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Progress in Aluminum Tooling Solutions

SpecialChem / Sep 28, 2009

Moldmakers and molders looking to find an alternative to traditional tool steels should seriously consider using aluminum. Aluminum tooling offers a myriad of benefits namely, it is easier to cut and it cools at a much more rapid rate than tool steels, which reduce cycle times that result in reduced costs at the OEM level. Can aluminum tooling enter the race for high-volume industrial injection molding? It depends on the material and part and the secondary operations being performed. For example, automakers can save 5% to 10% on tools for the majority of their applications, and the added benefit is at least 10% shorter lead times versus steel tools. Molding cycle-time reductions of 20% to 40% or more are readily achievable, given aluminum's higher thermal conductivity. It is being used today on some high-volume applications at Honda of America Manufacturing, Inc., in runs that have reached hundreds of thousands of parts. Polyolefins are the most successful materials to target for production. As the auto industry has moved toward wider adoption of polyolefin technology for parts formerly molded exclusively with engineering thermoplastics, more applications are good candidates for aluminum tooling. Aluminum tools have been built for applications molded in ASA (acrylic styrene acrylonitrile), as well as glass-filled ABS (acrylonitrile butadiene styrene). Production lead times for aluminum tooling can be less than for traditional P20 steel. Lead times depend on whether a company chooses all-aluminum tools, or a related specialty mold base variant. Aluminum tooling is not right for every material or application, but there's no doubt it is underutilized. The benefits and trade-offs of aluminum tooling need to reach a wider audience.

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