Each time Ontario Plastics Inc. gets a new order, its tooling and molding operations look over the part and check if they can turn it out using an aluminum mold, rather than steel.
More than 500 times during the past 25 years, said President Ralph Barnes, the answer has been yes.
When used for the right parts and in the right conditions, aluminum tooling is easier to set up, produces less stress on production equipment and can produce parts with a cycle time that is 10-40 percent faster than standard steel, he said.
Think how much those savings add up over a year, Barnes said during a discussion on aluminum tooling at Amerimold Expo, held April 13-14 in Rosemont.
Aluminum has generated a lot of buzz for toolmakers, molders and OEMs during the past few years, moving beyond what has been a niche of companies such as Rochester, N.Y.-based Ontario Plastics Inc. and into more widespread use in the plastics industry, if not outright acceptance, said Ralph Neuforth, manager of Procter & Gamble Co.'s global packaging and device prototyping group.
This is a trend, he said. And the meaning of a trend is that we're heading in a direction, but we haven't yet arrived.
Still, more companies, including OEMs from consumer-products firms to home-appliance makers and automakers, have begun approving aluminum molds for their parts. In addition, key suppliers are introducing a wider variety of parts and services specifically for aluminum molds.
San Rafael, Calif.-based software maker AutoDesk Inc. has introduced mold-flow-analysis software specifically for tooling design in aluminum, so toolmakers and processors will know even in draft stages if the part they are developing will work better in aluminum or steel.
Bales Mold Service Inc., a Downers Grove, Ill.-based supplier of coating systems, is seeing increased interest in plating services to finish aluminum molds.
It's a real thrill now that aluminum production tools have reached this level, said Dave Bank, the founder of Aluminum Injection Mold Inc. of Rochester, N.Y.
Bank launched Aluminum Injection Mold specifically to develop aluminum tools for full-production use, rather than its traditional business in prototype and low-volume molds.
Both Bank and Barnes stressed, however, that aluminum is not the right material for every project. Parts with thin walls, glass filling or deep draws can be problematic. Mold makers and molders need to consider each individual project, and take all the details of that project, into account.
Once the tool is ready, Barnes said molders also should treat aluminum tools differently than steel to get full value out of them. Because aluminum is softer, it can be damaged by reckless use of repair tools or too much clamping pressure.
Ontario Plastics starts off each new tool in the press running at a reduced injection pressure, then dials in the best pressure for that tool as it begins regular production, Barnes said.
Taking that precaution, though, means that Ontario has gotten as many as 1 million shots out of an aluminum mold far higher than expected.
In the right machines and when used for the right parts, he said, aluminum makes a big difference throughout a mold's life.