this sector in more ways than one. I do see a lot of growth in this area," including outside the auto industry. Unique Tool is trying maintain its advantage by maintaining control of the techniques it has developed for at least a couple of years, he said. "What's concerning is a lot of people are trying to catch up now and they say they know what they're doing, but they don't." Even his shop is still perfecting things like welding repairs to the moulds. "We're still not done. We still have projects on the go and testing to be done," King said.
Recent Article In…. Strategies: Aluminum Tooling Aluminum Tooling Proves Its Mettle By Darcy King, President & CEO, Unique Tool & Gauge Inc. Can aluminum tooling enter the race for high-volume automotive injection molding? It depends on the material and part and the secondary operations being performed. Automakers can save 5% to 10% on tools for the majority of their applications, and the added benefit is at least 10% shorter lead times versus steel tools. Molding cycle-time reductions of 20% to 40% or more are readily achievable, given aluminum's higher thermal conductivity. It is being used today on some high-volume applications at Honda of America Manufacturing, Inc., in runs that have reached hundreds of thousands of parts. Unique Tool’s Darcy King shows off the Honda rear tray and the aluminum tool that has run more than 350,000 parts.
Just over five years ago, Unique Tool & Gauge approached Honda with an opportunity to help reduce tooling and production costs while maintaining part quality. Aluminum grades in the past did not have the wear propertiesor hardness of P20 tool steel. Newer, harder aluminum alloys made aluminum tooling worth a second look. TEST DRIVING ALUMINUM One success story for aluminum tooling was for a polypropylene rear tray for the Honda Accord. Unique built a "hybrid" tool with core and cavity blocks of QC-10 aluminum and a steel mold base and ejector. Honda also ordered an all-steel backup tool. Molder Nissen Chemitec America (NCA), of London, Ohio, has produced more than 350,000 parts in the aluminum tool since 2007. NCA ran comparison tests in the steel backup mold and found that the aluminum tool gave cycle-time savings of about 20%. Shawn Hendrix, sr. v.p. of NCA, notes that "just having a tool that can run faster isn't the entire story." NCA molds the rear tray in a production cell that installs a rear brake lamp, speakers, wire harnesses, and more. "In this case, we could actually run faster but we would then have to add additional manpower over each of our three shifts."
"We're fans of aluminum tooling, says Damion Manns, new model manager at NCA, "but molders need to look carefully at the amount of value-added they're putting in at the molding location. If they're molding a part and then moving it somewhere else in the plant or shipping it out, they can take full advantage of faster cycles.“ At Unique Tool, we had to develop new ways of designing tools in aluminum, and we've worked closely with molders to determine operating guidelines for aluminum molds. With a P20 steel tool, if stress marks appeared on the part you would try to cool the tool more or make the cycle longer to let the part set up more. With aluminum you would do the opposite, because the plastic cools and shrinks so quickly. Molders generally inject aluminum tools faster but with reduced pressures, which is easier on the tool. NCA's maintenance experience with aluminum tooling has been similar to that with P20 steel, except that textured parts need somewhat more frequent cleaning of the "A" surface. Adds Manns, "One of the biggest differences in handling and repair for us is the special skills needed to weld aluminum. We can do small weld repairs on P20 steel tools in-house, but for QC-10 aluminum we have to send that out. This has been a real learning experience. And we're still learning."
Richard Spears, manager of the Tooling Engineering Group at Honda North American Purchasing, agrees: "We've learned a lot about aluminum's durability relative to the amount of action in the tool, as well as how the material and the tool perform. We do see competitive advantages with aluminum tooling. We're not saying that everything's perfected by any means. We're going to continue to make measured investments, assess our risks and move forward. Thus far, we would judge our involvement in aluminum tooling a success.“ Unique Tool has built quite a few aluminum tools for other Honda parts. Every year their demand for aluminum tools increases. We see huge growth coming for aluminum and have had calls from other automakers. Aluminum tooling isn't for every application. Tools for relatively flat parts that need few man-hours will show lower savings and possibly even a higher price, since aluminum costs more than steel. But tools with more depth and mechanical actions, which require more machining, spotting, drilling, and benching, will save in aluminum.
Unique President Darcy King, left, and technical sales manager Al Standaert hold a part used in the Accord sedan, which was produced using aluminum tooling. Metal's monetary magnetism By Rhoda Miel April 27, 2009 PLASTICS NEWS STAFF WINDSOR, ONTARIO (April 27, 12:05 p.m. ET) -- A new generation of injection mold tooling made from aluminum is gaining business and traction in the North American auto industry, with savings promised for mold makers, molders and automakers alike. Aluminum has been used extensively in prototype tools and some niche production in the past, but stronger aluminum alloys are now being used in production molds in place of steel for high volume vehicles including Honda Motor Co. Ltd.’s Accord sedan. Recent Article In….
“ One of the biggest topics and buzzwords out there right now is aluminum tooling,” said Darcy King, president of Unique Tool & Gauge Inc., during an interview at Unique’s headquarters in Windsor. Aluminum is more than just hype. Honda already has been using the material for more than two years and has slated its use in future vehicles. Some other top automakers, including General Motors Corp. and Ford Motor Co., are taking a serious look at aluminum as well. “ It’s amazing to see the interest in this out there,” said Rich Oles, president of tooling component supplier PSG Plastic Service Group Inc., headquartered in Stevensville, Mich. PSG has coordinated conferences on aluminum injection mold toolmaking, along with the Society of Plastics Engineers. Aluminum tooling — when it’s produced properly — offers savings beyond just the mold itself. Because the material can heat up and cool down more quickly, molding cycle time is cut by 30-80 percent, depending on the size of the mold. Because it is lighter, there is less wear and tear on equipment and molders can use smaller presses. Unique has been at the leading edge of the auto industry’s new interest in aluminum and has created proprietary manufacturing systems, working with Honda on the development.
The company is one of a handful of tool and die makers selected by Honda’s Honda of America Manufacturing Inc. unit for a long-term partnership, called “co-management.” The business arrangement ensures a set level of business with Honda in exchange for providing the carmaker with a steady partner that also can bring new technology to the forefront. Unique already had seen good production from tools it made from softer M1 aluminum grades, and proposed to Honda that they see what was possible from stronger “7,000 grade” alloys introduced recently by aluminum suppliers. Because aluminum is softer than the standard P20 steel used in most injection mold tooling, it is easier to machine and faster to produce, reducing overall costs although the aluminum itself costs more than steel. However, that softness also leads to faster wear problems with the final mold, so it typically is not used in high-volume parts. While a few toolmakers have had success with aluminum in high-volume production in the past, conservative buyers in the auto industry were hesitant to take a chance on investing in the material. But through its relationship with Honda, Unique was able to develop ways to use the new grades, along with standards for production, and Honda —once convinced the material could perform — was then able to bring in its key molders to begin full production.
“ Without co-management [from Honda], this never would have happened,” King said. Honda used Unique’s aluminum tools for instrument panel side covers on its CR-V small sport utility vehicle, and for the rear window tray on its Accord. The CR-V tool has produced more than 300,000 parts, the Accord more than 400,000. More production is under way at Unique, and other toolmakers are making the investments in aluminum capabilities now as well. “ Two things are happening out there that are driving this,” PSG’s Oles said. “One is that people are trying to find ways that they can be unique and be noticed in today’s market. The second is Honda and its support.” But the sudden interest worries King, who fears that if toolmakers try to jump in too fast, they won’t understand the differences between aluminum and steel, and will damage aluminum tooling’s reputation just as it begins to take off. Aluminum has its limits. Unique had to develop new ways of designing tools specifically for aluminum and allow for thermal expansion with parting lines and operating guidelines different from steel. The company also works closely with molders to test and set operating guidelines for presses that normally use steel, noted Al Standaert, technical sales manager for Unique.
The company has targeted only polypropylene and thermoplastic polyolefin uses for aluminum tooling so far, steering clear of glass-filled parts, which could cause minute damages to the mold surface. With growing support from carmakers, the industry could see a real breakthrough if it develops the technology carefully, said Oles, who works with suppliers and experienced mold makers in the educational seminars. “ We want to generate real discussion on this for the industry so that people really understand what they’re doing,” he said.