A small but mighty force

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Idea management: Westminster Tool President Raymond Coombs, left, and Mark Ypsilantis, vice president of business development (Plastics News photo by Frank Antosiewicz)

PLAINFIELD, CONN. (Oct. 23, 11:30 a.m. ET) — Westminster Tool Inc. President Raymond Coombs expects his employees to come up with at least two new ideas a month.

“There is a passion for innovation with every person in this country,” the executive said Oct. 3 during an interview at the company’s Plainfield headquarters plant.

New ideas are the backbone of Westminster, which Coombs started 13 years ago as a part-time venture from the basement of his house. Its first parts were for a printing press.

Today, high-end values like high-speed milling and robotics help keep costs low, but the dynamic factor in the firm’s success is its 28 employees, said business development Vice President Mark Ypsilantis.

The company follows what Coombs calls “an idea system” — “where in order to work, you have to start with two ideas a month,” he said.

“And then we actually implement them and train people,” Coombs said.

At the start, Coombs said employees feared they might run out of ideas. But the ideas keep coming. So far, a total of 780 ideas have been offered and more than 560 of them implemented.

“When I started the business, all the other guys were going the other way” — that is, getting out of the mold making business, Coombs said.

Employees have helped build the company, Coombs said. Sales have jumped from $3.5 million in the last two years to $5 million this year, he said.

“Today everybody is thinking: ‘What can I do to make the company better?’ ” he said.

Westminster employees’ ideas range from the simple to the complex, but the aim is the same.

The cup dispenser near the water cooler always dropped two cups, and despite using the machine for years, Coombs admitted that he never thought about it much — until an employee suggested crimping the tube so only one cup dropped at a time. That single and very basic idea saved the company $128 a year, Coombs said.

Another idea, of unplugging a water fountain that was no longer in use, created $400 in savings.

Increased efficiency and higher morale are two major consequences of the idea program.

Westminster emphasizes cross-training and is quick to move people around to improve efficiency. In fact, the firm shuts down twice a year for a day of training. The latest seminar — troubleshooting on the Internet — focused on teaching employees how to do research on their projects.

Over the last three years, Westminster has diversified at its 13,000-square-foot facility in Plainfield. It now builds manufacturing cells for high-performance composite materials used in the aerospace industry, and has found another niche working with resin transfer molds.

The company also does low-volume production of high-performance plastic materials to replace metal in parts, and that business is gaining ground, Coombs said.

But Westminster’s mainstay is mold making — with capabilities for up to 64 cavities and a prowess in working with molds of up to 10,000 pounds.

The company does a mixture of low-cavity and high-complexity work. The newest piece of toolmaking equipment is a five-axis Deckel Maho milling machine that has helped boost Westminster’s aerospace work. In late September, the company added its third injection molding machine for tool validation, a 300-ton Toyo that complements its 110- and 150-ton Toyo presses.

Westminster’s key markets are aerospace and defense, medical-device and pharmaceutical products, and consumer packaging, particularly high-volume, high-cavitation injection molds for caps and closures.

The company has come to rely more on strategic partnerships, such as its latest — an agreement with Omni Mold Systems, a supplier of standardized mold components based in Lisbon, Conn.

Westminster also teamed up with a number of other companies to host a demonstration day Oct. 3 for customers who wanted to see how dovetail collapsible core mold technology works.

The DT collapsible core was supplied by Roehr Tool Corp. of Hudson, Mass.