Gerald Hobson is making blow molds again, nearly three years after his tooling company, Hobson Mould Works Inc., went out of business.
Hobson has purchased the assets of another mold making company that had stopped production and was on the sales block, Preferred Die & Mold Corp. of Elk Grove Village, Ill. In Preferred's case, owner Donald Cygan had decided it was time to retire after almost 40 years in the business, Hobson said.
Instead of keeping the equipment in the Chicago suburb, Hobson has moved it to his home turf in Shell Rock, Iowa, and formed a new company, Preferred Tooling LLC. The 5,000-square-foot site, on the outskirts of the rural, northern Iowa community, once served as a production building for Hobson Mould Works and still is owned by Hobson.
Preferred will have the same focus as Hobson's former company: making industrial blow molds for both automotive and nonautomotive applications, he said Dec. 11. The company is starting with four employees, half of them in the family.
Hobson's nephew Robert is the plant manager, and his son Andy is serving as sales manager. The company already has finished its first mold, he said.
Hobson said the tooling market has gotten slightly better since the dark days of December 2000, when Hobson Mould laid off 100 of its 140 employees and entered Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. After several fruitless attempts to find a buyer, the cash-insolvent company closed in May 2001.
At the time, the closure was a shock to a tooling industry that was just entering a difficult phase. The company was one of the larger makers of industrial blow molds in North America, and Gerald Hobson was a leading figure in the market since co-founding the company in 1982.
Hobson said that with prices still depressed for tooling assets, he could not resist getting back into the business and taking advantage of better times ahead.
``It's a great time to start a business, because equipment can be purchased at low prices right now,'' he said. ``We're hoping to position ourselves to ride the wave upward and do it with low overhead.''
Hobson bought three computer numerically controlled machining centers, several electrical-discharge machines and some auxiliary equipment to set up the plant.
``We bought a nice starter package,'' he said. A nearby machining company also can help with large projects, he said.
Preferred Die & Mold quietly wound down operations last year, Hobson said. The company had laid off its employees, about a dozen people, and was seeking a buyer so Cygan could leave the business, Hobson said.
Hobson's old company had started in a similar fashion 21 years ago, buying the assets of Chicago-based Burnside Steel Foundry and then trucking the equipment to Shell Rock to start what was then called Hobson Bros. Aluminum Foundry & Mould Works Inc.
Since then, northern Iowa has become a blow mold center. Hobson's brother, Dennis, owns American Tool & Engineering Inc. of Greene, Iowa, and several other shops - some with former Hobson workers - also are in the area.
Hobson will continue in his second career, started in 2001, as an industry consultant to blow molders. He also will retain his partnership with Progressive Components Inc., a mold components supplier based in Wauconda, Ill. The company is selling a line of blow mold components based upon Hobson's technology.
Several of those components, including an in-mold guillotine system, have been licensed by other toolmakers, and Progressive has published its first catalog of standardized blow mold parts.