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The Basics of Quick Die Change | SMED or Single Minute Exchange of Dies | How to Reduce Setup Times Using Quick Mold  Change

SMED for injection molding machines - There has been a lot of discussion heard lately on reducing mold set-up times throughout the injection molding industry by using quick mold change methods. Even though many companies are not at full utilization of their equipment, management would love and often pushes for the the achievement of one minute changeovers on all molds so they do not loose any machine time. What management does not always do is to support the idea with money saving devices or studies to help the process technician and set-up people to achieve quicker mold change over's.  This often produces frustration in with the technicians and die setters who are trying to do a faster change over with out some of the fancy tools to do it with.  Quick mold change is simple in it's basic form.


When asked about how to best perform "Quick Mold Change", the first things we have to discuss is the involvement manage wants or is willing to take in the project.  Once this is established, the team can set some goals and move forward with the project.  We need to understand our roles in the lean manufacturing process. What is management's definition of lean?  Is it reduced personnel and increased work load on the remaining people?  Reduce personnel, reduce overhead, do not spend a dime on time saving devices or any type of training or consulting - and then demand that they have to change molds faster or risk the job being transferred to China or Mexico.  This is often the case but not always. The work "smarter, not harder rule" often applies applies here very well.  It might actually be a more intelligent decision to add personnel and create a team to do the die change-over, then it is to reduce staff and expect more from them.  I subscribe to the latter choice.


Many shops with good relationships with their floor personnel realize the need to equip their set-up people with even the simplest tools to make life easier and do the job right.  Sometimes when you're not busy (ha-ha), get your video camera and film the guys (or gals) doing a mold change. Watch them go back and forth, down the aisles, into the corners, on top of work benches, into the maintenance area dozens of times just to get parts, tools etc to do the mold change. My opinion on hydraulic clamps and magnetic platens is that they are great tools albeit very expensive and sometimes difficult to justify, but the real time spent on mold changes is in the cooling lines, valve gate lines, ejector rods, and plumbing the tool.  Being prepared for the mold change which includes no interruptions from production personnel is paramount to the success of the mold change team and reducing your setup times.  


Sometimes when you're not busy (ha-ha), get your video camera and film the guys (or gals) doing a mold change. Watch them go back and forth, down the aisles, into the corners, on top of work benches, into the maintenance area dozens of times just to get parts, tools etc to do the mold change. The first step is to separate your die set into two areas and those are "internal and "external" components.  Internal components are things that have to be done "during" the die set.  External components are your pre preparation and post cleanup operations.  A very simple way to get started is to do "before and after" video tapes.  Tape a setup as you would normally do them and then review these with your die setup team.  Note each time that someone leaves the frame of the picture and where they went at the time or what they got, and how long they were gone.  Watch for any repetitive or wasted steps and note them down.  Brainstorm ideas as a team on how to eliminate these time losses.  Preparation and practice is the key to success, just like in the NASCAR pits.


One of the easiest and most cost effective things you can do to aide quick mold change is to manifold your dies.  Then all your set-up people need to do is run the larger water feed lines to the manifolds, one in and out for each half, and then the mold is ready to run. This can also be done for valve gate hoses if you have them as well.  This removes minutes, and in some severe cases, hours of set-up time depending on your particular set up and mold sizes.  Store your molds at the machine when practical.  Install mold racks right at the machine to reduce fork lift travel in the plant and to keep handy the mold at the machine if at all possible. This can reduce time of quick mold changes, as well as keep the molds from getting lost behind gaylords of material, stacked up high on a heavy duty rack or lost somewhere in the shop.   A well organized storage area can be a great help in optimizing your die setup times.  


Then there are other simple yet very important ideas that help the set-up people. Color coding all the waterlines to blue & red for "in" & "out".  Use of colored wire ties and a unique molder invented product of waterline safety tags for the disconnect fittings with a corresponding colored cap that is installed on the tool under the water line plug assures proper hook-up.  All these items ultimately help the process technician or set up person to perform proper water hook-up's. 


There are hundreds of time saving ideas, and as long as you repeatedly go back to "before and after" video taping, you can usually find more things to take out or improve within the process as you become more familiar with the reduction process.  SMED or "quick Mold Change" can be a reality for you!


Written by: WM8C, July 25th, 2006.  Not for use without written permission


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