Moldmaking Challenges and Mastercam Solutions

Kip Hanson, Contributing Editor of Manufacturing Engineering, interviewed Ben Mund, Senior Market Analyst at CNC Software, Inc., for an article entitled “Meeting Moldmaking Challenges.” The discussion touched upon how designing and manufacturing plastic injection molds is a difficult way to earn a living. Of all the different manufacturing disciplines, plastic injection moldmaking is perhaps the most challenging. The good news is that help is here.

Mold design carries its own set of unique challenges. Part accuracies are best measured in microns and surface finishes often approach optical levels. The metals used in mold production are both tough and exceedingly hard, while the machined surfaces found in a typical mold cavity are quite complex, with intersecting curves and angles that would stump a mathematics major. Each mold can contain several cavities with hundreds or even thousands of mating components that must be painstakingly assembled before the mold will produce a perfectly formed piece. There’s unrelenting pressure to deliver a cost-effective design that performs as expected. Much of the moldmaking industry realizes the many benefits of a 5-axis machining center. This machine tool technology has greater part accuracy, lower fixture costs, reduced WIP, and shorter product lead times.

“Granted, machine shops producing complex aerospace and medical components are just as likely to invest in a 5-axis machining center,” said Mund. “But these capable machines are also quite attractive to mold shops, where it’s often necessary to reach deep into a mold cavity with a relatively small cutting tool because it’s easier to minimize tool overhand in this situation. Tool life and part quality are generally better on a five-axis.”

Mastercam has developed its own proprietary, high-performance metal removal routines “able to remove huge amounts of material quickly and accurately” (Dynamic Motion® technology). Yet, Mund points to automation—the software kind—as another necessary step towards greater moldmaking efficiency.

“It’s not all about cycle time,” he said. “Consider something as simple as hole making. A typical mold might have dozens and dozens of holes and programming them one at a time can burn up a significant chunk of time. It can also lead to errors – missing just one of those holes might lead to days of downtime, or even a scrapped part. But by using feature recognition and other automated software functions, moldmakers can dramatically reduce this effort, and do so with less risk.”

Again, moldmaking is difficult work. With tight timelines and competition, both domestic and abroad, Mastercam offers moldmakers a powerful solution to complement 5-axis machining. And, that make this industry a little easier to navigate.

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