Curiosity at the Core: A Unique Approach to Moldmaking
In its April 2018 issue, Design2Part Magazine features Westminster Tool, highlighting our dedication to curiosity, continuous improvement, and how it’s led to success with innovative moldmaking solutions.
It all starts and ends with curiosity. At Westminster Tool, every mold starts with a question, followed by another and another. Our customers come to us with a challenge, each requiring a unique approach, and it’s our job to understand their problems, their needs and how we can provide the right solution.
Our greatest strength and key differentiator is our people. It’s our internal culture and business model that provides customers, from the initial quoting process to production, with a unique and valuable experience.
And it’s largely due to our internal culture of embracing curiosity.
Design2Part magazine highlights this key characteristic in its recent article “Now, for Something Completely Different.” In the article, Westminster Tool shares how its employees took curiosity and injection molding knowledge and applied it to a highly complex project for medical components.
Here’s an excerpt from the feature on Westminster Tool:
A medical customer approached Westminster with what sounded like a challenging medical part. “Our customer needed a solution to a challenge—they needed to produce a medical grade part with a threaded feature that had to be produced in a clean room environment. Typically, threaded features in plastics parts are created utilizing a hydraulically-actuated mechanical action within the injection mold. Hydraulic oils cannot be used in a clean room environment. Therefore, our customer challenged our design team to come up with a new solution,” said Hillary Coombs. The customer picked Westminster because it helped previously on another difficult part.
To overcome the hydraulic issue, Westminster staff realized the customer would need to use an alternative solution within the mold to create this threaded feature.
The Westminster team prides itself on staying informed and being aware of new and enabling technologies within the injection mold industry. They knew of a German company that had a servo (electric) unscrewing technology for injection molds that might work. Keith LeSage, 30-year veteran mold designer at Westminster, incorporated the servo mechanism into the design, and Jason Taylor, a six-year veteran tool maker and CNC operator, taught himself how to use the servo. It involved reading a 300-page manual. LeSage gave Taylor full credit for solving the problem.
“Westminster Tool’s design team invests in staying up to date and understanding progressive technology advancements within the industry,” Raymond Coombs said. “We were aware of a new type of unscrewing mechanism, which was servo driven. This required a small power pack that was added onto the mold, which thus could be used in the clean room environment. As neither company had experience with servo driven mechanical mold actions, our customer depended on Westminster Tool to use our design experience to manufacture a mold around a new technology and further assist them in developing the manufacturing process. This included developing safety protocols, and developing how the work cell would function.”
“It’s not plug and play—it’s a German rotary servo,” Taylor said. “It advances the core forward and back while rotating the screw threads. It’s really accurate, micron precision.” In some cases, Taylor would e-mail his contact in Germany and come in the next day to find an answer waiting. “It took two or three days of talking back and forth to Germany to get it right.”
In addition to the German servo, the work included a Japanese injection molding machine, a Toyo 110 press. The Westminster team made these devices work together. For example, at the same second the injection mold opens to release the part, the servo must unscrew the metal threads at precisely the right turn-rate to avoid damaging the part.
During the process, Westminster and the customer agreed to change the material being molded to a polycarbonate that had a higher melting temperature than the original plastic. Taylor, who was speaking to his contact in Germany at the time, was warned to cool the servo controller to be safe. Taylor then added a cooling system to the design.
To cut the mold out of steel, Amy Skrzypezak, the electrode manufacturer, had to design, cut, and inspect electrodes for the EDM machines. In all, she and Jayson Taylor had to create about 184 electrodes in at least 40 shapes.
To make the tool, Westminster used other machines beyond sinker EDM and wire EDM, including hard milling, soft milling, and grinding machines. The finished mold is a single cavity, class 101 mold, capable of producing millions of parts to a tolerance of two ten-thousandths of an inch (0.0002 inch).
“There was a lot going on with this part, a lot of learning going on,” Taylor said. Part of the team’s communication demands involve not the customer or external suppliers, but communicating properly with “internal customers.”
Seth Hale, a mold designer who joined Westminster after an internship, said a couple of reasons he picked Westminster for a job was its interest in curiosity and the range of work options open to employees. He said everybody is required to cross train in at least one other job, but the training doesn’t stop there. He said they encourage him to ask questions of people in the shop.
Hale said when he saw the tool LeSage designed for the medical part, he asked Keith what he’d do differently to make it better next time.
“We’re pushed here to ask those questions, to be curious,” Hale said. “Constant improvement, as well as constant learning.”
LeSage answered that he would change the placement of the servo to improve efficiency. Having learned how to use the servo, Westminster will be able to design future molds using the technology to assist other customers with similar challenges.
Click here to read the full feature from Design2Part Magazine.