Manufacturing plastic injection molds is unusual among the various CNC machining market segments because of the competitive pressures: Mold shop owners have to be ready to take on various jobs that require different feedstocks, end-mills, finishes, and tool paths. Late in 2020 Luke LaMarca, vice president of technical operations at L&Z Tool and Engineering Inc., Watchung, New Jersey, realized his shop needed to update in order to keep up with its competitors. The shop’s aging horizontal machine had a small work envelope and could not be equipped with a rotary table, limiting the types of jobs that L&Z Tool could accept.
“We would have to turn away some jobs because they were too large for that machine,” Luke LaMarca recalled. “We’re trying to keep up with the advances in technology, which means keeping our CNC equipment up to date.”The leaders at L&Z Tool, which includes LaMarca and his two brothers, know what it takes to succeed. Their grandfather, Tom LaMarca Sr., emigrated from Italy and eventually mortgaged his home to start L&Z Tool in 1952. Their father, Tom LaMarca Jr., began working at the shop at a young age and still is a critical part of the operation. During that time, he's learned some valuable lessons.
“The key to staying competitive is to continually advance with technology,” Tom LaMarca Jr. said. “Bringing in high-end machines has been one of the reasons we’ve stayed in business for almost 70 years.”
With that perspective, Luke LaMarca set out to find a new machine tool. L&Z Tool is well-schooled in the benefits of simultaneous five-axis machining, namely the ability to maneuver molds and cut small, intricate paths. He wanted similar versatility in a new horizontal machine. However, he also needed a machine with a large work envelope, excellent finishing capabilities, and enough horsepower to take on roughing jobs.
The search did not last long after LaMarca reconnected with his longtime machine tool supplier Nick Giannotte, currently the director of sales operations at Maruka USA. The two have been working together for close to 30 years.
“We have a longstanding relationship with Nick, he’s put a lot of machines in our shop,” LaMarca said. “He knows our operation, knows what we need, and we trust his judgement.” Simply put, he said, Giannotte and Maruka sales engineer Kevin Ducey presented the best deal and the best machine to meet L&Z Tool's needs – the OKK HM1000s.
The HM1000s provided the four-axis simultaneous cutting, expansive work area, and a spindle with high rotations per minute (RPMs) backed by 60 horsepower that LaMarca was looking for. And as with most horizontals, the machine came with a PC2 pallet changer to increase unattended runtime.
It was easy for LaMarca to see the benefits of four-axis simultaneous cutting. “It gives us the ability to reduce our set-ups and get into some tighter spots,” he said.Making small, high-tolerance cuts enabled the company to ease off electric discharge machining (EDM), a more time- consuming process. Additionally, the versatility of the HM1000s permitted the shop to rough and finish a mold on a single machine, forgoing the need to run multiple machines to complete one job. The spindle can run at 12,000 RPMs, allowing the use of smaller end mills, while the high horsepower enables the machine to remove significant amounts of material during roughing. “The accuracy on these machines are very good, too,” LaMarca added.
Later in the year, LaMarca considered a vertical machine after another piece of hardware started to show its age. Initially, he had his sights set on a machine tool with a CAT50 spindle. However, he opted for an OKK VM76R with a CAT40 spindle after learning about that element’s dual-contact capabilities. The dual-contact spindle offered better surface finishes and dimensional accuracy.
“It actually helped with another project that was flowing through here at the time, and we were able to get very nice finishes off it,” LaMarca said.
LaMarca selected numerous auxiliary options with each machine. The HM1000s came with probing and laser- measuring system, functions that give operators the means to obtain more accurate measurements. The VM76R came with access to a data server, which enabled programs to be uploaded faster, saving valuable time.
“The older machine was definitely not equipped to do that,” LaMarca noted.
“Our jobs require extremely stable conditions and highly accurate machines,” he continued. “OKK delivers on both those qualities.”