LONG BEACH, CALIF. — Equipment maker ZMD International Inc. likes to take risks.
``We enjoy going out on a limb for these [research and development] projects,'' said Robert Marshall, ZMD sales manager, during a Long Beach plant tour. In turn, ZMD has obtained more work in the thermoforming industry, he said.
Some recent projects:
ZMD created an alignable system for in-mold decorating and registration forming. Bell Sports Inc.'s Giro division is using two of the machines to align helmet graphics. The machines are in plants in Santa Cruz, Calif., and Limerick, Ireland.
ZMD developed a way for Boeing Co.'s Long Beach plant to form a foamed composite for insulating the space shuttle's outside skins. The material has about a 20° F forming window, Marshall said. Too much heat reactivates the foaming, and too little causes it to crack.
ZMD developed an in-line roll-fed machine to thermoform PET packaging up to 2 square feet for the under-$100,000 market. The company exceeded its goal of three cycles per minute.
``Right now, we can run up to 11 cycles per minute,'' Marshall said. ``The machine can accurately make real parts — and the hinge, which is the hardest part — out of recycled material'' within a narrow forming window.
Northrop Grumman Corp. has used a proprietary ZMD core forming press to make engine nacelle components for Boeing Co.'s 747, 757 and 767 aircraft since December. ZMD's system heats, forms and cools a honeycomb core using a large nonstandard oven and a patented clamping device.
``The machine gives us the means to form the core to the shape of a particular die,'' said Daniel Conover, a Northrop Grumman industrial engineer, who headed the project at the firm's Milledgeville, Ga., composites bonding facility.
ZMD primarily makes economical equipment for thin-gauge packaging or single-stage vacuum forming applications. But Jacob Horev, ZMD vice president of marketing and engineering since 1990, bridges the differences between the customers' wishes and practical mechanical solutions.
The in-mold decorating and registering equipment was developed for Bayer Corp.'s film insert molding technical center in Pittsburgh.
A processor screenprints, thermoforms and cuts a decorated shell and then inserts an individual piece into an injection mold cavity. Resin backfills the image. Companies are using the process to make automotive instrument control panels, microwave faceplates and appliance handle strips.
``By keeping accuracy and repeatability high, you can make a part with tolerances of thousandths of an inch,'' Marshall said.
``We found their machines had all the bells and whistles we needed to control process,'' said Bayer's Patrick Griffin in a telephone interview.
``We recommend their machines, and they recommend our films,'' he said. Griffin is senior technical marketing specialist.
ZMD delivered 12 of the machines at up to $75,000 each last year.
Owner Yosi Cohen co-founded ZMD in 1981. The firm operated in a 13,000-square-foot plant in Paramount, Calif., until a mid-1996 move to its 47,000-square-foot Long Beach site. A captive shop makes molds for customers as needed.
With experience in both cut sheet and in-line technologies, ZMD builds thermoforming equipment and turnkey systems to manufacture products ranging from bathtubs and automotive parts to clamshell packaging and electronic and medical handling trays. ZMD views itself as ``a very pure OEM,'' said Marshall. ``We build everything we can, down to our own ceramic infrared heater panels and computer interfaces.''
Repeat customers account for about 50 percent of ZMD sales, Marshall said. ``We have machines in 28 countries [and some] in Hollywood doing backdrops and costume parts.''
ZMD employs about 30 and had 1998 sales of $3.5 million.