With video equipment on an injection molding machine and split screens on their computers, engineers at Accede Mold & Tool Co. Inc. in Rochester, N.Y., recently conducted the company's first live virtual injection mold qualification with a customer in North Carolina.
The customer could see and hear the mold running and undergo tests as a mold sampling technician modified the process. The process parameters, including cycle time and ejection, could be easily viewed by the customer, Camille Sackett, director of business development and engineering support, told Plastics News.
"At the same time we're inspecting the parts, the customer can watch on their computer screen through cameras hooked up to microscopes and CMMs [coordinate measurement machines]. Everything was done remotely and in real time," Sackett said in a phone interview.
Real time also meant real fast and less expensive for this project. No one risked travel. No one spent time or money on lodging, meals or entertainment.
"The goal of Accede's virtual sample is to provide our customers a superior experience, bringing more value than traditional in-person mold qualifications," Accede President and owner Roger Fox said. "Today's customer is spread way too thin to spend days on-site qualifying a mold that could be performed virtually, and our job is to make that experience seamless, detailed and effective."
The virtual samples are one way Accede is working smarter.
"With the efficiencies gained, it frees our team up to do more," Sackett said.
Saving time and money is important for all businesses, but especially companies like Accede. A third of its estimated $15.6 million of annual sales in 2019 came from the medical sector, which is challenged to move products at top speed to market with the world in the throes of a pandemic.
Accede is building plastic injection molds for rapid test kit components for COVID-19 as well as other diagnostic equipment and devices.
Another third of the sales are related to consumer packaging, which also is in high demand for sanitizers and wipes being used at fast rates by households, workplaces and schools.
Accede's medical and packaging divisions are on track for a 15 percent sales increase in fiscal year 2020, which ends Oct. 31, Sackett said. The privately held company, which was founded in 1981, recently added five employees to handle the additional work.
"We are extremely proud of our rich, nearly 40-year history working through the industry's most difficult injection mold building challenges, particularly in the medical and labware space. Our service, innovation and attention to detail has differentiated Accede," Sackett said. "As some shops are struggling to keep work and find the next job, we've been fortunate to have a very healthy backlog these last few years. By keeping our focus on quality and service, opportunities have followed."
Medical mold builders face pressures as part of the race to commercialize the fastest and most reliable rapid-test kit programs. They need to prove out ideas with a pilot mold then build production molds, and sometimes scale up by building additional cells.
Accede specializes in two-shot, high-cavitation, stack molds, unscrewing, in-mold close, in-mold assembly and rotary applications. The company has six in-house injection machines from 80-720 tons, including two-shot presses and an auxiliary injection unit.
Accede's mold sampling lab includes two Niigon machines: the A150 and the A300. Brett Lindenmuth, vice president of operations, said the flexible control gives his team the ability to sample a wide variety of molds with unique sequencing.
"The Niigon machines have more mold samples go through them than the other presses in our sampling lab," Lindenmuth said. "They have been incredibly versatile and reliable for us."
In addition, Accede will bring its customers' injection machines, automation and inspection systems into its facility for qualification. Most of the COVID-related work has been turnkey systems like this, Sackett said. Customers are buying new presses, robots to pull parts and in-mold labeling systems for Accede to test with the new molds.
"We set everything up here, qualify it and once everything is to spec and the customer is happy, we document all the processes and everything we did, break it down and deliver it to the customer's production floor," Sackett said.
To keep employees healthy, everyone at Accede works remotely as much as possible. At the company, there's only one point of entry, with hand sanitizers. Someone from human resources oversees screening measures, such as temperatures checks, and those that are cleared can enter.
The 68 employees have been working overtime to meet demand.
"When it comes to COVID-specific work, everybody is really excited and proud to be doing their part," Sackett said.