St. Paul, MN — (May 28, 2019) From Moldmaking Technology Magazine, Christina M. Fuges, Editorial Director.
“Most mold builders intend to design out the complexity of a customer’s part. Here at Custom Mold & Design, we are looking for work for which we can leave in the complexity and bring outsourced operations in house. We believe that the more layers customers add, the more valuable we are to the customer. Our true value is being used early on in the design process,” Lester Jones, Vice President of Custom Mold & Design of Forest Lake, Minnesota says. This philosophy has served the company well over the past 54 years.
Custom Mold & Design considers itself an engineering company. “We help people develop products, not just new molds,” Owner Ray Newkirk says. “We find creative ways to solve complex problems.” And that means its 320 people across three facilities do a lot of work for which one-thousandths of an inch makes a difference.
Jones calls this “cringe work” and not because of the tight tolerances it demands, as much as it is a product portfolio that consists of life-saving things people hope they never need: ultra-precision work that changes lives, such as implants, surgical tools, programmers for pacemakers and different regulators, hospital bed components, and chemotherapy process reservoirs (for high-temperature chemo drugs).
Custom Mold & Design works in highly regulated industries with products that seem different, but in reality, the requirements are very similar. Forty percent of Custom’s customer base is medical, 25 percent is defense and the rest is spread across the aerospace, electronics and consumer products industries. Plus, this sought-after complexity drives reshoring, a positive side effect in our globally competitive marketplace.
One key component of this business philosophy is machine technology, and you don’t have to be on the shop floor long to notice they are tooled up just right to support this strategy.
Beyond Accuracy and Speed
Within the past six months alone (back in October 2018), Custom Mold & Design purchased seven semi-truck loads of equipment from an Ohio auction, on top of the equipment it already has in place. This arsenal of machine technology equips this mold builder to take on tough-to-tackle molds and production parts, as well as overmolding, metal injection molding (MIM), silicone and multi-shot work. Strategically purchased machine tools and presses help produce the accuracy levels demanded by the markets Custom serves. Current machining equipment includes CNC machining centers, CNC turning centers, graphite machines, sinker and wire EDMs, grinders and additive manufacturing machines from a variety of machine tool builders.
This machine technology permits Custom to take on work others won’t, like a family of titanium mesh/PEEK spinal implants that are laser sintered, wire EDM’d, overmolded, laser marked and five-axis milled. The Custom team molds PEEK (polyetheretherketone) to the porous titanium material, so it is bonded to the inside layer which leaves the outside layer for the bone to grow into. This product is all about tight tolerances (two-tenths), as it must fuse to the lower back. Custom procures additively manufactured titanium plates that have a porous plate with a solid layer, then a layer of porous material, which the shop wire EDMs to fit the mold cavities.
Strength in Numbers
As Jones mentioned earlier, it takes more than one kind of machine to take on the types of complex projects that Custom Mold & Design does. So, they also make unique use of other machine technology across the three companies.
Its new Matsuura MX-850 five-axis machine sees a lot of action, especially for unique and complex machined parts. The company purchased this machine to expand capacity for the machined component portion of the business.
Custom continues to add hard milling machines and other equipment today as the business and work dictates. Custom Mold & Design is looking at a building expansion this spring to accommodate these equipment additions. Now, with all of this machine technology comes automation, and for Custom Mold & Design, automation is not an afterthought.
Custom is also going beyond its subtractive roots with a recent partnership and investment in a Matsuura Lumex Avance-25 hybrid metal laser sintering/milling machine for building conformal-cooled inserts and other metal parts. “The best value for us is having the option to use laser and milling together,” Jones says. The machine builds 0.002 inch thick layers of material, 10 layers at a time and then machines. The new improvement of this fifth machine version is a suction system programmed to go around and suck up the unsintered powder in the milling area, after which it comes back and machines, providing much longer cutter life.
Teamvantage, the largest of the three companies, runs the molds and assembles the parts Custom and Paradigme Engineering build. Then there are technology transfer projects for which Teamvantage engineers a system (tool and process) for its customers. For example, a precision mold for Becton Dickinson with a hot runner system complicated by very tight valve gate spacing. Teamvantage developed an automated cell to leak test 100 percent of the parts, assemble them, record data and validate the process. “It’s in its own little clean room,” Newkirk says.
Teamvantage also conducts mold trials for other mold shops and is constantly adding equipment and capabilities to stay ahead of the competition.
“Making billions of things is boring. We want work for which we can use our engineering and problem-solving capabilities. We are constantly practicing and honing our skill level, so we want customers who need us to do the hard, challenging stuff,” Jones says.
Matsuura’s combination of additive and subtractive technologies enables the production of parts and component geometries in a method that has never been possible or imagined. Often referred to as a “one machine, one process” system, the Matsuura LUMEX series permits production of the most complex and challenging parts through total manufacturing by digital engineering using 3-D data. The process produces highly accurate parts from metal powders that are melted and sintered using a laser while surfaces are precisely milled at high speeds. These machines possess both high-speed milling and laser sintering capability.
For more information on Custom Mold & Design, please visit: custommold.net
Matsuura Machinery USA, Inc., located in St. Paul, MN is the U.S. subsidiary of Matsuura Machinery Corporation in Japan. Since 1935, Matsuura has been the forerunner in designing innovative technology and manufacturing solutions to a variety of industries around the globe. Matsuura Machinery USA, Inc. delivers unmatched excellence in 5-axis, vertical, horizontal, linear motor, multi-tasking CNC machine tools and machines with a powder bed metal AM platform with machining capability. Matsuura Machinery USA, Inc. provides the service, applications and technical field support that have always been the Matsuura standard for business. For more information on Matsuura products, contact: [email protected]