The Mold Maker
A mold maker is somebody that has the capabilities to take a piece of steel and read a blueprint and make a mold out of that steel into something that they can form plastic out of.
I think a lot of perceptions are that this type of business is more like a blacksmith shop. It's not; it's a clean environment. It's not physical labor; it's mental labor. You have to pay attention to what you're doing because if you make a mistake, it's a costly mistake. We have a lot of money wrapped up into these pieces of steel that we're working on.
What we're doing is taking a solid model, which we receive from our customer. This is what they send in to us, saying, "We need a mold that will make this part." We take it, quote it, and once the customer gives us the approval to start building, then we start the design process.
What we're looking at here is the side view of the tool. It has a cross section cut through the center of the tool. You can see there's a lot of things going on in there with the side actions on the tool that are required. The plastic comes in through the gate through there. It gets fed through the part.
The mold has two sides, the "a" side, which is where the plastic gets injected into the part; and they have what they call the "b" side, which is the part that forms the inside of the part. And that's also where it gets ejected out of the tool.
Once we're done with the design in the CAD department, then it comes over here to the CAM department, and we have to start generating the NC data that the machines require on the floor to actually cut this part.
What we're going to show you here is the core detail for a part that we're making. What he's going to do is actually cut the outside form to make the electrode for this part. What he's done now -- the gray lines that you saw there was a roughing tool. The yellow line is a semifinishing tool, and then it goes to another tool. Then it's a smaller tool to pick up some of the other detail towards the front.
What you're seeing now is the solid block of the electrode before we start milling on it. This verifies, before we go out onto the floor, what we're actually cutting. Now it's switched tools, and it's gone into a semifinisher where it's taken out a lot of the scallops that the roughing endmill left in there.
You have to have a strong math background -- trigonometry, algebra, and geometry is very critical. Some mechanical aptitude skills are also important.
After everything has been cut, that's the final shape we wanted to end up with.
All of our computers in the shop are networked together so once we get something done in the CAD department, he can download it over to the CAM department, he downloads all the programs down here. The operator goes to that computer and says which program he wants and which machine to send it to. He sends it to that machine, and we start cutting.
You can see it's actually cutting what we were programming in the CAM office. You can see that endmill going back and forth, and the part is actually starting to take shape.
We're actually cutting wax here just to prove out the program, make sure that there isn't anything wrong with it. Once we get the program proved out and we know it works, we'll go ahead and cut the actual graphite.
Since we've gone through the CAD and the CAM and through all the machining process, what we're looking at here is now the final product. This is the mold, and this is the part that's being manufactured.
The way this operates, there's a small gate in here where the plastic comes in. The plastic comes in, fills this void. Obviously this happens when these two halves are together in the closed position. Once the plastic is injected, the two halves open up. The plastic will stay on this side, and then when it's opened all the way, the ejector pins come forward, the part is stuck on there like so. The ejector pins come forward, and it's either going to drop down onto a conveyer or they have a robot coming in to pick it up out of the mold.
I've always enjoyed the challenges of it. It's always something new. It's not production work. Everything we do is one of a kind. Once we get done with a project, we go on to the next one. It's very rarely that we get to do a project over again, where somebody asks for a mold identical to the first one.
Technology is always changing. When I first got into this, computers were just starting to be used in this. Now we do everything with computers. It's just amazing how things have changed.