Innovative tools and automation enable a new range of composite window fountains


Photo credit: Commercial Tool Group

Traditional metal window wells that are installed as covers around basement windows will rust over time, which can degrade the strength of the well and even collapse under the pressure of the backfill – soil that is backfilled to replace the soil that is inserted into the window was excavated. RockWell Window Wells (Springville, Utah, USA) has been offering a line of fiber reinforced plastic (FRP) window fountains and related products with lighter weight and higher quality, durability, temperature resistance and impact resistance than typical metal offerings for years. According to Vaughn Cook, President of RockWel, RockWell wanted to offer a lower cost and more aesthetically pleasing composite option for its latest Denali line than previously on the market. “We wanted to build a high quality part that would compete well with a steel window, but with better properties like impact resistance and light weight,” he says.

The company’s original RockWell FRP line of window fountains is made via vacuum assisted resin transfer molding (VARTM) and, according to Cook, is “a very impressive high-end product with a detailed molded brick structure that looks and feels like real stone.” About two years ago, Cook decided to and his team to develop a new line of glass mat thermoplastic (GMT) window fountains to get a lower price on the market. “We couldn’t use such a convenient manufacturing process [for the Denali wells] – The process had to be much faster and cheaper to make. Then we turned to Commercial Tool, ”says Cook.

RockWell and Commercial Tool Group (CTG, Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA) teamed up at an Amerimold trade show in Novi, Michigan. Cook was looking for a mold maker with large CNC cutters for massive compression molds who was familiar with composite technology – and, according to Cook, one who could add an additional level of automation to the process.

CTG was a perfect fit as a multi-business company including Commercial Tool & Die (CTD), which specializes in large-scale CNC machining for mold making, and CG Automation & Fixture (CGAF), which specializes in a variety of down-line equipment and fixtures as well advanced material handling systems and robotic articulation.

After a series of CAD reviews and working prototypes, the Commercial Tool Group made two large production molds weighing 50,000 pounds out of aluminum. RockWell uses Solidworks for design work, while Commercial Tool Group uses the easily networked Siemens NX suite of CAD / CAM / CAE.

Photo credit: Commercial Tool Group

The shaped sections begin as large aluminum billets and are processed on a Zimmermann portal milling machine in the CTG factory. According to Scott Chase, director of engineering and sales for Commercial Tool & Die, the typical finished shape is 66 “wide x 109” long x 60 “high. The molds use an in-process thermal imaging camera to monitor temperature changes. In addition to meeting the structural and size requirements, Cook added, “Scott and his team were also able to help us come up with a design that would create a more aesthetically pleasing window, but still include the structural elements to give the drill holes the necessary strength to lend we need. CTG added a textured grain to the mold surface to decorate the part. “A robotic hinge system for loading and unloading was also developed and provided by CTG to work with the molds during production.

CTG also produced three test forms during the development process for this project. The molds were developed using the NX CAD / CAM / CAE software from Siemens and, according to Chase, are among the largest production molds CTG has ever made. The entire project took a little over a year, from initial contacts to making the first mold for RockWell.

Composite windows good
Photo credit: Commercial Tool Group

The CTG system benefits RockWell in several ways as the system is more automated and allows the company to produce larger quantities of product with greater consistency and traceability. In addition, it is much easier for RockWell to access all of the information one company needs than coordinating with three or four different companies, according to Cook. This process minimizes errors, which shortens production lead times and keeps costs down. Without the collaboration between RockWell and Commercial, Cook believes there would be delays in planning, higher costs, and lower build quality in the end products his company produces.

CTG made adjustments to the software programs and processes on site at the RockWell facility. “Without Commercial’s automated systems, it would have been impossible to manufacture these products because we calculated the cost and safety risks would have been too high,” adds Cook.

“While this was RockWell’s first venture with Commercial, it will certainly not be our last,” he concludes. “It was a perfect complement to our success with this new Denali line that is already gaining popularity in the market.” RockWell window fountains are sold to contractors and home builders through various wholesalers.

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