CUYAHOGA FALLS, OHIO - Akromold Inc. has committed more than $2 million to bring its Cuyahoga Falls mold-making shop up to snuff and then some. The investment covers new computer-aided design/manufacturing workstations and computer numerically controlled milling equipment, including $1 million for a high-speed CNC finishing machine made by Droop & Rein GmbH of Bielefeld, Germany, according to Akromold's director of sales and marketing, Jon Kelm.
The FOG-2500, one of 11 produced so far, is the German firm's first in the United States, Kelm said in an interview at the Cuyahoga Falls plant. The machine was installed in June.
Akromold was founded in 1940. Inside the lobby hangs a pastel of founder William H. Monteith Sr., who died in 1985. His youngest son, Robert, heads the firm, which has been at its Cuyahoga Falls site since 1966. On display behind glass are plastics products made from the company's molds during the past 10 years: a computer housing for an IBM machine, a Norelco coffee maker, a Ford radiator fan grille, a 14-gallon Rubbermaid recycling bin, an agitator for a Whirlpool washer and many others.
Roughly 70 percent of the firm's business is in building molds for injection, compression, structural foam and reaction injection molders worldwide. Its mold-sampling capabil-ities include a 700-ton Van Dorn press. Custom machining makes up the rest of Akromold's $12 million to $15 million in sales.
But the brand-new CNC finishing machine is the company's trophy.
``We like to be leading-edge, and the Droop & Rein is certainly leading-edge technology,'' said Akromold production manager Jeff Glick.
The two executives note that as customer tolerances on part prints become tighter and delivery times shorter, mold makers need more accurate, faster machines to do the work and keep pace with the global competition.
Akromold's K'92 exhibit brought it a nice, $800,000 contract from Rehau GmbH of Rehau, Germany, for injection molds to make a Mercedes-Benz front bumper and reinforcement. It will exhibit at Germany's huge K plastics show again this year.
Three other milling machines, in place since the late 1960s, can do an adequate finishing job, Glick said, but at a very average speed.
Akromold uses the older machines, also Droop & Rein's, to rough out the mold's shape. But the new machine, which can mill steel at a rate of 600 inches a minute, 20 times faster than the old equipment, provides ``a much smoother finish surface due to a very fine pick feed,'' said Glick. It has a 30-station automatic tool changer with interchangeable spindles, and can fit blocks of steel 98 inches square. Vertical clearance is 41inches high.
Since January the company has upgraded its three-dimensional CAD/CAM equipment, installing eight new terminals, to keep pace with technology and competitors, said Akromold's Jon Kelm. The workstations control the machining of the part in the mold, crunching numbers 10 times quicker than the former units, he said.
On the shop floor, contributing to the workplace hum, are two more new, smaller finishing machines manufactured by Boston Digital Corp. of Milford, Mass. At 200 inches a minute, these ``baby'' machines run a little slower than the big one, which Kelm calls the ``main flank.''
The two main buildings, for steel and electric discharge machining, give the company about 100,000-square-feet of manufacturing space.
Next door, where EDM work is done, another new Boston Digital CNC milling machines cuts graphite blocks. The twin-spindle BD50TSG will churn out more graphite electrodes faster and with greater accuracy than the two machines it replaced, Glick said. Akromold has a total of eight EDM machines, the youngest, a 3-year-old Ingersoll 1300E.
The company's 125 full-time employees work 10-hour shifts and have been on overtime since February, according to Glick. Akromold trains most of its help in-house.
``We were forced to do it ourselves. We couldn't get the individuals from the high schools, and there was no place offering the training we needed. It is becoming extremely difficult to find trained, skilled machinists and mold makers,'' he said.
Just 15 years ago, seven area high schools had machine trade training, compared with only two today, he noted.
``It's not a glamour industry,'' Glick said. ``Everybody wants to be an accountant.''
Akromold always has focused on plastics, though its business strategy has shifted during the past 10 years, according to Kelm. While once heavily entrenched in automotive molds, it has pushed to diversify both its markets and its customers, eliminating cyclical pitfalls.
``We've leveled out the hills and valleys in orders and sales,'' Kelm said, by doing less automotive work and more of everything else, including appliances, computers, building and home products. It counts among its customers General Electric Co., Rubbermaid Inc., Maytag Corp., the Hoover Co., as well as Big Three carmakers and their suppliers.
The mold maker sees its niche in high-speed CNC large-part custom machining as a high-growth area, ``a specialty ... not everyone else can do,'' Kelm said.