On the Job: Injection Molder's Processing Savvy Keeps it Competitive

15 Dec, 2004 By: Cadalyst Staff Cadalyst

B&B Molders uses range of Moldflow products to develop design-for-manufacture environment

Founded in 1963, B&B Molders is a custom, ISO 9001-certified injection molding company. Based in Mishawaka, Indiana, the company is owned and operated by president Britt Murphey, who along with his management team, successfully led the buy-out of B&B Molders from Harley-Davidson in 1996. B&B Molders is a fully integrated company with complete, in-house part and mold design and construction capability, an automated raw material vacuum transport and loading system, the latest injection molding machinery, and a wide array of assembly and secondary operations processes. B&B Molders produces plastic parts and assemblies 24 hours a day, five days a week with more than 60 employees.

B&B Molders serves a range of industries, including but not exclusive to all the recreational vehicle OEMs, automobile manufacturers, specialty vehicle manufacturers and suppliers, medical implant companies, musical instrument manufacturers, military defense contractors, and national service organizations.

Steve Rorie, B&B Molders' operations manager, is responsible for all manufacturing activity, including production, engineering, and logistics. He encounters a range of challenges in designing and manufacturing the company's products.

"Challenges vary by industry and application," Rorie says, "but some of the common denominators are always quality, price, lead time, flexibility, and responsiveness. Price has to rank first. Many customers in many markets would dispute this in principle, but the reality is they make their decisions based largely on price. This is followed closely by quality and reliability. Finally, many look to partner with someone who can work with them from concept and design to mold construction and first articles, then full supply-chain integration."

Moldflow Helps Meet Tough Challenges
The company's biggest challenge is meeting pricing requirements because of the many issues that factor into the problem. "As more and more industries look offshore, it's difficult to compete with Asian or third-world country labor rates and their propensity to copy or 'knock-off' our products," Rorie says. "However, we refuse to be discouraged or intimidated by this condition. Because we feel we are an industry leader in quality and reliability, we intend to be the same in the areas of scientific molding, design technology, and process efficiency. These were among the driving factors in our decision to partner with Moldflow and their toolbox of products."

B&B Molders' product design teams use a range of Moldflow software technologies, including Moldflow Mold Adviser, Moldflow Performance Adviser, Cooling Circuit Adviser, Moldflow Shotscope, and MPX (Moldflow PlasticsXpert) Optimization. In addition, they use Autodesk Mechanical Desktop and Autodesk Inventor for CAD, CNC Software's Mastercam for CAM, and Lilly Software's VISUAL for manufacturing.

B&B Molders implemented Moldflow Mold Adviser, a module of MPA (Moldflow Plastics Adviser), in 2000. Since then, the company has upgraded the software with each new release, as well as added MPA Performance Advisor for fill, pack, and warp, along with Moldflow Cooling Circuit Advisor. Recently, the company completed the implementation of Shotscope for real-time process and production monitoring. Moldflow PlasticsXpert is used for manufacturing floor machine setup and process optimization (figure 1).

Figure 1. B&B Molders uses Moldflow PlasticsXpert for machine setup and process optimization on its manufacturing floor.

Moldflow Benefits
"We felt it was important to close the loop in terms of design for manufacture," explains Rorie. "In order to maximize value to the customer and to B&B, we must have accurate part design, supported by accurate tool design and construction, supported by an accurate process that's in control time after time (figure 2).

Figure 2. B&B Molders design engineer Adam Schamski uses Moldflow to close the design-to-manufacture loop by designing and then simulating the entire injection molding process. He ensures that product molds work before reaching the shop floor.

"Our biggest concern of investing in process monitoring alone addressed the question, 'What will we do with all this information?' Process optimization (MPX) gives us the tool we need to make the improvements called for by the monitoring system (Shotscope). The MPA tools provide simulation capability before we ever start to cut steel, thus giving the mold maker a high level of confidence in first shot performance without all the rework of the past," Rorie continues.

"The Adviser series of modeling and simulation capabilities has been instrumental in helping us land a number of projects. One recent example was a customer who received a request from his engineering group to send a part out for Moldflow analysis due to recurring difficulties from their supplier. We performed the in-house analysis as well as simulated the molding process driven by the MPX Optimization software. As a result, we showed the customer that we have a sizeable competitive advantage."

While B&B Molders evaluated several analysis packages prior to selecting Moldflow, it was impressed with Moldflow software being able to close the loop in the design for manufacture environment. Rorie says, "We didn't want a hodgepodge of software for design, mold construction, process monitoring, production monitoring, process optimization, and quality control data. Moldflow offers a system that interfaces all those aspects and more. Moldflow's size and support capability was the other driving force. If I have trouble reaching one person, there are a number of others I know I can call and get help fast if I need it."

Improving Communications
B&B Molders strives to continually improve communications alongside technological updates. "We are able to import virtually any CAD software files," says Rorie. "Having said that, 3D renderings have replaced 2D drawings. The engineer walking the shop floor with a D-sized drawing under his arm is pretty much passé. We are now able to communicate up-to-date, three-dimensional renderings and CAD data not only internally within our organization, but also back and forth between customers and secondary sources. In today's supply chain, there are multiple tiers of vendors that are part of the communications loop. So, without the ability of electronically transferring all the updated project-related data, you're fighting an uphill battle."

Using Moldflow's Shotscope, the B&B team is able to transfer all the data directly to the shop floor through document viewer screens. "Now, we are able to take the data out of the design engineer's hands and put it directly in the shop floor technician's hands," adds Rorie. "Being an ISO-certified organization, one of the things we rely on for quality control purposes is creating job books. Whenever a job order or production order hits the shop floor and goes to our presses for an injection molding operation, there is a job book associated with it. The job book contains the technical data for the processing parameters for the machines, as well as instruction criteria associated with quality control. In addition, job books contain all the photographs and prints related to the job. We can convert the job book into an electronic file and keep it on the shop floor on our data collection terminals."

Taking these bold steps, B&B Molders has enhanced shop floor efficiency. The company is successfully migrating from a paper-based organization to an electronic environment.

An Educated Workforce
How does a 40-year-old company stay on top of the technological breakthroughs that surface regularly? How does a progressive organization keep its workforce up on what's current? B&B Molders has five core values that Murphey established when he purchased the company from Harley-Davidson. They are:

  • Be fair
  • Keep your promise
  • Respect the individual
  • Tell the truth
  • Stimulate intellectual curiosity
The company offers several educational programs that foster core value No. 5. "The only way you are going to compete in today's marketplace and achieve maximum efficiency through the use of technology is by educating your workforce," explains Rorie. "The only people who are willing to embrace technology are those who are truly open-minded and receptive to it. By continuing to require people to embrace on-going education is what helps keep people's minds open."

To facilitate this core value, B&B Molders has partnered with a plastics technology program based at Lake Michigan College. The school's professors teach classes at B&B Molders' training site. The company requires on-going training for its processors, processing supervisors, and many of its management teams. One program is a tuition-reimbursement program in which the company pays course fees when trainees complete and pass classes. The other program is called "Pay for Knowledge," in which the company increases team members' salaries when they successfully pass one of the Lake Michigan College classes.

"By offering such incentives," Rorie explains, "people's minds continue to be open to new technology. There is no old school way of thinking here because the persona of our organization is so education-oriented. We know the only way to survive is by using the latest technology and educating our workforce. The combination leads to maximizing production efficiency."

About the Author: Cadalyst Staff

Cadalyst Staff

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