CHICAGO (July 24, 5:50 p.m. EDT) — With a little help from its friends at D-M-E Co., a long-awaited technology for quickly cooling molds will get a rapid push into the market.
First patented by researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1993, the ProMetal rapid-tooling process had been licensed exclusively for metals to Extrude Hone Corp., a 30-year-old company involved in mold polishing and deburring.
But while Extrude Hone continued to develop the conformal-cooling process at its Irwin, Pa., headquarters, the company needed outside sales help when it was ready to move into the tooling market, said Mike Rynerson, ProMetal division manager at Extrude Hone.
"We wanted to partner with a larger company," said Rynerson, a former researcher at MIT in Cambridge. "That would make it much easier to enter the market."
Enter D-M-E, one of the world´s largest makers of mold components. The company, owned by Cincinnati-based Milacron Inc., has signed a marketing agreement with Extrude Hone to sell the technology and route customers to the Irwin facility, said Larry Navarre, business development manager for Madison Heights, Mich.-based D-M-E.
Navarre and Rynerson were interviewed during NPE 2000, held June 19-23 in Chicago.
The company is making the marketing campaign as a service to customers, easing some of the pressures of making parts quickly, Navarre said
D-M-E rebranded the technology MoldFusion 3D Metal Printing and launched its sales push at NPE. The unusual system uses special ProMetal machines at Extrude Hone.
"It´s important for our customers to speed up the mold cycle," Navarre said. "Extrude Hone does the manufacturing and we sell it. We can help bring a much-needed process to the industry."
The process begins with a computer-aided-design image transferred to the ProMetal printing system. Powdered steel is spread layer by layer onto the part, and a liquid acrylic binding agent is then added through inkjet printing.
The metal insert is heated in a sintering furnace before excess powder is removed and bronze added for density.
The insert — used primarily with molds made from standard P20 steel — includes special cooling lines that quickly rid a mold of heat during processing.
The use of the insert allows the flexibility to create more complex parts without the need for machining, Navarre said. Extrude Hone officials estimated a 30-50 percent reduction in cycle time for parts.
The process works for a variety of processes, including injection molding and extrusion, Rynerson said.
The technology faces a growing number of competitors. On June 19 at NPE in Chicago, resin producer Bayer Corp. announced an agreement with Innova Engineering GmbH to promote a patented mold cooling system. That process actually slices through a mold core to add water channels.
Several other companies, including Infinite Plastics Group of Warwick, R.I., also are promoting conformal mold cooling. Infinite´s process uses special nickel tools.
The Extrude Hone process has been in pilot mode until now, Rynerson said. Motorola Inc. bought one of the ProMetal machines in 1999 to do the work in-house, he said.
But most of Extrude Hone´s customers, especially smaller customers, probably will use D-M-E´s services, he said.
Customers pay a small premium to use the service. The technology costs $250-$300 per mold cubic inch for the special insert, Navarre said. D-M-E expected that price to drop once demand rises, he added.
Still, it provides an avenue for mold makers to meet the increasing demands for speed. Extrude Hone has added 2,000 square feet to its facility in anticipation of rising sales.
"We´ve gone from R&D to market development," Rynerson said.