Ironwood Plastics Inc. of Ironwood, Mich., is adding reel-to-reel molding capability to supply a customer in the consumer electronics market.
``We take a stamped insert on a continuous reel, index it through a vertical press, mold around the insert and reel it up on the other side,'' company executive Scott Stephens said in a telephone interview.
The firm installed the apparatus and loop control on a 45-ton Arburg injection molding machine and uses a Seiki Spear hot-runner system and a DVT series 800 six-head visual inspection system. A reel change occurs every 12 hours. Thomas Engineering Co. of Minneapolis stamps and plates the inserts.
The capability may open the way to mold other small parts.
``After we prove out the system and are into normal production, we'll try to identify potential customers that could benefit from similar customized systems,'' Stephens said.
Ironwood intends to take full responsibility for all aspects of a reel-to-reel program ``if [customers] let us choose venders.''
Generally, the 44,000-square-foot Ironwood plant concentrates on volume production runs using 18 injection molding presses with clamping forces of 45-250 tons. The site employs 100 and has a Motan materials-handling system and overhead cranes in a clean-climate-controlled facility.
Another plant in Two Rivers, Wis., has 25,000 square feet, employs 40 and focuses on shorter runs using 10 presses with clamping forces of 45-175 tons.
Product development, prototyping and most mold design work occurs in Two Rivers, but both locations build molds. The company has five Pro/Engineering computer-aided-design software workstations, five Cadkey CAD systems and an Acu-Carv computer-assisted-manufacturing station.
Internal resources supply about 80 percent of the firm's need for mold design and mold building. The Two Rivers operation has relationships with small businesses to supply stereolithography for rapid prototyping projects.
For the fiscal year ended April 30, Ironwood Plastics had sales of $12.2 million including $8.9 million from injection molding operations. Stephens forecasts companywide sales of about $15 million for the current fiscal year.
Gordon K. Stephens founded Ironwood Plastics in 1979 and continues as chairman, delegating leadership to four sons. Each is a vice president. Scott handles administrative duties, Mark oversees Ironwood operations, Gregg deals with Two Rivers operations and Robert manages tooling and engineering. The Two Rivers plant opened in 1986.
Now, the firm is exploring expansion into the Southwest, Scott Stephens said.