Molding color cables reduces cycle time, cuts customer costs

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Story by Anthony Ricchiazzi on 12/11/2017
TOBYHANNA ARMY DEPOT, Pa. A customer's requirement to change the color of cables resulted in a cost avoidance of $1.7 million through fiscal year 2019.

The Nett Warrior program has generated more cable fabrication here than any other program at Tobyhanna. So far, more than 116,000 cables have been produced. The customer, Program Executive Office (PEO) Ground Soldier Systems, tasked Tobyhanna with producing cables that meet new camouflage requirements, in this case, coyote brown.

The Nett Warrior system provides warfighters secure and mobile voice, video and data communications capabilities. With this system leaders can send information using services such as e-mail, text messages and icons that signify different threat levels.

"PEO Soldier wants to eliminate black from all Nett Warrior Soldierworn components, and they want certain cables to have a cloth covering, called Nomex, for strength and ease of use," said Lead Electronics Engineer Stan Czock, Production Engineering Directorate.

But the cable molding machines and material Tobyhanna was using could not meet the new specifications. A value engineering team was tasked to investigate options to implement the color change.

"We had to find a molding compound that worked with the machines we had in mind, which use low pressure to inject-mold the material, rather than the high pressure machines we were using," Czock said.

An analysis was conducted to examine alternatives to the current high pressure injection molding since that process was only viable as a black color. The team consisted of Czock, Patrick Tierney, a chemical engineer in the Continuous Process Improvement Directorate; Richard Stetler, an electronics technician in the Production Engineering Directorate; Martin Nealon, a project manager in the Production Management Directorate and James Waters, an electronics engineer and value engineering study facilitator, for the Continuous Process Improvement Directorate.

The solution was a thermoplastic process that melts colored plastic beads and quickly injects the melted material into molds surrounding the base connector, which cools rapidly.

Tooling is much simpler than the current method with simpler handling and a significant time savings, Czock said.

The alternate process employs a table top machine with plastic bead hopper. Over-molds typically take approximately 1 minute to complete, resulting in significant processing time reduction and related cost.

As part of the evaluation process, research was completed on the plastic bead material that would meet the camouflage requirements as well as the Nett Warrior performance criteria, specifically environmental specifications.

As part of the evaluation process, research was completed on the plastic bead material that would meet the camouflage requirements as well as the Nett Warrior performance criteria, specifically environmental specifications.

"We obtained a small quantity of the appropriate color material and had the potential vendor over-mold 20 sample Nett Warrior cables," said Janelle Farkas, a logistics management specialist in the directorate.

Personnel of the Logistics Support Activity's laboratory test facility here performed a series of tests on the sample cables to validate the compliance of the new machines and materials to the requirements. These included high temperature, low temperature and solar radiation.

The testing provided favorable results - no degradation occurred. The proposed machine and material met specifications. Three machines were purchased and are now operating to produce cables in less time and at less cost than the original method.

"The times savings alone will pay for the machines," Czock noted. "And we can match any color that is required."

Jim Holiday, liaison for Program Manager Nett Warrior, agrees and added that he believes the cost savings projection will be exceeded. "Tobyhanna's proposed solution worked from the get go," he said.

"There is also considerably less waste with this new system," Farkas said. "With the old system, the scrap rate was high. With this, it's practically zero. Very little trim work is required and what little scrap is left can be reused. If a cable mold comes out deformed, we can remold it."

Tobyhanna Army Depot is a recognized leader in providing world-class logistics support for command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance systems across the Department of Defense. Tobyhanna's Corporate Philosophy, dedicated work force and electronics expertise ensure the depot is the Joint C4ISR provider of choice for all branches of the Armed Forces and industry partners.

Tobyhanna's unparalleled capabilities include full-spectrum logistics support for sustainment, overhaul and repair, fabrication and manufacturing, engineering design and development, systems integration, post production software support, technology insertion, modification, foreign military sales and global field support to our Joint Warfighters.

About 3,200 personnel are employed at Tobyhanna, which is located in the Pocono Mountains of northeastern Pennsylvania. Tobyhanna Army Depot is part of the U.S. Army Communications-Electronics Command. Headquartered at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland, the command's mission is to research, develop, acquire, field and sustain communications, command, control computer, intelligence, electronic warfare and sensors capabilities for the Armed Forces.

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