Eaton Electric, Middleton, Manchester, a world-renowned electrical products manufacturer, used specialist, fast-track plastic injection moulded parts manufacturer Rapidparts (0161 626 5556), when developing its latest range.
With around a century of history in making electric wiring accessories such as switches, socket-outlets and lampholders, Eaton is a major player in the electrical installations business. Its products are used in blue-chip projects worldwide, including Heathrow Airport Terminal 5 and London's Canary Wharf.
Image: Eaton is a major player in the electrical installations business
The company wanted to create a modular grid switch range – small units that fit into frames, mainly for use in office and commercial applications, but also for some domestic use.
After Eaton examined the new parts in more depth, the company decided that some would require prototyping. Having used Rapidparts for a number of previous quick-turnaround injection mould requirements, Eaton again turned to the company for help.
"Rapidparts said it would start machining rapid injection mould tooling immediately and could provide parts in the actual design material [polycarbonate] within 15 days," explains Mr Roczniak, Eaton's quality support engineer. "We had tried rapid prototypes produced using stereolithography [SLA], but, because of the material, you don't really get a true feel for the functionality of these components.
"Using the service provided by Rapidparts, we could give the parts a proper 'form, fit and function' test, including strength testing."
Rapidparts prototyped the three main mouldings required for the new grid switch modules: a base that houses the metal contact parts; a cover that fits over it; and the internal rocker. A small quantity of around 500 of each part was supplied and "worked very well", according to Eaton.
CLEAR CUT SERVICE
"I think we had one issue where one particular switch wasn't functioning correctly," says Mr Roczniak. "However, we talked to Rapidparts and the company quickly made a clear polycarbonate version, so we could see the switching mechanism in action. It allowed us to discover that one of the terminals wasn't sitting down properly and so we made a small design modification to compensate. Ultimately, it's far cheaper to make changes at the prototype stage than when in production."
By way of additional benefit, having prototypes in polycarbonate also allowed Eaton to prove the laser marking process. The new range of Eaton wiring accessories is currently being launched in the UK.
Further afield, Belarus tyre company Belshina has, with the support of Delcam software (0121 766 5544), brought all its mould-making in-house, despite a significant increase in production volumes.
Image: Belarus tyre company Belshina brought all its mould making in house, supported by Delcam
Belshina is one of the largest producers of tyres in Europe, both in the number of units it produces and the size of the tyres it manufactures. The company makes more than 200 different types of tyre in three plants: one for mass production of car tyres; one for tyres for buses, trolley-buses, lorries and tractors; and one for the largest tyres it makes, for use on earth-moving and quarrying vehicles. A fourth plant manufactures and repairs moulds for the other three sites.
The company first invested in Delcam software in the 1990s, buying the original DUCT system to give it the ability to program the first 5-axis machine tools used in the mouldmaking plant. At that time, the plant only produced around 60 moulds each year, with the remainder of the company's needs met by subcontract manufacturers.
TRANSITION IN BELARUS
At the turn of the century, Belshina made the transition from DUCT to Delcam's PowerSHAPE CAD software and PowerMILL CAM system. The company steadily added more seats of both programs as it increased its manufacturing capabilities and the number of moulds being produced. It has now reached sufficient capacity to be able to manufacture all its moulds in-house and no longer uses subcontractors.
During the same period, the company investigated ways to improve its quality and consistency. In 2006, Belshina added a Cimcore inspection arm, together with PowerINSPECT for inspection and PowerSHAPE Pro for reverse engineering.
The most recent addition to the mould-making plant was a special 4-axis machine tool from Taiwan, purchased in 2011 to mill inscriptions and trademarks onto the surfaces of moulds. Belshina added an extra seat of PowerSHAPE and PowerMILL, plus PowerINSPECT On-Machine Verification, for this machine.
At the start of 2012, Belshina undertook an evaluation of its complete set of CADCAM software as part of a continuous development review. Following this review, the company ordered four seats of the FeatureCAM feature-based machining software and its first seat of ArtCAM, the latter for artistic applications such as engraving of logos and trademarks.
Currently, the factory produces more than 300 moulds each year, with the growing demands of the parent company constantly requiring an increase in the number of moulds to be manufactured.
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First published in Machinery, August 2012