GRAND RAPIDS, MICH. - Cascade Engineering Inc. is entering into a joint venture with mold maker Kleyn Die Engravers Inc. to further commercialize a patented technology that has the potential to create injection molded automotive fuel tanks, cooling systems and other products. The joint venture, a limited liability company to be called K-C Innovative Technology, gives Cascade exclusive rights to a molding invention developed by Kleyn. The firms expect to complete the agreement in June.
The technology, for which Kleyn received a patent late last year, has been used under license for three years in the production of automotive cooling system surge tanks. To date, 19 models of surge tanks have been made for Detroit's Big Three automakers, said Jhon Kleyn, general manager and chief executive officer.
The mold maker decided to form the exclusive joint venture with Cascade because of the molder's engineering and research capabilities and its established links with automakers, Kleyn said. Cascade previously has not used the Kleyn technology to mold products.
Cascade, based in Grand Rapids, placed 45th in Plastics News' 1995 survey of top injection molders in North America. It posted molding-related sales of $76 million for the fiscal year ending Aug. 31. The company, which focuses on the automo-tive, office furniture and trash container markets, employs 520.
Kleyn, based in the Grand Rapids suburb of Jenison, employs 26 and makes molds for the automotive, toy and coat hanger industries.
Cascade Chairman Fred P. Keller said he was ``cautiously optimistic'' about the promise of the Kleyn invention. The technology has been patented, tested successfully in the field and is raising interest among Cascade's automotive customers, he said.
``It was a commercialized idea, that's what caught my eye,'' Keller said.
The joint venture has sound prospects for the future, although its real potential is not clear, Keller said.
``You take that risk sometimes in the new technology business,'' he said.
The Kleyn invention allows a processor to mold a product with a large number of internal ``undercuts.'' Kleyn said the undercut mold-making apparatus represents a major advance over existing systems.
For example, in molding a surge tank, a clamshell design is used and each of the halves of the tank feature internal walls which, when the tank is welded together, form a series of cells. The undercuts, or openings, in the internal walls of the tank allow a fluid to flow from cell to cell but at a slower, more controlled rate than would be possible in a tank without the internal walls and flow-through undercuts.
Slowing the rate of flow through a surge tank allows the fluid more time to cool. That is increasingly important in the latest generation of automobiles, which run at higher engine temperatures and have less and less space under the hood. The structural design of the injection molded part also is strong enough to handle the high pressures of the cooling system.
Hendrik Kleyn, patent holder and founder of Kleyn Die Engravers, said the molding technology developed to mold the surge tanks was the breakthrough for all the other products.
Using the same mold technology, Kleyn also has received patents for an injection molded fuel tank and a building panel that may be wired through undercut openings. Kleyn is talking about an injection molded radiator and also has built a prototype of a plastic muffler.
The inventor, a Dutch im-migrant, has worked in Canada and the United States as an engraver and mold maker since the 1950s. One of his specialties is highly detailed toy molds, such as those used for hobby kits. Kleyn also is an accomplished firearms engraver.
To create undercuts or openings in the products, the Kleyn mold technology uses a system of lifters. The lifters are long rods that are attached to sections of the male portion of the mold that create the undercuts.
In production of parts, when the mold is separated, the lifters extend from the surface of the mold, pushing out the part.
To complete the removal of the molded part from the mold, ejector pins are used to push the part off of the lifters.
Without using the movable lifters, the part would hang up on the undercuts and could not be removed from the mold. Hendrik Kleyn said that competing lifter systems use pins or rods that enter the mold sideways, or at an oblique angle, and require more complex lifter mechanisms.
Kleyn said one of the chief advantages of his system is the alignment of lifter rods at right angles to the mold base. This, he said, allows for a less complex mold - at a cost about 20 percent lower than competing lifter systems - and the ability to mold a large number of undercuts.