FINDLAY, Ohio—Going from multicavity molding to single-cavity molding might seem counter productive, but Freudenberg-NOK Sealing Technologies has developed and implemented a process that does just that.
“We have been a company going toward lean systems for a long time,” said Ted Duclos, vice president and general manager of the Global Fluid Power Division. “What people find by doing that is you do things better.”
For Freudenberg-NOK, the aim of turning to single-cavity molding is to improve a specific product, sealing components. “You have to do certain things to be successful at it,” Duclos said. “There are good reasons to want to make the transition.”
Freudenberg-NOK isn't about to give away proprietary information, but Duclos said one of the big reasons for using the single cavity is quality.
“If you ask anybody who molds anything they will tell you that the way to make something the same every time is to do it on a single-cavity process,” he said. “Often, though, they can't find a way to do that successfully financially.”
After several years of working on the system, the company figured it out. The company's automotive parts plant in Findlay is one of a few Freudenberg-NOK sealing facilities benefiting from the development.
“We have invested in the technical advances that you have to have,” Duclos said about how the company is able to keep costs low with single-cavity molding.
Developing unique tooling and machine concepts, and doing the appropriate development with the materials all have played a part in the success.
“You really have to have those three things come together in the right way to make it work financially,” Duclos said. “That's a part of our secret.”
Logic would suggest it is cheaper to mold in batches as opposed to doing single-cavity production. But when you can do it with faster cycle times, you are able to make a better end product and duplicate it easier, according to Duclos.
By going back to single-cavity molding the company also is decreasing product development time.
“You develop on a prototype single-cavity mold to begin with,” Duclos said. From there, the mold would be remade for a multicavity mold once everything was set. “Well, if you're only doing one cavity, once you do the prototype you're done.”
Several products based on the new single-cavity molding are on the market, and Duclos is confident Freudenberg-NOK's customers will embrace the concept.
“We think (it) will help us with time to market,” Duclos said.
The Findlay plant's 140 employees also benefit from the development. Plant Manager Roy Schroeder said the switch to single-cavity molding has helped simplify the manufacturing process and decreased customer complaints.
“We're trying to judge how good these things are by how much work we don't have to do,” Duclos said with a laugh.
After a fairly smooth transition in equipment and training the staff on the new process, the company is continuing to work on educating its customers about the effectiveness of the new process.
“There are a lot of skeptics,” Duclos said. “We really looked at it and what it took to make it work.”
While it took Freudenberg-NOK awhile to figure out the process—including several false starts with machinery and materials—the company stayed the course.
“The history of manufacturing is all about better and better precision,” he said. “We just see this as one more step along the way.”
While the plant has numerous resources available, it never was completely certain the venture would work.
“You have to be willing to spend some money to try things that may not have results,” Duclos said.
“This project to a large extent is a product of taking some risks,” along with thinking things out ahead of time and understanding the problems that needed to be solved.