ANN ARBOR, MICH. — When automotive supplying giant Textron Automotive Co. heard about a 50-employee operation that had developed a new closed-loop injection molding technology, it brought in a team to check it out. At M&C Advanced Processes Inc. in Ann Arbor, the company saw a system in action that maintained optimal conditions during molding and was capable of making adjustments every 2 milliseconds, vastly improving quality on some of the firm's toughest parts.
"We took the most skeptical people over there, and when they saw what they could do, there wasn't a skeptic in the group," said Jerry L. Mosingo, executive vice president of manufacturing operations for Textron's Automotive Trim division.
Now Textron has bought the business and its proprietary technology and plans to use it throughout its $1.7 billion injection molding business.
Textron completed the purchase for an undisclosed amount March 31. Textron has not settled on a permanent name for its new acquisition.
"Besides the automotive [industry], there are applications in the medical field, aircraft, furniture — any other application out there can use this," Mosingo said.
M&C founder Milko Guergov obtained the first patents on his gas counter pressure system in 1994, which is designed to maintain the best possible conditions inside the mold at all times.
He compares it to the cruise control on a car, which takes readings of all the variables on a drive — from hills to head winds — and adjusts the acceleration. Gas counter pressure maintains constant pressure throughout the shot, by taking readings of internal melt pressure during the filling and pack-and-hold stages of the cycle.
"We try to eliminate, as much as possible, the opinion side, the `black art' of molding," Guergov said in an April 5 interview.
Gas counter pressure pressurizes the mold cavity and the nozzle area with 200 pounds per square inch of air. Having the cavity under pressure allows the system to, in turn, measure that pressure — and control it — in real time, as the plastic melt enters the mold.
As injection begins, pressure transducers constantly measure changes in the internal melt pressure. The closed-loop system feeds back into the machine and adjusts injection pressure, on each shot.
By controlling internal melt pressure, GCP ensures that each section of the part solidifies with equal pressure, resulting in a balanced flow and reduced level of molded-in stress.
"He's created a way to use the mortar [to bind the plastics] that's always been there, but we can never really use," Mosingo said.
Another result from the high level of air pressure is a higher level of internal melt pressure — thanks to resistance to the melt caused by the air pressure. The melt pressure holds the outside surface of the melt against the mold walls, so there is no warping, sink, shrink, knit lines or surface stresses, Guergov said.
Starting in May, Textron tried it out on three different trim programs before it committed to the process: an instrument-panel cover previously prone to sinks and flow marks; the lid of a storage bin where warping led to a gap of 3.5 millimeters on one side and 6.16mm on the other; and a lift-gate sill for a sport utility vehicle with which it previously experienced no problems.
The tests eliminated defects in the cover and storage-bin lid while still flying through the sill without any new problems cropping up, Mosingo said. GCP can be built into new presses or retrofitted onto existing machines.
The process also will work for mixed materials, allowing for co-injection molding of thermoplastics with sawdust or even the ground-up remains of a vehicle, with everything from metal to glass to foam, Guergov said.
M&C already has turned out samples of everything from replacement hip bones to seats and golf balls.
"People kept telling me I sounded like a snake-oil salesman when I told them about this," Mosingo said.
Other companies have expressed interest in the process, Guergov said, but Textron made the winning bid to buy M&C and the rights to GCP.
"I do feel like I'm selling my child, but every parent wants their child to grow," he said.
Guergov will remain on board to develop new uses for the technology while Ed Rutkowske, vice president of operations, will oversee day-to-day operations at M&C.
Textron will add GCP to all of its injection molding during the coming years, beginning with the automotive trim division. Mosingo would not specify the business' schedule to bring it on line.
"There are so many more things we can develop yet with Milko," he said. "We're just touching the surface in terms of what we can do."