In the last 12 months we have recruited new people and skills into our mould shop and tool room – two of the most important areas at BNL. Whilst welcoming new people into our teams is important for our growth, so is maximising in-house mould tooling expertise. We are proud to have also seen members of our tooling team progress through the company in the past year.
Brendon Wain and Mike Greveson have both worked as Tool Makers at BNL, honing their skills in our specific techniques for moulding plastic bearings. In 2021 they moved to new roles, transferring those skills into new areas, developing mould tooling expertise and starting the next stage in their careers.
The majority of BNL’s plastic bearings are moulded and custom designed for clients whose products are all very different. They include automotive steering and controls, food processing, cash machines and domestic appliances. These products all require bearings that meet different specifications for noise, vibration, sealing, gearing, integrated shafts and other features. The capabilities needed to meet our customer’s requirements are constantly developing. Our ability to meet these specifications depends on the skill of our product design teams, and our tooling team to make and maintain the tools.
Brendon Wain – Tool Room Team Leader
Brendon joined BNL 4 years ago from a metal production machining role, so joining BNL as an apprentice tool maker meant learning not just about different skills and machinery, but new materials too.
BNL’s tool makers work very closely with both the New Product Development teams and Mould Shop teams. They have a dual role. Developing, producing and finishing new tools for new products and also supporting the moulding of existing parts with maintenance and preparation of tools for injection moulding. There are plenty of opportunities for developing mould tooling expertise.
As a team leader, Brendon has responsibility for one of our teams’ workload, performance and development. He has found the team leader role is very similar to the tool maker role but with added responsibilities of supervising and training the team, helping develop their skills, cover for the Tool Room Supervisor and more involvement in continuous improvement and operational excellence initiatives.
“I really enjoy the extra responsibility and training side of the job. Developing my team and seeing them gain more experience and confidence. Plastic injection moulding and precision engineering was very different from the production role I had before, but I wanted the challenge of learning new things. I was surprised to find an extensive in-house tool room manufacturing and finishing tooling. It means you really learn more about the design and engineering of the products. How and why they are made to meet specification, and what needs to be done for the products to function as intended.”
Over the last four years Brendon has seen the Tool Room team grow and evolve. New team members have arrived and some have moved to new positions or retired. Relationships with other areas of the business have changed and developed over time. “Adapting to change is a skill – losing established, skilled teams members and training people new to the role; but the team needs to stay fresh with a good balance of expertise and new ideas. As a business, all the departments work very closely with each other rather than within their own function. It means that we all work together to get good quality products to our customers.”
Mike Greveson – Tool Designer
Mike also joined BNL as an apprentice tool maker. After completing his apprenticeship, Mike’s role as a toolmaker involved developing new product tools. This involved working closely with product designers, prototyping and tool design teams. He became more interested in the design side of tool production, and started training as a tool designer for BNL last year.
BNL’s tool design team work very closely with the project engineers who design our plastic bearings. In terms of developing mould tooling expertise, the design team are at the forefront of finding new ways to ensure we meet customer requirements with a moulded product. Tool designers advise on the feasibility of the product design for injection moulding. They advise on any changes needed for the bearing to mould successfully, if it will meet customer specification as a moulded product, and if it will meet our quality standards for accuracy and performance. They design all the injection mould tools for BNL’s bearing products, supporting their manufacture, finishing and maintenance, and working side by side with the tool room in the physical engineering of the tools.
Mike’s training involves observation and model work, improving older designs with newer techniques, comparing drawings versus the physical tools and some design for maintenance and repair. He will be learning and using 3D CAD and Flow Analysis software. “I’m just learning the role but I am really enjoying it. It’s a real mixed bag, every day is different. For me, the design side is a natural progression from the tool making role. They are two sides of the same coin; making tool components and assemblies that eventually produce a specific product, just via a PC rather than a workbench. You need the same problem solving skills, and ability to learn new techniques. You are just using CAD software in conjunction with the machines.”
One of the challenges of tool making and design is precision. Accuracy is key – 0.01mm can scrap two weeks of work, so the aim is to get things right first time. Other challenges are more specific to the recent business climate and Covid restrictions. “The design office has been very quiet in comparison to the tool room. When I started most of the team were still working remotely. The tool room team cannot work from home so the workshop always has people in, with the constant noise of machinery and the background of the rest of the factory activities.”
A challenge for many businesses now is the difficult learning environment for new starters. Completing training via Teams and other methods, rather than face-to-face. “In the tool room you spend more time learning from and with people so you can just quickly ask questions. Learning via video calls was very different. Although, it wasn’t long until the office started to fill up again and it is much busier now.”