K&K Tool meets original equipment manufacturers' demands for faster, more complex mold tooling
Canadian company replaces old 2D design system to 3D in order to gain competitive advantage
At the heart of North American manufacturing success in the past 25 years is the long-honored and specialized craft of mold design and manufacturing.
But now, these tooling companies face new time-to-market pressures passed on from original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) across multiple industries and cut-rate competition from overseas.
K&K Tool Ltd. (St-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Quebec) recognized the trends early and made the technology jump to adjust and succeed. The injection and specialized mold maker analyzed its customers’ design processes and go-to-market needs and correctly projected its own need to dramatically boost design and manufacturing productivity.
The company, located about 30 minutes south of Montreal, designs and manufactures molds for diverse and demanding industries such as automotive, personal-hygiene, medical, appliance and material handling. K&K molds are used to make products ranging from automotive parts to lawnmower and recreational vehicle housings to toothbrushes, lawn furniture and much more.
“Our OEM customers want to get to market first with innovative new products. That drives more aesthetic and complex product designs that we have to make equally complex molds for,” says Jean-Pierre Bernhard, project manager at K&K. “The simple toothbrush of the past is gone. They make more money from new stylized toothbrushes but that also means that the molds to produce them have become much more complex for us to design and build.”
In addition, most K&K Tool customers have uniformly adopted one of several popular parametric 3D design systems, especially during the past five years or so. Previously, mold makers had more time to build tooling because OEMs were hand drawing or at best producing relatively simple designs in 2D CAD. Armed with the new productive 3D CAD systems, the OEMs part design output increased dramatically, placing additional expectations on tool makers who historically have relied on traditional 2D design systems.
“Our customers are now cranking out part revisions daily and we needed a way to cope with that output and maintain our mold design in parallel with their product design, a key competitive ‘get-to-market-first’ requirement,” says Bernhard. “Shortened schedules to get complex tooling made 2D design obsolete in our minds and we had to find a modern 3D CAD and mold design system.”
Following a thorough evaluation of 3D systems, K&K replaced its 2D system with Solid Edge® software from Siemens. “Solid Edge had unique functionality I need everyday in this industry that was not available in other systems, including Rapid Blue shape creation technology and system libraries,” says Bernhard.
“Solid Edge’s directly integrated mold tooling module reflects what we see as a commitment to our industry, just as the higher end Siemens products NX software and Mold Wizard exemplify,” Bernhard says. “I am looking forward to further productivity gains once I begin using the new integrated Mold Tooling application.”
“And Rapid Blue is very flexible and practical and allows us to more easily create parting lines that are so important in mold design,” Bernhard says.
K&K receives IGES and STEP data from its OEM customers, easily imported and cleaned up in Solid Edge. “We also receive a large amount of Parasolid data,” says Bernhard. “Perhaps the best part about going with Solid Edge was that it is part of Siemens, the owner of the Parasolid modeling kernel. Siemens owns Solid Edge and Siemens owns Parasolid. We felt very comfortable with that.”
“The move to 3D Solid Edge also has reduced major time delays verifying and correcting CNC programming needed for specialized machinery in manufacturing. The re-use of 3D design data provides us with the precision and time saving we could never imagine from our old 2D data,” Bernhard says.
With Solid Edge, K&K now has a modern mainstream CAD system that can handle all its data import, clean up, design, documentation and downstream applications. “And the directly integrated mold tooling module also has the potential to further win and maintain tooling business from our OEM customers,” Bernhard says.
K&K’s handful of designers must keep design information flowing to the large number of employees who actually make the molds. “With Solid Edge Mold Tooling, we now have more tools to communicate with the shop floor. Molds produced in Solid Edge have allowed us to produce required 2D drawings for manufacturing twice as fast as our previous system,” Bernhard says.
International competition is nothing new to K&K and Solid Edge Mold Tooling is strategically positioned within the company to address this recurring challenge.
“It was not the Chinese competition which worried us in the 1980s, it was Japan,” says Rolf Rusner, K&K president in a recent edition of Canadian Plastics Magazine. “Then we survived the competition in Spain and Portugal. Today, one speaks especially about Taiwan and China, and soon it will be India. But the problems are always the same: The more complex the part to be manufactured, the closer you need to be to your mold maker.”
“Despite the explosion of complex products that we must design companion complex tooling for, I’ve increased productivity with Solid Edge right across the entire mold design process,” says Bernhard. “We have never declined a mold making job because the part was too complex and with Solid Edge Mold Tooling, we can continue that highly regarded reputation among our customers.”