Service Mold + Aerospace Inc. is not your typical mold shop. While the shop’s core competence remainsthe design, engineering and building of injection, compression, low-pressure, blow molding, glass-encapsulation and forming molds for the automotive industry, it has emerged as a contract build-to-spec supplier of parts for that industry as well as for aerospace and medical customers in North America and Europe.
Founded in 1987 in Windsor, Ontario, and today run by President Martin Schuurman, the shop’s early years saw steady growth from the production of molds for automotive and consumer goods. Always committed to using the latest technologies for CAD and CAM programming, as well as state-of-the-art three-axis machine tools, Service Mold established a reputation for quality work, problem-solving and on-time delivery, quickly becoming a reliable partner to its customers.
“Then our industry changed,” said Schuurman. “In 2006, we purchased our first five-axis machine with a 2 x 3 m table from Zimmermann Inc. (Wixom, MI). This acquisition gave us the ability and capability to explore entering the aerospace market. After a number of calls and quotations, we scored a small order from a major Tier 1 supplier. Sales began to grow, some years by more than 25%,” said Schuurman. By 2013, there were four additional Zimmermann machines on the floor and the existing facility had been filled nearly to capacity.
In 2016, the company acquired property adjacent to its existing Windsor facility and erected a new building, giving the company a capacity of 64,000 ft2 (5,945 m2). Three Zimmermann FZ33 milling machines were purchased—two with 394″ (10 m) in the X-axis and the largest one, with 630 x 138 x 78″ (16 x 3.5 x 2 m) in the X, Y and Z axes.
That gave the shop a substantially greater capacity and opened up more opportunities in the aerospace structural market. In something of a perfect storm scenario, the emergence of composites in the aerospace industry enabled Service Mold to pursue the huge layup mandrel market to a much greater degree.
Always thinking strategically, Schuurman had an early, ongoing commitment to pursue and maintain full certification or registration as an ISO, AS9100 rev D, CGP and ITAR facility, all of which are in force today. “We quickly realized what it would take to continue proving our worth in all the various industries and we went after those certs with a great determination.”
Likewise, the company introduced more machining capabilities plus welding, and today is exploring the benefits of in-house heat treatment to maximize its vertical integration. Such capital investment comes with risk, Schuurman noted. There is a dual challenge of finding competent personnel combined with the need to generate sufficient workload to fill the available machining time, which today stands at approximately 15,000 hours annually on the seven Zimmermann machines alone. The investment has paid off and the company currently runs round-the-clock operations.
Schuurman is never one to rest on his laurels, however. “We are a build-to-print company for our customers,” he said. “By definition, that means we’re always on the hunt for more business and we’ve expanded our component production work substantially, in addition to producing more complex and larger molds and fixtures for our customers.” He also takes great pride in a satellite business he has developed over the years.
An artistic individual, Schuurman designs custom air vents and manufactures the molds to produce them in quantity. What started out as a hobby to decorate his own and family members’ homes has blossomed into a thriving business. It operates as SMI Ventilation Products, with primarily online sales handled by several key distribution customers.
Service Mold utilizes machining centers from Zimmermann and other builders to produce molds and components from various alloys of aluminum, steel, Invar and stainless. Schuurman noted in particular that the linear motor movement and high- speed spindles on the machines are key to precision machining of aluminum with substantial metal removal rates. Among the many and varied components produced at this shop—in addition to the myriad molds created each day—are refrigerator trays, washer lids, and a 22″ (558 mm) barrel inlet for aircraft engines, which starts as a 23″ (584 mm) diameter aluminum block, usually 15-16″ (381-406 mm) high that has material removed to reduce the piece to less than 5 lb (2.3 kg).
The twin facilities house boring mills with rotary tables, gundrills, CNC milling machines, three-axis high-speed mills and, the core of the company’s machining firepower, seven Zimmermann and two Parpas Diamond five-axis high-speed machining centers. At the high end of the Zimmermann lineup are machines with the company’s portal milling head, plus an FZ33 Compact, which allows large aluminum and composite structures to be machined without moving them, as the workpiece rests on a fixed table while the rigid portal travels in the X-direction. The moving bridge on the machine is comprised of a rigid portal, cross- and Z-slides plus the milling head.
Additional Zimmermann machines on the floor at Service Mold include three FZ37 five-axis portal milling machines and three FZ30 open table five-axis portal milling machines, ideal for the one-off and short run work done so often at the shop. Also in-house is a CMM with 30,000 lb (13,607 kg) load capacity and an ion laser tracker for the large workpiece scanning done on the shop floor. All data can be captured in a point cloud and instantly analyzed against CAD files for accuracy and stress points.
Another emerging market for Service Mold is the orthopedics industry, where the high accuracy of the Zimmermann machines inspired the company to venture into medical device machining. “We’re currently working with an orthopedic surgeon, producing joining plates for humerus and femur sections, something we’d never have considered a few years ago,” Schuurman said. “With the programming speed and high degree of flexibility in our production work now, it’s not only become possible, but also profitable.”
Comprising more than 70% of the company’s sales, the aerospace market remains Service Mold’s home base, and includes one of Schuurman’s favorite projects. “We have been involved in manufacturing parts for servicing the International Space Station,” he said. As with most workpieces in this market, there is an extremely high degree of material removal involved in the production of this workpiece and Schuurman noted that the Zimmermann machine’s rigidity and high-precision moving milling head make the job much easier to accomplish and repeat.
Cornelius Kiesel, president of North America for Zimmermann, said, “We have forged a solid, good-faith working relationship with Service Mold beginning with that first sale in 2006. Today, Service Mold is one of our largest customers in the world. When you can partner with a customer and grow together, there are few satisfactions in business that compare. It’s a very solid relationship and we’ve been quite pleased with the results. Martin brings our team new challenges all the time and we respond. The synergy between our companies and their respective talents makes something very special happen and that’s exciting.”
Schuurman pointed out that a key to the flexible nature of his company is the fully programmable capabilities of the Zimmermann machines. Service Mold runs various CAD programs, including Catia and NX CAD, post-processing in-house to run the Heidenhain CNC on each of its Zimmermann machines.