Specialties are what B&R does best. The Staatsburg, N.Y., company has carved out its niche by molding plastic parts that are impractical or difficult to make by usual methods, said Robert Fried, co-owner of B&R Specialties Inc.
Since 1982 B&R has been using its patented Unifuse vibrational molding process mainly to make polyethylene materials-handling products - carts, bins, cases and pallets - from single-surface aluminum molds, a factor that keeps costs low, according to Fried. VIM works by a combination of vibration and heat, enough heat to fuse but not melt the pellets; VIM temperatures stay about 100§ F below recommended injection molding temperatures for the materials. But most important, said Fried, is VIM's ability to mold pockets up to 6 feet deep without draw.
What's so special about that? Take, for example, a pallet with 42 pockets, each 6 inches in diameter, that carries automotive struts or shocks and fits into a standard 45-inch by 48-inch shipping container. Tooling costs: just $10,000, are a big VIM selling point. For a dumpster with a 4-yard capacity - requiring a shot size of 185 pounds of plastic - compare VIM's mold cost of $58,000 with roughly $3 million for its injection mold counterpart, Fried said.
He would not disclose sales, which are split between proprietary and custom products for original equipment makers, such as IBM Corp., Pratt & Whitney Co. and Laidlaw Waste System Inc., as well as for custom molding outfits that could not handle a particular job in-house, Fried said.
The firm's most-recent addition, called a Uniform machine - which he likened to thermoforming from pellets - makes shallow trays up to 12 inches deep. The Uniform name comes from the ability to get uniform material thickness, and therefore better strength than vacuum forming, by eliminating draw, Fried said.
``The deeper you get, the weaker you are at the bottom ... because you're stretching the material [with thermoforming]. The deeper you go, the thicker you have to go with your sheet,'' which incurs higher material costs, he said.
The Uniform cost B&R about $300,000 to build.
Of its 12 custom-built Unifuse machines, the largest can accommodate 4-foot by 7-foot parts. By January, the company will have added a machine with more mold capacity and capability for even larger parts, at an investment of $500,000, Fried said. That Unifuse machine is being designed to produce roofing sheets out of cross-linked PE recycled from electrical cables, he said. It also can handle as many as six pallet halves per cycle.
The company continues to tweak the ``relatively automated'' process, pushing for higher production rates and larger machines - geared toward making VIM more economical for runs up to 10,000 pieces - and for better capabilities, Fried said.
One recent breakthrough, after a year of molding polypropylene, is being able to achieve smooth surfaces with the higher-temperature material using a single-surface mold.
``Our second surface was always rough,'' he said, noting that PP replaces stainless steel in an autoclavable medical waste cart for hospitals.
Fried would not say how many people B&R employs. His partner in the firm is Bernie Rottmann.