SAN DIEGO — Major prototype producer and toolmaker Arrk Corp. is moving down the production chain into injection molding.
"Our customers are pushing us and driving us down the road" to high-volume injection molding, said Tony Moran, vice president and general manager for the Japanese-owned firm's Western Hemisphere subsidiary, Arrk Product Development Group.
Recent acquisitions have given the company a taste of high-volume molding. Arrk is "looking to acquire that expertise instead of going through the learning curve," Moran said in an office interview in San Diego.
Arrk's high-volume molding efforts include:
Equity interests in sites in Tijuana, Mexico, and Cholburi, Thailand.
A pending joint venture involving more Thailand molding capacity.
Plans to establish a joint molding venture in the vicinity of Shenzhen, China.
"China is our No. 1 goal right now," Moran said. "We are putting the final business plan together."
More Mexican activity also is under consideration. Numerous customers want Arrk's toolmaking capability in Guadalajara, he said.
"We look to establish ourselves in toolmaking with a bit of overflow molding — here and there — and then grow the molding out," he said.
Arrk is exploring other Mexican alliances, possibly in Mexicali or Monterrey.
Injection molding might account for more than one-half of Arrk's sales for the fiscal year starting in April, according to Moran.
Arrk, which trades on the Nikkei stock exchange, had sales of $147 million for the fiscal year ended March 31. The company projects sales of $200 million in the current fiscal year, Moran said.
Osaka, Japan-based Arrk employs 700, including about 150 in the United States at the 130,000-square-foot San Diego facility and offices and operations in eight states.
Arrk's U.S. prototyping and mold-making capabilities are significant: 17 stereolithography machines used to make protoypes, three DTM Sinterstation 2500-plus systems, and 12 computer numerically controlled machines, including Haas and Fadel machining centers.
"We are the largest prototype company in the United States, Japan and Europe, the three main economies that are developing products," Moran said.
Some of Arrk's customers include Intel Corp., Hewlett-Packard Co., Compaq Computer Corp., Dell Computer Corp. and Siemens AG.
The San Diego site added injection molding in 1996 and now has four presses, including electric Roboshots of 110 and 165 tons and Sandrettos of 100 and 200 tons.
In April, Arrk acquired 40 percent of Tokyo-based Hiraiseimitsu Corp., which included stakes in the Mexico and Thailand injection molding subsidiaries.
Some of Arrk's other recent acquisitions include:
Controlling interest of Shangent Mold Engineering Co. of Taipei, Taiwan, and all of Styles RPD of Teesside, England, last year.
The rapid prototyping division of Formation Ltd. in Gloucester, England, in 1999.
A 40 percent stake of Yasuda Seisakusho Co. Ltd. of Tokyo in 1998.
Other Arrk operations are located in Italy, France, South Korea and Malaysia.
While Arrk focuses on prototypes, low-quantity molding and bridge tooling, the next step is to find more molding, Moran said.
Arrk is completing a joint venture with another Japanese firm. Their current project involves components for a brand-name Internet appliance.
"That program alone is in the $10 million range" and involves a couple hundred-thousand units a month, Moran said. Arrk makes the molds in Taiwan and Thailand.
Worldwide, Arrk made 700 tools last year. About half were for low-volume projects, and the rest were traditional production-type tools, he said.
"We are building up our back end because some of our customers just want to come to a one-stop shop to take them from start to finish, and they don't have to go through that learning curve every time," Moran said.
The San Diego plant, Arrk's key U.S. operation, received ISO 9002 certification in December. The company's Gloucester and Taipei facilities had been certified earlier.