Mold Maintenance & Repair

OCT 2014

Mold Maintenance & Repair

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October 2014 13 as particularly effective: installing a laser welder. Now in place for about two years, this single piece of equipment is "one of the cornerstones" of a preventive maintenance plan that the shop is working to implement for more than 700 active molds, says Oles, the company's tooling manager. Hundreds of miles away in Elgin, Illinois, another custom molder is singing the same tune. Although Hoffer Plastics Corp. already had a similarly robust preventive maintenance program in place for approximately 800 active molds when it purchased its frst laser welder last year, the impact has been no less signifcant. Steve Long, manufacturing sup- port manager, says bringing this process in-house saves an estimat- ed $25,000 a year, a fgure that's roughly on-par with the $20,000 annual savings estimate cited by Stone Plastics & Manufacturing. Such savings aren't restricted to molders alone. Toolmakers fur- ther down the supply chain often seek to differentiate themselves through repair and maintenance services that help customers keep presses running. One such compa- ny, Grand Rapids, Michigan-based Paragon D&E, installed its frst laser welder about a year ago after getting a frst-hand look at Stone Plastics & Manufacturing's unit in action. "They were in the same boat as we were, and they said they didn't know how they'd lived without it for so long," recalls Steve Brooks, toolroom manager at Paragon. "Now, we feel the same way." A Tightening Bottleneck If the respective experiences of these three companies are any indication, Brooks' prover- bial boat is large enough to carry a sizeable portion of the industry. Driven by OEMs at the top of the supply chain, increasing pres- sure for ever-faster turnaround makes it far less practical for companies with tool repair and maintenance divisions to outsource laser welding. Hoffer Plastics, for example, increas- ingly found itself begging outside partners to accommodate urgent welding work on a Saturday afternoon or other odd shift, Long says. At Paragon, similar diffculties caused ripple effects throughout the shop because maintenance must be performed according to customers' schedules rather than its own, Brooks says. Meanwhile, Stone Plastics of- ten had to go entire shifts without one if its most experienced shopfoor employees: Nick Tatarchuk, a senior technician who often had to perform laser welding work at another shop about 20 minutes' drive away. Amid accelerating demand for faster turnaround, laser welding has emerged as an increasingly useful process for intricate refurbishing of damaged or worn surfaces. According to all three companies, the primary reason is that the best alternative, micro-TIG welding, imparts more heat into the workpiece that can deform the surrounding steel. Laser welding signifcantly reduces this risk, so the Dan Dixon, apprentice welder at Paragon D&E, laser-welds a smaller component. Thanks to a 180-degree swiveling arm and portable design, the HTS Mobile is also employed for jobs that are too large to fit on the table. Capability to weld a variety of materials—including tool steel, stainless, aluminum, beryllium and titanium—adds to the unit's versatility. Image courtesy of Paragon D&E.

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