SAN DIEGO — An experienced toolmaker and designer from Australia learned how to build tools for pressure forming in a four-week stint at Specialty Manufacturing Inc. John Boerma learned the correct techniques to build the tools and how to use them, and he carried the knowledge back to his employer, Kema Plastics Pty. Ltd. of Netley, Australia, near Adelaide. Other lessons involved undercuts and split rings, texture and five-axis trim fixtures.
In turn, Boerma shared what he knew from 41 years of making tools, mostly for injection molding and some blow molding.
"What was actually a pleasant surprise was John's vast experience in building tools," Haydn Forward, SMI's national sales manager, said in an interview in San Diego.
There were "hundreds of tricks that he showed our team in the tool shop," particularly in precisely controlling how a mold retains heat, Forward said. "When the part comes out, you don't want the tool to cool down." SMI's tool shop employs six, including two toolmakers.
Thermoforming guru Arthur Buckel of San Diego led Kema owner and General Manager John Wiggelsworth on a tour of SMI last fall, and subsequently SMI extended an invitation for Kema's sole toolmaker to spend time learning about pressure forming.
The timing of the May 4-31 visit revolved around a particular SMI project requiring a variety of tools, heavy to shallow draws and different types of undercuts. Boerma had three weeks' notice on timing.
Boerma was born in 1938 in Holland and made precision tools there for steam turbines and others.
He relocated to Australia in 1969 and kept busy building molds as an independent contractor.
Boerma worked at Kema from 1977-79 and rejoined the company in December 1998, bringing his own equipment. He found that Kema was paying dearly for outsourcing molds, and he has helped reel in some of the work.
Kema employs 15 and operates 12 presses, including 10 for vacuum forming and two for pressure formers. Products include components for the air conditioning industry and low-volume automotive rear-vision louvers, trim fixture parts and work-protection covers.
A key SMI customer, Coherent Medical Group of Santa Clara, Calif., buys lasers from an Adelaide manufacturer.
A team from SMI intends to visit Kema this summer to educate some Kema customers on pressure forming.
Both Boerma and Forward see potential for pressure forming, an underused process in Australia. Some automotive production, for example, calls for thousands of units in Australia rather than hundreds of thousands of units in the United States.
"Quantities fall right into the market for pressure forming," Forward said.
"All Kema needed was a man who could build the tools and show them how to implement on the equipment," Forward said.
Boerma added: "The market is something we have to find, but you can't find a market if you are not experienced to set yourself up."
Boerma intends to train one or more successors before retiring.
"I have three years' time to bring up one or two guys and teach them everything I know, including pressure forming," he said. Then, "I will go home and go fishing."