When Bradley Cleveland talks ``rapid injection molding,'' he doesn't mean split-second cycle times. He's talking about taking a product from a computer-aided-design file to an actual molded production part in as few as five days.
Quick, low-cost, low-volume turnaround is the mission of Protomold Co. Inc., a 5-year-old, 73-employee company in Maple Plain, Minn. With about 600 active customers, the company projects 2004 sales will hit $10 million to $12 million, or roughly twice that of 2003.
Protomold runs an undisclosed number of used injection presses, with clamping forces of 33-300 tons, at its one Minneapolis-area plant, Cleveland said in an interview at the National Design Engineering Show, held Feb. 23-26 in Chicago.
``We make 25-10,000 parts, so cycle time doesn't matter to us,'' he said bluntly, explaining why he does not need state-of-the-art presses.
The company is carving out a niche among design engineers who want to see real-life versions of relatively simple injection molded parts in days rather than weeks, and without the cost of cutting mold steel. Cleveland is upfront about Protomold's limitations.
``We can handle only very simple side actions on molds,'' he said, as well as a limited envelope for part geometry, in terms of size and complexity. Maximum part outline is about 71/2 inches by 14 inches, but is subject to an overall limitation of 75 square inches of part area. Maximum part volume is about 15.8 cubic inches. The molds the firm handles also must be able to be cut by a three-axis, high-speed, computer numerically controlled mill.
The company works exclusively with aluminum alloy molds. The company wrote its own automated software program, and does its own direct marketing. It has no sales representatives, but so far, so good, Cleveland said.