For every molder or mold maker who has a story about a venture with an inventor gone wrong, there are inventors who can tell equally woeful tales about dealing with the plastics industry. There's John and Jamie Silano, for example. They're a young couple living in Roseland, N.J., with their two new babies. One is their infant son, Robert. Their other baby is the Snap, Pour & Seal, a polypropylene lid they now produce through their company, Plastic Container Lid Corp.
After more than three years, the product is finally at the marketing stage, but along the way there were plenty of stumbling blocks, John Silano said, many of them in the plastics industry.
``Mold makers were a stumbling block,'' said Silano, who obtained tooling quotes from seven of them. Pricing ranged from a high of $40,000 to a low bid of $20,000.
If that wasn't confusing enough, Silano said when he visited them, some were mold brokers - not mold-making shops. One worked out of the basement of his home with only a fax machine for equipment. The highest bidder, a large mold maker/molder with several production buildings, never offered to show him around the place, Silano said.
Getting a prototype made was another hurdle, he said. He had bids of as much as $2,500, but ended up getting one made at the New Jersey Institute of Technology for $750.
The Snap, Pour & Seal lid snap-fits on size 10 cans, used primarily by restaurants and institutions. It features a pour spout with a snap-on cap that doubles as a 6-ounce measuring cup. It retails for $3.99.
With his background in engineering and retail, and the restaurant background of his wife's family, Silano knew everything he needed to create the product - until it came to the molds and molding. He used caution, buying the mold like he was buying a new car.
He decided on Springfield Tool & Die Co. Inc. in Springfield, N.J., because the place looked like a tool shop, Silano said.
``The guys all had on aprons and I got to meet them personally at their machines,'' he said.
The whole process took longer than Silano planned.
``I didn't realize how difficult this whole process is,'' he said. ``Getting the patent was the easy part.''
Mark Urgola and his partners didn't have quite the luck that Silano did. Through the company they formed, Practical Enterprises Inc. of Lyndhurst, N.J., Urgola, Scott Fellini and Dennis Kenny are now ready to market the Umbrella Mate, a carrying case that holds a beach umbrella and other beach gear, and also doubles as an umbrella stand and table.
He doesn't know the whole story, but Urgola said he believes the mold maker got into financial trouble and tried to cut corners.
``Where it was supposed to be hardened steel, the mold was aluminum,'' he said. ``The first time we put it into a 500-ton press, the mold's side blew out and it crushed.''
Also, the water lines in the mold base, which is 54 inches long by 2 feet wide, weren't made properly and had to be redone by another mold maker - Springfield Tool & Die The trio's $50,000 mold has cost them $90,000 so far, and their product is just being introduced to the market.
``All this trouble knocked me out of the market for two seasons,'' Urgola said.
Urgola, a carpenter by trade, said his experiences soured him on the whole plastics industry.
``I condemned the business for awhile, but I've since met some very nice, knowledgeable people out there,'' he said.
Bill Francen, engineering manager for Springfield Tool & Die, said some inventors ``have the money, but don't know anything about the plastics industry'' so they end up with ``butchers'' because they don't know any better.
Urgola said if he had it to do over, he'd get a consultant with 30-40 years of experience in the plastics industry and get more input up front.
``I'd take more time and talk with more people in the business,'' he said. ``But, you get anxious and want to get started on the idea. Time is money.''