Innovation Unlocks Success for Canadian Manufacturer
April 15, 2009— Aurora, Ontario
Axiom Group Inc.
There are thousands of parts in an automobile - many of which we never see but couldn't do without. Take, for example, an airflow baffle. It may not sound important, but without it, your heating and air conditioning system would be blowing dirt and debris at you every time you get behind the wheel.
Axiom Group Inc. in Aurora, Ontario has become a major supplier of airflow baffles, and other plastic injection moulded screen and mesh components, to Daimler-Chrysler after receiving assistance from the National Research Council Canada Industrial Research Assistance Program (NRC-IRAP).
Axiom President Perry Rizzo (left) and Rocco Di Serio, Vice President, Product Development, hold airflow baffles made in their innovative mould-injection system.
NRC-IRAP helped Axiom develop the technology to produce a one-piece part - made up of a 300 micron (and lower) mesh screen and the frame around it - in an injection mould. This one-piece injection moulding process has proved to lower production costs and is safer for assembly line workers to handle than conventional metal and plastic components. Until Axiom's innovation, these air flow management parts (used for auto ventilation and for air conditioning systems) were assembled by hand from a metal screen and plastic frame. Not only was this former assembly process time consuming, it was also somewhat hazardous - the glue would occasionally fail and the tricky process exposed workers to the hazards of cut and bruised fingers.
"We needed help developing the technology to remain a competitive player in the market," explains Axiom President Perry Rizzo. "One of our largest customers, a major auto parts manufacturer, threatened to cancel contracts if we couldn't match the lower price of Chinese-made parts."
Rizzo knew that staying competitive and ensuring the future of his company required some innovative solutions. The challenge was not only to match the price of imported parts, but also to make a better product. When associates in Detroit heard of Daimler-Chrysler's problems using the conventional metal and plastic construction, Axiom proposed a one-piece injection moulded solution.
"We used a 3D printer to make a mock-up of an actual part used by Daimler-Chrysler - an air inlet baffle," explained Rizzo. "They told us that if we could make this part out of plastic and maintain the technical specs of the fine mesh screen, they'd be interested in buying it."
Axiom would have to clear several technical hurdles to satisfy Daimler-Chrysler. Rizzo felt totally confident that it could be done - although no one else in the world had done it yet.
"It's all in the design of the mould," explains Axiom Research & Marketing Coordinator Luigi Di Serio. "We had to design and test moulds that would allow the plastic to fill the large sections that make the frame, and restrict - we call it damming - the channels so that the right amount of plastic flowed to the area that forms the fine mesh screen."
NRC-IRAP industry experts advised Axiom to bring the computer-based modeling function in-house rather than pay for the contracted use of CAD software to test the many different mould designs. As well, NRC-IRAP funding assisted in the experimentation phase, where many different approaches were tried until a working prototype was developed.
Being able to test theories in the virtual world allowed Axiom to design an injection mould that balanced the pressure of the flow of plastic through the mould so that both the frame and the 300 micron (or less) screen formed properly. Too little pressure within the damming system of the mould would result in gaps, called short shots, in the finished part; too much pressure would result in over-flow or flash that would cover the necessary holes in the mesh, making it unusable.
While other global companies have developed the technology to make 300 micron screens in an injection mould, only Axiom has developed the technology to make the screen and its surrounding frame in a one-step, one-piece injection moulding process.
The innovation resulted in Axiom going from a tier-two supplier (selling components to a larger company that dealt with Daimler-Chrysler) to a tier-one supplier selling directly to the auto manufacturer - a great example of real business outcomes built on private sector vision and support from the NRC-IRAP team.
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