Mike Noggle, the former president of California custom molder SPM Inc. who was ousted last year, is back in the plastics industry, making vertical injection molding machines.
Noggle has teamed up with Truman J. Stegmaier, a longtime friend, to found Vertech Systems Inc. in Houston.
Vertech should begin full production in November. The company has eight employees working in a leased, 8,000-square-foot plant. Vertech's first model is a vertical press with 15 tons of clamping force. A 30-ton press will follow.
The partners are promoting the machines as fast, highly automated and precise. They have an accumulator, a rarity on such small machines. Stegmaier said speed is the key.
``Insert molding is traditionally a slow, labor-intensive process even with robot loading and unloading, because of the nature of the shuttles moving in and out. I put the accumulator on there just to help decrease the cycle times. You've got instant shot response. You've got instant clamp response,'' he said.
Noggle is handling the business end of Vertech, while Stegmaier runs the technical side.
Noggle was well-known in the plastics industry as president of SPM in Anaheim. His late father, Larry C. Noggle, founded SPM in 1954 as a maker of molds and stamping dies. SPM later got into injection molding. In 1992, the Noggles entered a joint venture with other investors, called Bace Manufacturing Inc., and three years later Bace sold SPM to Dynacast.
SPM President Mike Noggle relocated to Houston. In October 1996, Dynacast officials removed him and his brother, Larry E. Noggle, after disagreements over the direction of the company. Larry E. Noggle, who was SPM executive vice president, is not presently involved with Vertech.
How did Noggle end up building injection molding machines?
In the 1940s, his father became friends with Stegmaier's father, Truman F. Stegmaier, when they worked at the same mold shop in Kansas City, Mo.
When the younger Stegmaier got out of high school, he went to California to serve a mold-making apprenticeship at SPM, where Mike Noggle also worked.
After that, he returned to Kansas City and founded a mold shop in his garage, ITC Plastics. ITC also began injection molding, growing to a peak of 300 employees. He sold the company five years ago.
Although they lived in different parts of the country, ``We kept tabs on each other,'' Noggle said.
Neither man wanted to retire. Noggle was getting antsy. A noncompete clause meant he could not get into molding as a rival of SPM. Meanwhile, in Kansas City, Stegmaier could not stay away from work.
``I love designing and building things. I have since I was 18 years old,'' he said. ``Three years ago, I decided to build a molding machine to do things I always wished [a machine] I could buy ... could do.''
The first machine was a 15-ton press.
``I put 21/2 years and close to $400,000 into this machine. Almost every component on the machine I personally built myself,'' Stegmaier said.
His plan was to tinker, maybe build a few machines as something to do in retirement.
Then he went to NPE 1997.
Stegmaier exhibited at a small booth at the Chicago trade show under the name Micro Precision Molding Systems Inc.
``The response ... just overwhelmed me. During four days at the show, we did 333 personal demonstrations of this machine,'' he said.
Clearly, this would be more than a retirement project.
He telephoned Noggle.
``He thought we ought to go into business. The machinery business was a lot better than the `gardening' business that I was in prior to that — working out in my back yard,'' Noggle said.
Drawings of the machine convinced him.
``I got excited for the opportunity to get back into the industry.''
In early October, Stegmaier moved to Houston to help set things up. He brought along his first machine and lathes, mills and other small pieces of metalworking machine. The partners have invested about $1 million in new computer numerically controlled machines. They are using Pro/Engineer design software.
All moving parts are self-lubricating. Tie bars run on precision roller bearings.
Stegmaier has applied for a patent on the injection unit, which moves the screw using a precision boring mill spindle inside a hydraulic cylinder. The spindle allows the machine to monitor shot sizes very precisely, he said.
Using an accumulator on the small machine also increases the need for accurate control.
``There's a lot of velocity but not much pressure,'' he said.
Using closed-loop control, the machine automatically slows the pressure when the melt front comes to an obstruction, such as the back wall of the mold.
``It's a very fast, very sensitive machine,'' Stegmaier said, which is important in insert molding, when out-of-place pins can damage the mold. ``You can lay a piece of Kleenex across the parting line. It will sense it, stop and go into the alarm.''
Vertech machines also have a shuttle table that moves in and out from the machine, instead of the traditional side-to-side motion. The parts come out in one place, making it easier for the operator or a robot to remove them and place inserts for the next molding cycle.
``The operator can virtually sit in one place and run the machine,'' Stegmaier said.
The company's initial, 15-ton press will come with both single and double shuttle tables. Vertech will offer a rotary table with the 30-ton press.
The shuttle design allows the accumulator and precise mold close and clamping system to move quickly.
Vertech is using an Allen-Bradley 9,000 controller. Vertech has designed its own software.
Noggle called Stegmaier ``a terrific craftsman'' who started with sketches and ended up with a machine.
For Stegmaier, Vertech is a labor of love.
``I actually made a wooden model of all the major parts and put it all together to see how it would look, aesthetically,'' he said.