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TEC mixes processes for big, complex parts

By: Bill Bregar

October 10, 2012

GRAND RAPIDS, MICH. (Oct. 10, 1 p.m. ET) — Plastics Unlimited Inc. lived up to its name — of unlimited potential — by jumping into a process that combines thermoforming and composites processing to make large, complex parts, according to President Terry Kieffer.

“One of our biggest advantages was that we didn’t know anything about it,” he said in a presentation at the SPE Thermoforming Conference in Grand Rapids.

Members of the Kieffer family, who had their roots in framing, started Plastics Unlimited in 1993. The following year, they bought a composites fabrication firm. The rest is history, as Plastics Unlimited patented the process called TEC, or tool-less engineered composites.

Terry’s son, Travis, explained the process that makes very strong parts that a high-gloss finish. He showed a video of a dropped cinderblock bouncing harmlessly off a thermoformed part.

Travis Kieffer, chief operating officer, said that, in the TEC process, the thermoformed part acts as the mold, for the composites resin infusion process. You can mold right into the part some strengthening components, such as fiber-reinforced plastic profiles, foamed parts and metal inserts, fasteners and wood stiffeners, he said.

“TEC can be as strong and as stiff as metal, and way lighter than metal,” Travis Kieffer said.

Plastics Unlimited has made large parts for several markets, such as hoods for earth-moving machines, panels for trains, parts for food-service, aeronautics and military markets.

“With our TEC process, we are … pushing the industry into areas where it has not been before,” he said.

Terry Kieffer said the firm’s employees work well as a team. “This is a really cool industry that we’re in, with composites,” he said.