Manufacturing AUTOMATION

Siemens PLM: Mold design, manufacturing time cut with digital development

September 11, 2009
By André Voshart

THE COMPANY: Mirplex Molds Inc. in St-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Que., has offered services in mold manufacturing and precision machining for more than 25 years for a range of industries. The size of its molds varies greatly, from small (used to produce pill bottle caps) to very large (weighing up to 15 tons per side).

Over the years, the company has become known for its expertise, and now many of its customers involve Mirplex in their design processes. But this doesn’t protect the company from time pressures posed by global competition. “We must always find ways to deliver molds faster to stay ahead of foreign competition,” mechanical engineer and mold designer Pascal Lachance explains.

Mirplex relies on Siemens PLM’s NX digital product development system and SINUMERIK CNC technology for a fast mold development process. The company evaluated a number of other solutions before upgrading from its previous software, choosing NX because of its seamless integration with CAM systems, the availability of NX Mold Design and the ability to get technical support in French. Other selling points were the fact that it could create the large digital assemblies that some of its molds required, and NX CAM’s support for the Siemens SINUMERIK 840D controller, which Mirplex uses to run its Huron HSM centre.

With NX, mold design and tool path creation take place concurrently. So while Lachance is designing the mold, his colleague, CNC programmer Eric Boucher, starts the programming work in NX CAM. This is possible, in spite of the fact that many design changes are still coming in from the customer, because of how easily the NX geometry can be changed. “The challenge we have is that the parts we get from customers are never completely designed,” Lachance says. “NX gives us the flexibility to change a model through powerful tools such as the surface modeling function.”

The overall result of NX is a 35-percent reduction in the time it takes to deliver molds. This faster cycle time, combined with the company’s expertise, positions it well in the globally competitive market for molds. Lachance estimates mold design takes 25 percent less time, partly due to the faster incorporation of customers’ design changes. NX Mold Design also accounts for some of the savings. “NX Mold Design has standardized our processes,” he says. “Also, we now have a library of parts such as mold bases that we can reuse. A mold is already half- designed when we start.”

Boucher estimates he can incorporate design changes 50 percent faster with NX than he could previously, in part because he doesn’t have to reassign all the surfaces. He finds NX CAM easier to work with in general thanks to features such as the ability to drag and drop operations to create a machining sequence. Also, the use of templates means he is now reusing existing information to a greater extent. This combined with the fact that the programming work starts sooner and changes are incorporated faster has made tool path generation 20 percent faster.

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