Plainfield, Connecticut-based mold maker Westminster Tool’s injection mold department has consistently grown faster than ever before in response to the increased demands in medical device manufacturing. For Westminster Tool, that meant investing over 10% of revenue in updating, replacing and expanding equipment across the shop to improve efficiencies and keep up with the demand.
The area that saw the largest enhancement was the hard machining department. An area with a single Mikron HSM500 is now comprised of three high-speed 3-axis machines and one high-speed 5-axis machine, increasing the shop’s milling capacity by over 400%. Ray Coombs, president of Westminster Tool, stated that the goal was originally to increase throughput by reducing the company’s overall lead time but the benefits have already begun to make an impact in other ways.
By adding more machining capabilities—including faster milling times and more advanced automation—Westminster Tool can bring in more work entirely, a significant result from the equipment’s improved efficiencies. Coombs said that the 5-axis capabilities, for example, open the company to more intricate types of jobs because it can now hit complex geometries and angles difficult to achieve before. And this will have major long-lasting benefits for how the company does business.
The automation alone currently provides a promising impact on unattended time for all the new machines. The adoption of automated pallet handling not only promises to reduce setup time but makes lights-out operation possible for the company. Once up and running, the new Mikron HSM_400U LP’s pallet pool attachment will make it even easier for the machine to run almost entirely unattended.
Westminster Tool also welcomed an additional wire EDM machine—a Sodick ALN 400G. The investment stemmed mainly from the expected increase in aerospace production, a projected rise of 30% in 2021 that will require additional wire EDM capacity. The added benefits include new opportunities for cross-training and a chance for production workers to gain even more manufacturing experience before joining other areas of the shop.
With new equipment comes a larger equipment footprint, so the company embarked on a complete reconfiguration of the shop floor over the holidays. Vice President Hillary Thomas stated that the company spent weeks planning and re-imagining what operations would look like with the new equipment. Shutting down the shop for a few days allowed the company to move equipment and fully optimize the shop’s workflow.
The big move placed all milling equipment in a single, centralized cell. It also included moving the electrode milling machines closer to the new 5-axis machine with hopes of combining the two departments by mid-year.
Aside from doubling its machining capacity, one of the company’s most valuable experiences with the new equipment has been with its workforce. By freeing up more machines in the milling department experienced machinists have more time to train and cross-train other Westminster Tool employees. Thomas said that cross-training is a critical part of the company’s, but sometimes production requirements made it hard to use the machines for that training.
Previously the company had enough work to keep the single mill running 24/7, leaving few opportunities for training. The new machine has already allowed hard mill apprentice Amy Skrzypczak to double her training progress in just three weeks.
These investments are just the beginning of Westminster Tool’s plans for increasing automation and robotics throughout the company. In addition to COVID-related demand, the medical industry continues to progress year after year. And as the demand for high-precision medical molds grows, Westminster Tool plans to continue rising to the challenge and growing its market share.
For more information, visit www.westminstertool.com.