Software Updates Shop's Mold Building

Oct. 19, 2006
SolidCam gives SCP Plastics machinists up-to-the-minute updates on design changes. When Bud Hanna purchased SCP Plastics (, he surmised that the injection-molding shop had not updated its tooling ...

SolidCam gives SCP Plastics machinists up-to-the-minute updates on design changes.

When Bud Hanna purchased SCP Plastics (, he surmised that the injection-molding shop had not updated its tooling technology since the 1960s, and so, he invested in new technology. His investment included two sets of CNC vertical and horizontal milling centers and software to automate the engineering and precision machining of molds.

Hanna adopted SolidWorks as SCP Plastics' CAD format to handle 3D models provided by clients and to provide custom design services when needed. Most recently, he implemented R&B and SolidCam (, automation software packages that work in tandem with SolidWorks modeling tools. Used together, the programs guide the entire mold-building process at SCP Plastics.

"R&B and SolidCam have made us competitive globally in tool building," says Hanna. "I believe I can compete with offshore toolmaking operations as a result of the software." He points out that mold tooling is a big expense for injection molding and the steps required to design and tool a mold and to make adjustments in it each took several weeks to complete. Now, SCP Plastics completes each step in a matter of days with the automation provided by its software packages.

SCP Plastics' considerable increase in tooling productivity comes from the fact that SolidWorks completely integrates mold engineering and CNC programming. R&B moldmaking procedures run within the SolidWorks modeling screen, and similarly, SolidCam's CNC programming engine displays visuals for the toolcutter on the same 3D data.

According to John Edwards, a technical manager at Axion3, some shops have data translation between the part and the mold design, between the mold design to the EDM electrode design and another translation between that and the CNC machine. And, at every step there is a chance for error or misinterpretation, he says. Axion3 is the company that assisted SCP Plastics in deploying its new systems.

Integrating all of these procedures under one format allows for standardization and provides a consistent technological environment for SCP Plastics workers. It also eliminates downtime for data translation. Because the model of the plastic component, the model of the derived mold and the CNC machine programs all operate on the same 3D data, they can be synchronized and corrections can be made simultaneously at any point in the project.

When 3D models are finalized and steel cutting begins, SolidCam automates the production of parts through two of the program's elements: an automatic feature recognition module and its machining module. The shop defines its stock models for machining using any 2D contour, and a 3D model is automatically derived from that target model.

SolidCam uses the difference between the stock and the target model to calculate the roughing operations on the 3D model. After each successive machining step, the rest material is automatically updated, and at any manufacturing stage, the software provides functions to display, analyze and machine rest material.

SolidCam allows flexible and clear planning for the layout and direction of cuts, says Hanna. "From the software, we can decide where the parting lines and shut-offs are going to be (in the mold that is being made). The software suggests different options on the milling center screen as how to best run the steel block through the mill, and it shows where the danger points are and where something is not right," he says. SolidCam supports milling from 2.5 axes to 5 simultaneous axes and has functions for high-speed milling.

Using R&B and SolidCam, SCP Plastics can make changes during mold production. If an improvement is suggested or a problem in the part is noticed during fabrication, designers can change the original SolidWorks model. Designers import the updated model into the system, and the software highlights the changes on the mold model for the toolmakers. For SCP Plastics, the process saves hours of machine re-programming and production delays on every mold.