Some of Creative Blow Mold Tooling Inc.'s biggest bottlenecks in manufacturing came from bottles themselves. Mike Stiles, vice president of manufacturing for the Lee's Summit, Mo., custom blow mold maker, said technology solved that problem. Typically, when customers needed a new size of detergent, cosmetic, juice or water bottle, they supplied Creative with a finished bottle to use as a model. Creative then began a four-step process to build the mold, using hydraulic tracing equipment.
First, the company measured the bottle manually, then generated a computer-aided-design drawing from those measurements. The model then was scaled in CAD to achieve the new volume, and a new pattern was built for use on the tracer.
That method, Stiles said, was not efficient. Additionally, Stiles said it was difficult to optimize cutter paths in areas with intricate details.
Creative discarded the tracing method in favor of the Cyclone dedicated scanning and digitizing system from Renishaw Inc. in Schaumburg, Ill.
Cyclone sweeps its analog scanning probe in a series of rapid, narrow-step-over passes, achieving speeds to 118 inches per minute for data capture rates as high as 1,000 points per second.
Creative digitizes the bottle itself, and instead of building a new pattern each time it needs a new bottle size, it simply enlarges or reduces the model using Renishaw's Tracecut computer-aided manufacturing system, which automatically scales the new bottle.
Stiles said that the system not only has streamlined the overall process by reducing the need for pattern making, it also has cut mold machining time by roughly 40 percent.
Mold quality also has improved, he said, particularly in a series of highly detailed, figurine-shaped container molds.
``Because the detail is so fine, there's no way to efficiently machine these molds using tracers,'' he said. ``Before we installed the Cyclone system, our only choice was to cast these molds, then finish them by hand to achieve the required surface finish.''
Rather than casting them, Creative now digitizes the patterns on the Cyclone, producing tool paths that allow the figurine details to be machined to specification without hindering overall machining time. The fine details appear only in the program's finish machining layer.
A finer cut can be accomplished without sacrificing efficiency by being forced to cut the entire cavity using finer cuts than are necessary, Stiles said.
``We've been able to improve the accuracy of the dimensions of these molds,'' he said, ``and the surface is better so we don't have the hand-finishing work. We can give our customer heat-treated aluminum molds, which is better quality.''
Stiles said customer demand for complex shapes and greater aesthetic appeal is driving the blow mold-making industry toward the use of technology. Cyclone also has allowed Creative to hold its mold pricing fairly steady despite increased costs.
Creative operates four manufacturing facilities. Besides Lee's Summit, it has plants in Lithia Springs, Ga., Grand Prairie, Texas, and Lakeland, Fla. All the facilities use the Cyclone system via electronic data transfer.
``All programming is done here at Lee's Summit, and the information downloaded to our outlying facilities,'' Stiles said.
Creative operates a variety of computer numerically controlled equipment throughout the company, and finds the system works well with all four types of machines.
``Most of the technology has been geared toward injection mold making, but blow mold making is catching up,'' he said.
Although Stiles declined to comment on the cost of the Cyclone, he said the capital outlay is less than the cost of a CNC machining center.
``Technology is becoming more affordable,'' he said. ``The biggest factor in affordability is, you can't afford not to have it because you can't compete.''