Tag Archives: custom engineered solutions

From Difficult to Differentiated: Creating Customer Solutions for Hard to Manufacture Materials

For many industries, high-intensity and high-value jobs require precision instruments that are made from high-performance materials. The medical, aerospace, defense, energy, and transportation industries are a few of the sectors that design and manufacture their parts, products, and integrated systems with materials such as titanium, magnesium, carbon steel, and others because of the unique performance properties these materials provide.

There are many challenges in using high-performance materials that add complexity and difficulty to the design and manufacture of high-performance products. For example:

  • Material Cost – High-performance materials typically have higher costs. As such, it is important that the use of these materials be optimized in all phases of the material life-cycle: design, manufacture, use, and end-of-life disposition. There are ways to reduce material waste in manufacturing by looking at a diversity of options for part design, manufacturing technique/process, and other factors. Check out HARBEC’s Sustainable Design Guide as an example of how design can impact the more efficient utilization of high-value materials.
  • Material Availability – The availability of high-performance materials can also be a challenge. Many high-performance materials are mined from specific regions of the world. The availability of materials is impacted by economic, geographic, supply, demand, regulatory, environmental, and other factors. The availability of materials also impacts its price, supply, and use.
  • Material Tracking and Regulatory Compliance – Understanding point of origin and supply chain relationships for materials has become a business necessity. Accounting (traceability) for ‘conflict minerals’ within the supply chain has, since Congress approved the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act, been a requirement for U.S. based manufacturers. Check with your suppliers to see if they have a Conflict Minerals policy in place, like this example from HARBEC.
  • Manufacturing Capability – The use of high-performance materials requires high-performance manufacturing capabilities that either reside in-house or among suppliers. The handling and manufacturing of high-performance materials can require specialized equipment, certifications, technical know-how, and process sophistication. Hard to machine metals, for example, require machine operators and toolmakers that have built, through years of experience, insight and knowledge of how materials perform  under a diversity of manufacturing operations.
  • Material Handling –Some high-performance materials are also a challenge to work with because they require special handling requirements. The safe and environmentally responsible storage, handling, and disposal of materials can add cost, time, and complexity to already tight time schedules. As such, it pays to work with material handlers, suppliers, and manufacturers that are experienced in the specific material handling requirements. Often there are very specific and specialized regulatory, environmental, safety, recycling, and disposal requirements for high-performance materials.
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HARBEC sample parts injection molded in a variety of engineering resins and metal.

Although there are challenges in working with high-performance materials, the benefits are tremendous. High-performance materials can differentiate products in their weight, design, performance, tolerance holding, utility, and sustainability. By working with material vendors and manufacturing partners that have depth of knowledge, experience, and capability, you can hedge yourself on any downside “difficulties,” and optimize your potential to “differentiate” your high-performance product.

Since 1977 HARBEC has earned a reputation and grown its business by solving tough manufacturing challenges. HARBEC’s origins stem from working with difficult to machine and mold materials. With nearly four decades of experience, HARBEC is well positioned to take on the most challenging of materials. HARBEC regularly machines magnesium, titanium, and hardened steels to very tight tolerances for a diversity of customers spanning aerospace, defense, medical, and research organizations.

HARBEC operates over 44 vertical mills, 6 horizontal lathes, and multiple EDM centers on three shifts, producing small to medium volumes of high precision parts for customers worldwide.  Our team readily works with customers to improve the manufacturability of prototypes and production parts, always striving for the best balance of function, cost and delivery. HARBEC has dedicated milling centers for difficult to machine metals such as titanium with a .01” diameter end mill.

HARBEC has earned a reputation as a custom injection molder and custom CNC machining company because it does not shy away from challenging materials, complex part geometries, tight tolerances, or demanding schedules. HARBEC works hard to support its customers by providing strategy and insight from its four decades of know-how and experience, to create custom solutions that often exceed time, cost, and performance requirements. HARBEC prides itself on being an extension of its customer’s teams, working with its own in-house engineers, tool makers, and machinists to provide exemplary levels of service and detail to every job, every customer, and every day.

Innovation

For a manufacturing business like Harbec, innovation lies between delivering a value that the customer wants and creating operational value through efficiency and waste reduction. Top line growth for a manufacturing business is generated by accessing and growing new customers. Bottom line growth is enhanced by operating with precision efficiency so that no raw material or natural resource is wasted. Innovation in manufacturing is optimized when the organization can continue to differentiate a value to its customer while doing more with less over time.

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While achieving both ends may seem impossible, that is where innovation comes in. Innovative organizations don’t look at their challenges and cower in fear. Rather, innovative organizations are driven by their values and a conviction for challenging conventional practices.

Harbec has been fortunate to have, since its founding in 1977, a strong discipline in innovation. Harbec has earned a reputation as a precision custom injection molder that delivers innovative solutions for its customers. Getting there has been journey marked by notable advancements in its operations, management systems, and impact on energy and the environment. The visual below presents a sample of the innovations that have taken place at Harbec.

Timeline of Innovation

Innovative organizations have an innate ability to scan the horizon for changes which impact the business environment, and translate their findings into business solutions. Such organizations listen to their customers as they look broadly at shifts in technology, and develop new capabilities which enable them to go beyond with a solution that differentiates their offering to customers. Innovation is all about being able to sense change, and staying two steps ahead. Achieving innovation or becoming “innovative” is not something that happens exclusively with a “Eureka” moment. Although many inventions have resulted from flashes of inspiration from entrepreneurs, the backstory to most examples of invention and innovation are grounded in hard work, discipline, and even failures.

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There is an art and science to innovation, and both disciplines achieve breakthroughs through the determination, grit, and endless pursuit of excellence by those that pursue them. Many people have an image of innovation shaped by flashy marketing and products like the iPhone. The most undervalued aspect of innovation is the disciplined process which yields novel ideas, products, and solutions. Over time, the process of innovation builds a culture, and that becomes the predominant force for business resiliency, competitiveness, and sustainability.

 

So You Need Custom Injection Molded Parts Yesterday…

In our last blog we focused on speed-to-market solutions in prototypes and production machining. We also referenced a Quick Manufacturing Solutions (QMS) process for “managing the queue”, as a means of saving time and resources from design through production and part delivery.

This “one-stop” approach to development of precision molds and tools and production injection molding is highly valued. Our QMS process does not stop at model making and rapid prototyping. We help “manage the queue” with value-added materials selection and sourcing, design for manufacturing, secondary operations, and logistics support services. With a focus on customer solutions Harbec is always looking to improve our equipment, capabilities, and ability to provide tightly tolerance precision parts with 100% on-time delivery.

If you require mold making and production our proprietary QMS methods will provide rapid tooling which also reduces the time for mold making and the cycle time in production. This will save valuable time resulting in a reduction in total life-cycle manufacturing costs for the part. The QMS process enables our customers to be more agile and achieve their speed-to-market objectives.

A flexible approach to mold making leads master toolmakers to be experts in the use of cutting edge process equipment as they continually develop their craftsmanship and know-how to construct conventional steel molds or aluminum bridge tools. This deep cross-functional expertise required of toolmakers plus flexibility in design, equipment capabilities, materials, and skills allows for the best value molds and tools in the quickest amount of time.

Focusing on improving time to market needs and having awareness that most product life cycles are becoming shorter and shorter is critical.  To address both of these trends Harbec has developed what we call “hybrid” tooling solutions.  The hybrid solution balances strong structural steel with easily machined, very thermally conductive and extremely strong aluminum alloys designed specifically for production injection molds.  This combination gives an advantage on lead-time while also offering a tremendous advantage for reducing costs for the mold and parts due to improved cycle times.  Harbec has been working with a variety of aluminum alloys for more than 15 years and we are experts at providing affordable solutions, within a very short lead-time, combined with outstanding quality.

Approximately 60% of our production molds are made from aluminum. Aluminum has been a choice for many customers as it offers benefits for reducing the time to contrast the mold to the cycle time within the injection molding machine (aluminum has superior thermal conductivity which give us 25-40% faster molding cycles). In fact, aluminum molds can be achieved, on average, for half the machining costs of steel molds. Further, aluminum molds can be completed in two to four weeks instead of 10-14 weeks which is customary with steel. Additionally, the tolerances and molding quality of the same plastics are equal with aluminum as with steel. 

Advantages of Aluminum

Material Cost Lead Time Rated Cycles
QC10Aluminum Lowest 2–5 weeks 25,000 – +100,000¹
P20Tool Steel Midpoint 6–8 weeks +500,000
H13Tool Steel Highest 8–13 weeks +1,000,000

¹Rated Cycles – determined by:  part geometry; texturing; shut-offs; draft; material abrasiveness.

The art of planning and proactive project management are essential to success. Integrated teams provide customers with the best talent and know-how for their challenges.  To achieve short lead times Harbec uses only six mold-block sizes which can accommodate most any mold design and configuration our diversity of customers have required over the years. Those blocks are pre-machined and stored them for quick access. Having an inventory of materials like this can save critical minutes, hours, and days during a project. It is this kind of thinking and pre-planning that earns new business, and trusted partnerships in the manufacture of precision tools and molds and custom injection molded parts.

We frequently receive quotes for conventional and bridge tooling with very short lead times. Harbec understands the speed of business is dynamic and requires partners that can provide fast turn-around not just on quotes, but also on finished product. Contact us today to discover the power difference Harbec can make to your custom molds and injection molded parts.

Precision Manufacturing at the Speed of Today’s Business World

“If you don’t have a competitive advantage, don’t compete.” 

-Jack Welch

Model Making and Rapid Prototyping

Jack Welch’s quote is simple, confident, and direct. There are many ways in which businesses can have a competitive advantage. Some have superior product performance, others have unparalleled quality, and many compete on price. But competing on product performance, price, and quality is not enough.

Today speed-to-market is a value that customers have come to expect, and competitive advantage businesses strive to achieve. Businesses earn revenue by bringing value to the market. Those businesses that can bring value quicker than others can gain market share, enhance reputation, and drive greater profits.

Harbec values how critical speed-to-market is for our customers; so much so that we created a proprietary process of supplying our customers with high quality, short-to-medium run plastic parts in any material and design known as Quick Manufacturing Solutions (QMS). Our QMS process helps customers dramatically reduce the time it takes to turn engineering drawings into custom models, prototypes, molds, and injection molded parts. Through QMS Harbec can help your business achieve speed by leveraging our:

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  • People – we have toolmakers that are cross trained to be model and mold makers. We’ve broken down technical and cultu ral barriers to the mold-making profession. Today successful toolmakers excel equally at creating precision prototypes as well as production molds. Our multifaceted team gives us flexibility and internal capacity which results in greater time and attention to detail for our customers, resulting in a better product, and faster. 
  • Processes – as a solution we “manage the queue”, meaning we support our customers project manage life-cycle of a project and product which can yield significant savings in time, money, and human resources. By “managing the queue” in-house at Harbec, customers can take advantage of design for manufacture through production and secondary options with one point of contact. 
  • Tools and Technologies – Harbec has in-house capabilities and equipment including CNC Machining, injection molding, clean room molding, additive manufacturing (Direct Metal Laser Sintering and Selective Laser Sintering) and others. Our investment and mastery in value-added manufacturing technologies allows us, through the QMS process, to identify alternative approaches to save time, money, and resources. Our rapid prototyping solutions allow us to deliver functional prototypes and production parts as quickly as in one day.

Achieving Results in Rapid Prototyping

As an example of our QMS solutions at work check-out our project collaboration with Kappius Components and who sought out our DMLS capabilities using EOS M270 additive manufacturing machine. Harbec’s expertise in model making and rapid prototyping supported by our internal QMS and disciplined approach to “managing the queue” have supported our customers goals for speed-to-market and competitive advantage. “We went from concept to bike-ready components in about a month,”  says Russell Kappius. “I’ve never been able to move that quickly before.” We welcome you to contact us today on how we can be your one-stop source for precision parts with speed, accuracy, and quality.

Celebrating 2013: The Power of People, Partnerships and Performance

As we come to the close of 2013 there is much to be grateful for. The manufacturing sector in the U.S. is gaining momentum, particularly since all five components of the Institute for Supply Management’s (ISM) purchasing managers’ index (PMI) have demonstrated their strongest performance since mid-2011. In our last blog we touched on the vital role of American manufacturing and how many businesses that shifted production of goods overseas in the past fifteen years have begun to reinvest in U.S.-based production. The manufacturing sector of the U.S. is proving to be resilient. From our point of view at Harbec, the following three elements contributed to the strong momentum of our business the past year:

  • Performance
  • Partnerships
  • People

At Harbec we have seen firsthand, tangible outcomes that can occur by focusing on our performance, our people, and our partnerships. In 2013 Harbec updated its ISO 9001 and ISO 14001 certifications reflecting our commitment to quality and environmental management systems. We also pursued and were certified ISO 50001/SEP recognizing the importance of energy management systems to our business. The “SEP” designation for ISO 50001 stands for “Superior Energy Performance” and is an industry-led certification program that is accredited by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and focuses Harbec on achieving continual improvements toward energy efficiency. Our ISO certifications for quality, environmental, and energy practices are reflective of our philosophy of continual improvement in all that we do. As a result, Harbec is a leaner, stronger, more productive, and more aware organization than it was a year prior. In addition, our performance has also improved in all aspects of our business, but particularly our performance in helping our customers with custom engineered solutions. Our ability to adopt continuous improvement programs has enabled us adapt to change, drive innovation, and invest in our plant and our people. Consequently, we have achieved cycle-time, speed to market, quality, and cost-competitiveness improvements which have positively impacted our operating performance and customer satisfaction. Harbec’s performance was also enhanced by our partnerships in 2013. In the past year we extended our commitment to energy performance by becoming a U.S. Department of Energy Better Buildings Better Plants Partner. In doing so, we have set a goal to further reduce our energy intensity by 25% by year 2020. As 2014 approaches we will also announce some additional partnerships that we worked hard to solidify in 2013, including efforts to integrate new manufacturing capabilities with research and development and our energy reduction goals.  In 2014 we will announce a new initiative we are working on to use additive manufacturing tools to incorporate nature inspired (biomimicry) designs into production-capable injection molds that can further reduce cycle-time and energy consumption. The partnerships we established this past year were in support of Harbec’s 2013 goal of becoming a Carbon Neutral production facility, which we are proud to have achieved. As a result, we can now provide “Carbon Conscious Components” to our customers as an added value to our existing technical and business solutions.

While we are proud of our accomplishments, we are most grateful for the beating heart to our organization, our people. Without the hard work, dedication, engagement and collaboration of our employees, we would not be able to achieve our mission or sustain our growth. Harbec’s employees are the glue that bonds technical capabilities with customer expectations to achieve custom engineered solutions. In 2013 our employees demonstrated grace under pressure, wisdom and tact. As a recap, the graphic below highlights a sample of what we are grateful for having accomplished through our Performance, Partnerships and People in 2013.

In our view the greatest benefit occurs when people, partnerships, and performance can be integrated to achieve outcomes that are more consequential, lasting, and sustainable than if addressed singularly. In 2014, we commit to continue our efforts to align and integrate the power of people with strong external partnerships and toward performance improvements. Thank you to our employees, partners, and customers who have enabled Harbec to continue to evolve as a high value custom injection molding business with a social and environmental conscious to our customers and the world. We wish you the best for a happy, healthy, and prosperous New Year!