An Interview with George Blais, Machining Supervisor
George Blais (pictured here) cuts metal into shapes that create molds to produce microplates. The metals usually arrive as large bars and plates that are progressively machined into pieces that can be assembled into a form. This form can then be mounted and connected to the flow of an injection molding machine. The machining phase has several stages required to optimize the specifications of the final microplate product.
How do you start a project?
We begin by reviewing the drawings from the engineering design group. After our questions and concerns have been addressed, we order the required materials and schedule all of the machining operations required to complete the mold. We have a variety of machinery that we use, including manual milling machines, lathes, surface grinders, manual EDM (electrode discharge machining), CNC Milling, and CNC Wire EDM. These specialized machines are utilized to cut the metal in a very specific way to obtain the required specifications of the molded microplate.
What are the basic steps?
There are two major components to an injection mold: the mold base (the outside of the mold that attached into the molding machine), and the cavity/core components (this is where the product is molded). The components are bolted together and mounted into an injection molding system. The surfaces that contact the molten plastic are the most critical. The fit of the cavity halves and the finish of the cavity surfaces, including any inserts, are critical to achieving dimensional correctness of the final product.
What skill sets are necessary?
In addition to requiring advanced knowledge of the applications of each cutting machine, we also need advanced programming skills to set up the different software programs to control the cutting. I personally have 34 years in the field, and my lead man has 23.
What else is involved?
The molds must be maintained! Each time a mold finishes a microplate production run, we disassemble the entire mold, clean all parts, inspect for damage or wear, repair or replace any worn components, and reassemble for the next run. The microplate molds can last forever if properly maintained. We guarantee one million shots out of a tool if it is built to a Class 1 specification. I would say that 99 percent of all our tools are built in this way.
Where is the fun?
The fun is taking a blank piece of steel and turning it into something of significant value. Because Seahorse Microplates is the premiere custom microplate operation on the planet, it is a fantastic opportunity to drive perfection and develop innovative processes. I take great satisfaction in being able to manufacture something to super close tolerances time and time again—despite the fact that every new mold is always different!
What makes Seahorse Microplates a great place to work?
The team that I have assembled at Seahorse works together very well and we all are focused on getting each component finished correctly and in a timely manner. I am very proud to say that we are on time and have molded product within designed specifications on the first shots about 95 percent of the time.