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Toolmaker Plots Growth by Investing in Employees


Challenged to find its place in the new century, one practitioner of the once booming trade of toolmaking, True Die Inc. (Zeeland, MI), is using machine tool technology to invest in the future of its employees and grow its business. It’s a strategy for growth that may well be tied to the future of the mold-and-die trade itself.

Tim Rietsma and his brother Mike started their mold-and-die shop in 2000 wanting to continue their profession’s proud heritage of skilled toolmaking. But with the adoption of evolving machine tool technology has come new ways of doing things, and soon the brothers faced an unexpected challenge to both their business and to their ideals.

The toolmaking profession had changed. Qualified toolmakers were becoming scarce. While the trade had always been based on the development of skilled and well-rounded toolmakers, the tech schools were beginning to turn out candidates for jobs in basic machine operation.True Die’s leadership team of Brian Brown, president, flanked by Tim Rietsma (left) and Mike Rietsma, see their Romi/Siemens technology as filling a needed toolmaker training opportunity.

Looking back, Tim Rietsma said, “When we started our company, I had 15 years of experience building molds and my brother had 20 years of experience building stamping dies. The toolmaker that we had in the 1990s, I don’t think we’ll ever see that type of person again.”

Originally known as Contour Tool & Engineering, the company name was recently changed to True Die with a new ownership investment, the addition of new round product tooling capabilities, and a renewed commitment to the toolmaking trade. As Contour Tool, the company has been a one-stop resource for OEMs needing an integrated knowledge and approach to building molds for injection-molded plastic parts.

For True Die’s leadership team, two decision paths have emerged: Invest in newer basic machines that give a machine operator the ability to cut a part, or invest in more capable machine/control packages that enable employees to build their skills, their careers, and the company.

In 2014, the company bought its first D1000AP vertical machining center from Romi Machine Tools (Erlanger, KY), featuring the Sinumerik 828D control and drives package from Siemens Industry Inc. (Elk Grove Village, IL). “We initially wanted higher speed and accuracy,” Tim Rietsma said. “With the molds, you cut both halves of the tool, then both halves need to fit tight to each other within one-thousandth of an inch. If your machine can’t do this, you must spend a lot of time with a hand grinder on a bench.”

Doing away with bench grinding proved to be one of the immediate paybacks of the Romi-Siemens investment. Any grinding related variances in precision and surface quality were soon avoided, and the profitability of the business was boosted by the increased capacity for throughput.

“Three years ago, most of our surfacing work was done at a feed rate of around 50–60 ipm [1.27–1.5 m/min/],” said Tim Rietsma. “With the Siemens and the Romi combination, some of our feed rates have already approached 200 ipm [5 m/min]; and what comes out of the machine is a part cut in much less time, and that offers repeated high quality to the customer.”

The Romi D1000AP VMC features integrated cooling during high-speed drilling. The coolant flows through the drill bit to flush the metal chips out and away from the flutes. Carbide drill bits last much longer and drilling cycles have been reduced from five minutes to thirty seconds.

This feature alone gives True Die Inc. the flexibility to increase the company’s margins or to strategically price jobs to win new business, and sometimes do both.

At every turn, the mold-and-die professionals at True Die have learned something remarkable about the Sinumerik 828D CNC that drives their new Romi machining center.

An important discovery was the ability to program the machine to minimize the time it takes to cut a part. A feature called Advance Surface enables the shop to optimize mold-cutting velocity, accuracy, and surface quality for the most efficient machining motion.At True Die, the Romi D1000AP VMC channels coolant through a high-speed carbide drill bit to flush out chips. One-pass drilling has given True Die Inc. the flexibility to manage both higher margins and more competitive pricing.

“With a couple short clicks on the control, I can tell the machine that a particular block is not so fussy on tolerance. I can in effect say ‘open the tolerance up’ and that will increase the speed of the machine through that sequence. We can get the surface finish that the mold requires and the maximum speed of the machine—all at the same time,” said Tim Rietsma.

“We’re still learning on the machine, learning every week,” said Tim Rietsma. “When the machine hit the floor, we needed to make parts. We didn’t have time to really learn the CNC. And then as the weeks go on, we learn a little more.” The machine/control investment has resulted in faster production of consistent quality molds, flexibility to produce different parts for different types of customers on the same machine, and the ability to reduce mold rib cutting from a 20-hour off-line EDM process to a 1.5-hour milling process at the machine. Also Siemens absolute encoder has eliminated hours of “homing” restart time in the morning by holding an exact previous setting, and True Die Inc. has been able to download earlier Haas and FANUC files into the Siemens control with no losses, gaining greater machining flexibility.

Brian Brown, True Die Inc.’s owner and president, is especially proud of the company’s position and outlook on toolmaker education. A journeyman toolmaker himself, Brown is passionate about protecting and growing the trade through the adoption of more enabling technology and more robust education. “Our business has a state-certified apprenticeship program,” Brown said. “And our business is uplifted by companies like Siemens and Romi, who understand the challenges of our industry. In fact, to further enhance our market/product offering, we just purchased our second Romi to machine round tools for the deep draw industry—a C420 lathe with a Sinumerik 828D control that will be used strictly for hard turning.

For more information from Siemens Industry Inc., go to, or phone 847-640-1595.

This article was first published in the May 2016 edition of Manufacturing Engineering magazine. Read “Toolmaker Plots Growth by Investing in Employees” as a PDF.

Published Date : 5/1/2016

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