Streamlining The Mold Design Process

This company is one of the largest mold makers in North America, serving the automotive and consumer products markets, H.S. Die has a client base that includes Lear, Intier, Collins&Aikman, Deere, Toyota, Ford, General Motors, Chrysler, Nissan, Mitsubishi and others.

Like many other companies, H.S. Die and Engineering (Grand Rapids, Michigan) was born in a garage. Owner Harold Steele founded the company in 1969 and has grown his business to be one of the largest mold makers in North America. Serving the automotive and consumer products markets, H.S. Die has a client base that includes Lear, Intier, Collins & Aikman, Deere, Toyota, Ford, General Motors, Chrysler, Nissan, Mitsubishi and others.

The company’s design team of approximately 25 designers uses multiple seats of VISI CAD/CAM software products from Vero International (Bingham Farms, Michigan). The software series represents a PC-based design and manufacturing solution for the mold and die industries, offering surface and solid modeling capabilities, 2D and 3D machining strategies with high speed routines, and dedicated tool design for plastic injection and progressive dies.

Phil Tanis, design supervisor at H.S. Die, and his team conduct feasibility studies to determine if designs are moldable. He reviews all work prior to sending it to manufacturing as well. When VISI was implemented 4 years ago, Mr. Tanis was one of the first H.S. Die employees to use it.

“We focus heavily on customer service,” says Mr. Tanis. “We want help the customer build a tool that will operate flawlessly, a goal that is achieved in part by using VISI tools.”

Prior to implementing the software, Mr. Tanis and his team of designers used disparate software products that didn’t “talk to each other.” So switching to the new software helped the company change the way it designs and manufactures products.

“Using the software allows us to streamline processes,” explains Mr. Tanis. “As a result, we are a completely paperless environment—from the design arena to the machining floor. Everyone shares the same 3D models and speaks the same language because everyone—designers, mold makers, machinists, sales personnel and program managers—is trained to use the software.”

Mr. Tanis says he and his team tested several commercial software products prior to making their selection. “We opted for VISI because, like most products, the software is easy to use,” he says. “More importantly though, Vero goes the extra mile by providing on-site assistance, ongoing training and continuous support.

“Since we started working together, Vero has listened to us and implemented many enhancements to the software with each release,” adds Mr. Tanis.

Mr. Steele concurs, saying that the team at Vero has enabled H.S. Die to work more proficiently while responding to the company’s needs. He also cites another reason for making the switch: “The capability to customize the software to meet our specific needs was a crucial factor in selecting VISI,” he says.

“The software differentiates itself from other CAD/CAM packages because it is not restricted with a typical program tree,” says Jim Kesteloot, principal of Tooling Software Technologies LLC (TST) Software, a Vero distributor in Holly, Michigan. “This means that VISI users can work in solids, surfaces and wireframes without being locked into a tree configuration. In addition, the flexibility of the modeler allows designers to work in any mode.”

Mr. Tanis adds that the 3D models enable his designers to show customers everything they need to know. “They can view the tool as a finished model, including a computer visualization of the physical mold in a press with all components taken into consideration,” he says. “This capability assures customers that the mold will operate as intended.”

The busy design team cranks out more than 500 tools per year. Working in a 3D mode allows Mr. Tanis’ team of designers to be more productive and, thereby, address more work. To accomplish that, he set up groups of assignments for each job including design, mechanical work, water injection and tool buildup, and checking models before they are sent to the machine shop.
H.S. Die CAD/CAM system manager Dave Scramlin schedules the surfacing of all tools and coordinates the work for the shop floor. He is the liaison between surfacing and manufacturing, and almost all the people working for Mr. Scramlin are journeymen toolmakers.

“They know how to build a tool and what to look for in terms of tool manufacturability,” he says.

Using the software, his team completes the 3D models with mold details, such as radii, parting line relief, vents and other details to ensure that the tool is a viable model for cutting.

Mr. Scramlin and Mr. Tanis note that the software has enabled the company to add intelligence to models. This capability has in turn helped H.S. Die become more competitive and remain profitable.

Mr. Steele, who remains the sole owner of the corporation today, says the company’s success results largely from his active involvement, investments in new technologies and commitment to the manufacture of quality tooling.

“Over the years and to this day, I’ve stayed close to the business,” says Mr. Steele. “In addition to working with the staff and seeking innovation and change, I provide ideas and try to instill incentives to nurture the ideas to fruition. The results of the incentives create a better future for my employees and their families.”