Electrical Components Manufacturer Takes Charge of Moldmaking
Founded in 1969, The H-J Family of Companies is a global supplier in the transformer, switchgear, and breaker industry. Headquartered in High Ridge, Missouri, with sales offices in 11 countries, H-J employs 500 people. It is the leading manufacturer of electrical power transformer components in the Americas. The family-owned company’s original 800 square feet of manufacturing space expanded to 350,000 square feet in manufacturing facilities in the U.S., China, and Mexico.
“H-J is a manufacturer and bundler to transformer and switchgear manufacturers,” said Doug Goforth, Manufacturing Support and Improvement Manager at The H-J Family of Companies. “Our products show up on the street anywhere a wire connects to a transformer on the power grid.”
To manufacture an extensive product line that includes bushings, insulators, and custom engineered products, H-J operates as a machine shop, a foundry, an epoxy resin molder, and much more. In the daily lives of consumers, especially during times of disaster and downed power lines, H-J’s reliable electrical products impact millions of lives around the globe. Besides bringing power to residential consumers, H-J products help keep the manufacturing sector humming.
“We impact so many different areas of manufacturing,” said Goforth. “At some point in time, what makes the world go ‘round passes through our product.”
To produce tools, molds, and patterns for their product line, the folks at H-J rely on end mills and CAD/CAM software from Mastercam. The patterns support the foundry operation and metal casting side of the business, and the molds are used for epoxy casting. H-J chose Mastercam to support its growing machining staff of nearly 20 people, including machinists, moldmakers, programmers, and simulation engineers.
Most of H-J’s parts are produced on vertical machining centers, while molds and patterns are predominately milled. At one time, the company produced four molds per year, molds which required extensive hand polishing and finishing. Today—thanks to CAM software and specialty tooling—the company averages one mold per month without a significant increase in labor. H-J’s current molds are more complex than their predecessors.
“Mastercam definitely helps us optimize our machines and use them the way they’re designed to be used,” said Bobby Schaper, CNC programmer at The H-J Family of Companies. “We do not have to job out molds for specific part profiles that we couldn’t do in the past.”
According to Goforth, using Mastercam, Harvey and Helical tools, and support from Mastercam Reseller QTE Manufacturing Solutions, H-J is able to squeeze a tremendous amount of value out of its machinery. In addition, H-J implemented a continuous improvement plan and uses QTE for ongoing on-site training.
In November 2018, Mastercam partnered with Harvey Performance Company and its Harvey Tool and Helical Tool brands of specialty carbide end mills and cutting tools. Toolpaths within Mastercam are now able to integrate Harvey Tool’s selection of tool options. Harvey is known for specialty profiling and miniature tooling and Helical offers material-specific, high performance end mills. Bringing the power of Mastercam closer to cutting tool technology translates into increased productivity for H-J’s machines.
“Our QTE technical engineer can’t believe the results we are getting from our equipment and processes,” said Goforth. “We have $200,000 mills that are consistently putting out quality parts normally seen on $500,000 machines.”
One of those parts is an insulator for a transformer. According to Goforth, the shed section, which resembles a stack of small rings, is used to prevent electrical failure in an insulator in cases of air and water contamination. A major challenge in producing sheds is finding the right small-diameter, long-reach tool that does not deflect or chatter during machining. Because the sheds are very thin, H-J uses specialty tooling called tapered reach (clearance cutters) from Harvey to produce them. Most of the Harvey end mills selected for the application have specialized tapers for support and small tips, some as small as 0.015” in diameter. In addition to specialty tooling, H-J employs Mastercam’s Dynamic Motion® toolpaths to boost machining accuracy and efficiency. Before using the toolpaths, programmers used small step-downs and large step-overs with index-able tools. Now, Dynamic Motion technology allows H-J to take a different approach and use end mills to achieve the same results, sometimes faster.
“Dynamic toolpaths are my favorite to use,” said Schaper. “I use them on almost every part, and not necessarily for finishing. I’ll use a whole scope of different toolpaths depending on the application.”
Compared to traditional cutting toolpaths that use only the nose of the tool, Dynamic Motion toolpaths use the full flute length for more consistent tool wear and extended tool life. By controlling side cuts, the tool does not overload. For roughing sheds, H-J programmers’ toolpath of choice is OptiRough. This bi-directional cutting strategy removes large amounts of material quickly via Dynamic milling motion. Large, aggressive cuts are followed by fast, smaller up-cuts to deliver a fully roughed part safely and quickly. Spindle speeders are used for finishing to increase machine speeds up to 50,000 RPM.
“I believe the toolpaths and spindle speeds help the miniature Harvey tools achieve what they were designed to do,” said Schaper. “We’d rather put a tool in a situation where it can succeed rather than push it more for the sake of cycle time yields. We’ve learned that for roughing small diameter tools, don’t worry about cycle time. Worry about quality.”
Most parts that H-J manufactures range anywhere from 0.5 to 100 pounds. To accommodate this large variety of parts, H-J’s mold making operation requires two shifts to service the entire factory of molding presses that operates on three shifts. Each mold typically has at least two cavities, and in some cases up to six cavities. Fitment tolerances are ±0.002”.
Recently, H-J made a mold for research and development purposes for a part that was 14.5 inches in diameter and 5 feet tall with a hollow center. Each aluminum mold half weighed 1,400 pounds. Due to its size, the mold was divided into four pieces per section and had two parting lines. The configuration allowed a 45-degree rotation of the block to minimize tool reach to the bottom of the shed. With no 5-axis machine available at the time, H-J machinists performed 3-axis machining, reaching five inches deep using 0.25-inch-diameter end mills, to complete the job. The most daunting aspect of performing this 3-axis machining operation was locating each block in the machine because a flat surface did not exist once the part was tilted. Toolpaths used to complete the process were Dynamic Mill, OptiRest, and OptiRough, then Flowline for finishing. With the help of Dynamic toolpaths, specialized tooling and vendor support, the mold was produced in three weeks. The final part weighed 230 pounds.
“We had six weeks to pull off the part design, product design, mold manufacturing, and part production in order to get the part to a trade show,” said Goforth. “That is how this productivity from Mastercam, tooling suppliers, and vendor support came together. There are not a lot of domestic or international companies that do what we do. We’re making molds in 8 to 12 weeks, which sets us apart from a lot of mold shops and product manufacturers. We can now take and produce custom products, complete with tooling, in weeks as opposed to the better part of a year.”
Another successfully molded part was made from P20 steel and required 4-axis machining. The experts at QTE jumped in to help, because H-J did not have 4-axis capabilities at the time. From on-site assistance to email support, the QTE support team helped in the production of a complex mold. The final part reflected the precision tooling and CAM capabilities behind it—near mirror finishes that required little to no handwork.
“We had to use miniature tools, highspeed toolpaths, and our spindle-speeder to help the small tools,” said Schaper.
A spindle speeder, which acts as a sub spindle and increases RPMs, can be installed on a machine and used in place of a machine spindle. In the H-J application, the speeder ran independently at up to 50,000 RPM and housed a miniature Harvey tool. Schaper shared that th use of the spindle speeder yielded a 300% reduction in finishing toolpath cycle time.
For the H-J Family of Companies, the benefits of CAM software, precision tooling, and customer support cannot be overstated. According to Goforth, as the complexity of the parts that H-J molds increases, having a Mastercam Reseller close by and accessible is a strategic advantage.
“QTE’s onsite assistance and education have been invaluable for us,” added Schaper. “They can come in and help us better utilize Mastercam and help us streamline our process.”