HUNTINGTON BEACH, CALIF. — One-year-old Robot Custom Tool & Molding Inc. operates as a traditional shop with the lofty aim to combine processing features of injection molding and polyurethane casting in a new way. "We will dramatically improve — worldwide — the physical properties of cast urethane through injection molding," President Tom Peterson said in an interview at Robot's facility in Huntington Beach.
That sounds audacious and may take a while, but he has a track record.
Beginning in 1987, Peterson built Hyper Inc. into a major maker of open-cast polyurethane wheels for in-line skates and skateboards and decimated most competitors. Hyper employed up to 1,000, sold product in 80 countries and was a huge domestic PU consumer. The business operates now as Bravo Corp. in Cerritos, Calif.
Peterson sold a minority share of Hyper in 1997 and a larger portion in late 1998 to Center Properties LLC of New York.
"I retain a minority share, but have no active involvement in the business," he said.
Initially, Hyper was undercapitalized, and Peterson built the first machine.
"This time, I am starting with the very best equipment and the very best people" and some capital from selling Hyper shares, he said. So far, he has invested nearly $2 million in equipment, and "we're just getting started."
Peterson incorporated Robot in March 1999 and thoroughly renovated the 20,000-square-foot building he owned. Robot molded its first part three months later.
"My idea is to mold engineering-grade materials for high-end parts," he said. He lured Clay Stadler, a specialist in difficult parts, from Littleton, Colo., to run all manufacturing functions as a partner and vice president. For 14 years Stadler had operated his father's business, which began supplying Peterson's various enterprises with molded parts in 1981.
A brother, Chris Stadler, runs Robot's toolroom.
Their father, Francis Stadler, owned Stadler Mold & Die Inc. until he closed the Colorado business in 1999 and retired. Five sons worked there.
Mostly, Robot uses polycarbonate, nylon or PU in molding parts, initially for vacuum cleaner magnets, radar detectors and recreational products.
Robot operates six Milacron and Toshiba injection molding machines with clamping forces of 55-250 tons.
"Our goal is to have a total of 15-18 machines in this building by the end of 2001," Peterson said.
The mold shop has a computer numerically controlled milling machine, an electric discharge machine and various mills.
Robot employs nine and expects to grow to 18 in the existing space, Peterson said.
Neal Piper, vice president of technology, is creating proprietary chemical formulas and establishing an on-site quality laboratory. The firm retains custom compounders to make test batches.
"Eventually, we will blend in-house," Peterson said. He also supervises the company's design efforts, which include two SolidWorks software licenses.
>From inception, Robot opted to document work to qualify for ISO 9002 registration. The final audit is scheduled in mid-July.
Peterson owns and currently leases out an adjacent building. He expects to take occupancy there by 2002.
"No one has gotten close to the physical properties that cast urethane can give via injection molding," Peterson said. "You can get a better product at half the material cost."
Robot targets any rubber application where the material is failing. "Urethane is up to 30 times better than rubber," he said.
In a fast-track project, Robot obtained a customer's sign-off on the design of an automotive brake bleeder valve Feb. 10, delivered samples in five different urethane grades Feb. 28 and, after a 30-day field trial, began shipping product in early April.
Separately, Robot is developing an eight-cavity tool to mold an agricultural irrigation part, replacing rubber with urethane. The job will run on a 500-ton injection molding press that Robot is ordering for delivery by August.
Robot expects to focus on jobs in the West but is not limited.
"It is easier to do business with someone close, but we have some work in Tennessee, Texas and Colorado now," he said.
However the concept plays out, there is no doubt about who is in charge.
"I am a fully vertical kind of guy," Peterson said. "I need to control," and that means keeping most functions in-house.