by Dianna Brodine, managing editor
The American Mold Builder

The little things can make a repetitive task seem easier. When simplifying the process of maneuvering a tool or moving a mold tool from a worktable to a transport cart, the little things also can prevent tooling damage and employee injuries.

Vector Tool adds easy solution

At a recent AMBA plant tour event, attendees visited Vector Tool & Engineering in Grandview, Missouri. Vector Tool is a subsidiary of Peterson Manufacturing, a leader in safety lighting products for the automotive and heavy-duty truck markets since 1945.

Located in Greater Kansas City, Vector Tool offers complete engineering and fabrication of injection molds and tooling for the plastics industry. Its relationship to Peterson Manufacturing means its tool builders are often serving both internal and external customers, which can require quick turnarounds and priority shifts to ensure everyone is satisfied. That can result in a lot of mold movement.

At Vector Tool, a thin layer of white plastic has been laid on top of the metal work benches. When employees need to turn or slide the molds to reach an area more easily, the plastic makes movement easier while also protecting the mold surfaces.

“The plastic on the tabletops is something we started early on,” said Mike Newsome, senior tool and die maker. “We had to build breakdown tables, and we recognized that it would be beneficial if we wanted to protect the molds.”

Like most good ideas, Newsome – a 24-year employee at Vector Tool – said his company got the idea from a shop in Arizona. “It’s very ergonomic and helps protect the tools lying on the table.”

The plastic currently being utilized is an ultra-high molecular weight polyethylene (UHMW), ½” thick and with a shore hardness of 64. Sourced locally, the company buys the plastic in 10-foot sheets and cuts it to fit.

Over the years, Vector Tool has tried a few different types of plastics, but not all were ideal for the job. “The biggest problem we had was with warpage,” said Newsome. “Once the plastic begins to warp, the plates aren’t stable and that’s a hazard. The UHMW isn’t as wear resistant as some of the other materials, but it does stay flat. It’s also slick and durable, so we don’t worry about the molds gouging into the material.”

“On average, molds are 1,800-2,000 pounds. Of course, we have some that are 200 pounds and some that are 6,000,” he continued.

Vector Tool has four large breakdown tables, equipped with one-ton cranes and standing 34″ tall. Several other tables are 24″ to the working surface and narrower – approximately 3′ wide – to make it easier for the operator to move around the table to work on the mold. “The lower table height makes it more ergonomic when we’re working on a bigger mold, since we don’t have to reach up,” added Newsome.

In addition to the plastic tops on the breakdown tables, Vector Tool also has two dozen roll-around carts that have been designed to be the same height as the table and with the same plastic, so molds can easily slide from the cart to the table.

“What makes Vector such a great place to work is that everyone has an opportunity to make a difference,” said Newsome. “Everyone with an idea has the chance to voice that idea and, if it makes sense for our business, we’re going to give it a try. We try to be smart about what we do and how we do it, and the plastic on the tables is definitely an example of that.

“Working on molds can be hard on a toolmaker’s back,” he continued. “If we can reduce the friction and the effort that it takes to move a mold, that makes it worth it.”