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Graco Children's Products : Moldflow
Graco Children's Products is the leading juvenile products company in the world. Located in Exton, PA, the company was established in 1942 and has developed numerous products over the last 52 years including car seats, strollers, high chairs, swings, cribs and bassinets, activity centers, and other items. Graco Baby is a subsidiary of Newell Rubbermaid Corporation. Its manufacturing facilities are in Eleverson, PA; Macedonia, OH and Mainland China. Its leading customers worldwide include Babies R' Us, Wal-Mart, and Target stores.
Tom Lacey is a plastics engineer at Graco and is the primary Moldflow analyst. The company uses Moldflow Plastics Insight (MPI) including MPI Cool, Flow, and Warp modules. While his responsibilities vary from project to project, most of the time, he is involved from the early stages of development to assure that Graco parts are manufacturable in a reasonable cycle time. In addition, he performs trouble shooting for problem parts.
Each of Graco's products presents a very unique and difficult challenge in both designing and manufacturing. Lacey says, "One of the largest challenges is in developing car seats. We are tasked with designing a plastic car seat that can withstand an incredible amount of force and stress when it is involved in a crash. Once the seat is designed and all FEA and crash testing has been performed, the task of implementing the program into our domestic and Asian manufacturing takes place."
Graco Baby's customers demand safety-driven, quality products that are also cost-effective. Lacey adds, "By analyzing our plastic parts throughout the entire design phase and with proper tool design, we are able to create parts that are properly designed and manufactured in a reasonable amount of time, which subsequently reduces part costs. More importantly though, product quality and safety are the most critical issues to address. When parents are asked what they expect out of our products, they almost always say that they want their child to be safe at all times. Experienced design teams and the use of MPI assure us that we are offering products that meet all of the stringent regulations and tests imposed on them."
Graco Baby maintains several testing labs so all the requirements set forth by the Juvenile Product Manufacturing Association and National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration are adhered to before any products are sold. The entire design and engineering team works together to make sure they offer a product that is safe for all customers worldwide.
Lacey and his team use MPI for the analysis of all plastic parts. Other engineers use Pro/E for CAD. Graco is evaluating the MPI 3D module at this time. Meanwhile, Lacey uses MPI Cool, Flow, and Warp modules and works with designers to discuss the structural requirements of each component. "Structural analyses and engineering input tell me what areas of the part are critical to product function. Comparing the MPI results with the FEA data assures us that the product will perform flawlessly," Lacey says.
Lacey adds, "Whether I am analyzing a part early in the design phase, or an existing part in production, Moldflow gives me the ability to predict the problems that will arise on the shop floor. The strength and integrity of our products are extremely important, so we closely examine where weld lines and air traps will form and also assure that the entire part is properly packed out and cooled before ejection. The software gives us the ability to foresee early in the design phase if there are going to be any problems on the shop floor then we give suggestions on how to correct them. It's an enormous time saving tool. If we cannot locate problems upfront in the design cycle, we pay a tremendous price once the tool goes into production."
One of Graco Baby's newest stroller projects was the first in which MPI was used in-house throughout the entire design project. Lacey became actively involved in the daily functions of the design team and interjected plastics knowledge as the parts were initially being developed. "The plastics engineering team imparted plastic input for the initial design of the parts. Once we neared tooling issues I performed a molding window analysis to obtain as close to an ideal process as possible. After running a Flow analysis, I talked to our tooling engineer. We decided on an optimal gate location by going through several iterations and possible sites. Using Flow allowed us to see that the parts would fill properly, and that no thick sections appeared which would hinder filling, packing, and cycle time of the process. The software also allowed the team to check areas for strength and cooling requirements."
With that information on hand, Lacey and his team revisited with the project's designers and relayed concerns and recommendations for improvements. They were all focused on a properly designed part that was easily manufacturable within a reasonable amount of time. From there, once they were satisfied with parts form, fit, and function, they created a preliminary cooling line system and performed a full Cool, Flow, and Warp to obtain an idea of what the cycle time might be. If there were going to be any concerns regarding warpage, it was addressed at that time.
"Many of the changes were made to the parts geometry to assure the strength requirements were met while still being easily manufacturable," notes Lacey. "I performed Flow analyses on simpler parts, while more critical components required full Cool, Flow, and Warp analyses.
"Once first shot parts were received, there were a few issues with part warpage and flash. Additional analyses were performed to troubleshoot and eventually remedy the problems. By getting our plastics engineering group involved early in the design phase, we were able to assure that parts were properly designed, gated in an area that would lead to a balanced fill, and would be manufactured in a timely manner," says Lacey.
Graco Baby implemented MPI because it was spending a tremendous amount of money using outsourced analysis agencies. "Since installing MPI, we realized our return on investment within three months. I ran approximately 45 parts in the first six months of use," Lacey says. "As a direct result of using MPI, we have significantly reduced the need for part changes after tool issues due to filling or warpage problems resulting from poor plastic part design. The cost of engineering changes due to part design problems not identified during the design phase has been reduced by 67 percent."
Lacey learned to use Moldflow while obtaining his bachelor's degree in Plastics Engineering at Penn State Erie. Consequently, when he was hired at Graco, he had a head start on using the software. He notes, "Working with the program everyday here, improves my efficiency and knowledge of its capabilities. You never stop learning when using Moldflow products."
Six months after starting work at Graco Baby, Lacey obtained Moldflow Bronze certification in January 2004. Based on his training at Penn State, he was able to take and pass the Bronze certification test in one day. Then, in May of 2004, he attended the five-day training class for Moldflow Silver certification. Subsequently, he took the three certification tests at his leisure - fitting them in between work and free time - over a three month period.
"As a Moldflow certified company, the notoriety gives us more influence in transmitting and communicating our plastics analyses results. It lets customers, suppliers, and manufacturers know that we are extremely proficient at what we are doing."
For more information about Graco Baby, visit www.gracobaby.com. Visit www.moldflow.com for more information about Moldflow.
Author: Laura Carrabine