Focus on the growing niche of aluminum molds
As its name clearly signals, Aluminum Injection Mold Company (AIM) has a unique focus as a provider of aluminum molding solutions. Based in Rochester, NY, the company has been serving a wide range of industries since 1985.
AIM provides prototype and production injection molds as well as molding services. “We have a distinct advantage because we strictly build aluminum molds,” says Tom Bergman, Vice President of Manufacturing. “A big portion of the industry is not familiar with aluminum yet, but the interest and demand is growing due to the unique process and cost advantages of the material.”
Operating in a niche segment of the tooling market presents some specific challenges. For example, there are no off-the-shelf mold bases made out of aluminum, which means that AIM builds every mold in-house from the ground up, including the mold base.
To make up for the lack of ready-made mold bases, AIM has created its own library of common mold bases designed in Cimatron. “In the past, we used to create every mold base from scratch. With Cimatron, when we get a new job we can expand or shrink the mold base size with just a couple of clicks. This allows us to create a new mold base very quickly yet still customize it to the specific job,” explains Bergman. “And even though the mold base might be a custom size, we have all the flexibility of utilizing components from the Cimatron library available to us.”
A different approach to mold making
What makes AIM stand out even more is its approach to mold making. It’s a unique blend of old-time craftsmanship with new world efficiency.
Unlike most companies that have different people assigned to each task, AIM assigns one moldmaker to handle a single project from start to finish. “Instead of having one person do the design and then hand it off to someone else who is not familiar with it, we’ll have the same person do the mold design and then machine the mold right up to completion,” says Bergman.
The same employee that built the mold would even go out and sample the mold at the molding machine. “This way each employee has a complete understanding of what they’re building. It gives them a unique perspective that allows them to optimize the design and streamline it for production.”
This multidisciplinary knowledge that AIM employees hold is extremely valuable to AIM’s customers, as Bergman explains: “We look at the customer CAD file and we can tell them where they might have some trouble in the molding phase, pointing to things such as wall thickness or where they may not have enough draft.”
However, this unique approach requires a special skill set that is not always easy to find. “It’s a little more difficult to find individuals who meet these requirements because we’re looking for people who can perform multiple tasks and take ownership over an entire project,” concurs Bergman.
Standardizing on technology to support the streamlined process
AIM has carefully selected its technology suppliers to support its streamlined philosophy. Just like Southwest Airlines has only one type of aircraft, AIM has standardized on a single type of CNC machine and a single type of molding equipment.
It has also standardized on a single CAD/CAM software. “Cimatron is great for our approach because we never have to leave the software. We use it right from the get go in the quoting process. When we get the customer file, Cimatron is great for viewing and analyzing the part,” says Bergman.
According to Bergman, Cimatron is extremely helpful in the design phase, compensating for lack of details in the part design that AIM is commonly experiencing. “Cimatron is a perfect fit for our industry because we’re always working with somebody else’s CAD model. More often than not the CAD models we receive from our customers are not quite complete and ready for mold design. For example, they might come with surfaces missing or might not have draft or certain radiuses. That’s where Cimatron is very powerful because we can take an incomplete CAD model start working with it right away instead of losing time going back to the customer to have them fix the file.”
“When it’s time to build the mold,” Bergman continues, “that very same person just switches to machining mode, and the design just flows naturally right into machining. There is no time lost in having to bring in more people, explain the design, export the file to other software… it’s all done from start to finish in Cimatron.”
AIM does a lot of unattended machining, as Bergman explains: “The tool paths generated by Cimatron are so robust and error-free that we have complete confidence that the machine is not going to take some bad motions and damage the work piece or have tools crashing.”
Results: Speedy delivery of complex aluminum molds
With its streamlined approach, AIM is able to deliver high quality custom aluminum molds in weeks rather than months, even without relying on ready-made mold bases.
AIM has also garnered a reputation for handling complex parts, becoming the moldmaker of choice for cooling fans for many of the automotive brands. “These molds are particularly challenging because there’s nothing flat,” explains Bergman. “All the shut-offs that have to be created tend to be rolling and curving geometries with very little flat references. We found that Cimatron has been very effective in doing that kind of shut-off work in the mold design.”
“In addition, these files often come undrafted so we need to add draft to certain parts of the geometry” adds Bergman. “The fan blade itself might be the shape they want, but the center area the blade is attached to may not have any draft. With other software you’d be stuck, but we have the ability to work with a file that isn’t necessarily a hundred percent accurate. I know of no other software where you have the capability to do that, and our customers really appreciate that.”