Okay, call me a geek if you like, but I’m going to say it: Process and production monitoring, the topic of this month’s cover story, has been near and dear to me for the last 20 years. It used to be a regular beat of mine, so Senior Editor Mikell Knights’ feature is a welcome chance for me to catch up. The same is true of mold simulation, which was featured in last month’s cover story.
The ability to “see” inside the mold changed injection molding as much as the x-ray machine changed medicine. Today’s mold simulation is more like an MRI in its ability to reveal fiber orientation, shrinkage, warpage, cooling rate, shear, air traps, weld lines, and behavior of multi-material and gas-assist injection. Back in 1991, fewer than one in six molders used simulation. But the word has gotten out. Moldflow, the leading vendor, says its user “seats” have multiplied almost tenfold in just the last five years. Blow molders, too, are starting to come around to process simulation..
Real-time, plantwide monitoring, which used to be called CIM, enables molders to take the pulse of their process. I remember interviewing injection and blow molders who spoke with nearly messianic zeal about how CIM changed the way they work: “CIM is the opportunity of a lifetime to energize your technical staff…You get to understand your machines just like they were people.” Since then, these systems have become even more sophisticated, as Mikell Knights reports on p. 52: Now they automatically correlate part weight or dimensions with process conditions, and they send data to your wireless PDA as you walk around the plant. So you’d think by now every plant would have one of these. Surprisingly, Mikell found that no more than 25% of U.S. injection molding facilities have these systems—hardly more than a decade ago. It’s enough to break your heart.