MONT. ASSEMBLY FIRM FINDS MOLDING NICHE

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A small Montana outdoor-sports-specialty assembler backed into injection molding in June 1995, after tiring of large plastics processors to the East that provided less-than-enthusiastic service on small custom orders.

Opening in 1990, the business assembled and sold a proprietary line of plastic optic covers, sling swivels and accessories for hunters, shooters and photographers.

``We might do 15,000-20,000 pieces, [which was] a pain for big molders,'' Laura Pierzina, president of Quake Industries Inc., said in a telephone interview.

A realization emerged. ``We saw a need to provide injection molding'' for the inventors, home-based companies, start-ups and free spirits in the state with a Big Sky reputation, Pierzina said.

Becoming one of Montana's few molders, the firm bought an almost-new 220-ton Cincinnati Milacron machine in 1994 and added an 11-year-old 300-ton Engel press last year.

Quake injection molds thermoplastics for all retail product output and proprietary products, and also does some metal insert molding. The firm makes a variety of prototypes and short runs and offers secondary operations such as pad printing and blister-pack packaging.

The city gave a zoning variance to owners Laura and Ron Pierzina to operate the equipment in an 8,000-square-foot building in a retail area of Belgrade, northwest of Bozeman. But the site does not suit Quake's growth, and the firm plans to build nearby.

Meanwhile, Ron Pierzina, vice president and Laura's husband, invented a sling for use with a rifle or bow. It is made with Shell's Kraton thermoplastic rubber and incorporates Quake's patented swivels made with DuPont's Delrin thermoplastic acetal. Thermoplastic rubber is molded onto a nylon web in the tool.

Quake displayed the item at the Firearms Trade Expo, held April 11-13 in Atlantic City, N.J.

Quake employs 11 and recorded 1996 sales of $1.2 million. Custom molding accounted for about 35 percent, and the hunting and sports market, 65 percent.