Four years ago, Mack Molding Co. took a close look at its long-standing business supplying parts for computers, printers and other office equipment. It knew the business trend moving manufacturing for those items to Asia was not about to flow back to North America.
So the firm changed its customer lineup, moving into new markets.
Now the medical field accounts for 25 percent of the customer base and sales for the firm's Northern Division, up from near zero in 2000. Mack expects that to rise to 50 percent within the next few years.
And one of the company's new customers helped it bring home top awards from the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc.'s Structural Plastics Division conference March 20-23 in Lake Buena Vista.
Mack's work on Zoll Medical Corp.'s AED Pro portable automated external defibrillator won it both the top Conference Award and the top honor in the medical/scientific category.
There were 38 entries in this year's competition (down from the 49 last year), with parts made using a mixture of processing methods - with some using more than one. Three entries used coinjection molding and four used external gas assist to provide both structural integrity and a flawless exterior surface.
The AED Pro is a prime example of the industry's improving capabilities, noted Jack Avery, principal of Salt Lake City-based Avery Plastics Consulting, who surveyed the entries for the media.
The defibrillator, introduced in February by Chelmsford, Mass.-based Zoll, uses three different injection molding processes, with gas assist, insert molding and overmolding, he noted. It also uses three different materials in one compact package.
Mack uses a combination of polycarbonate, thermoplastic polyurethane and thermoplastic elastomer in the 20 different parts produced for the device. There is a watertight seal for an LCD display, overmolding for gaskets and thick walls created through gas assist to ensure the device can withstand a drop of more than 5 feet.
The tooling produced by MSI Mold Builders Inc. of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, includes a mold for the door capable of molding the substrate, overmold and gasket.
The external TPE surface is intended to make the AED easy to handle even for a paramedic wearing protective gloves in a messy environment, said Jeff Somple, Northern Division president for Arlington, Vt.-based Mack.
The systems are used globally in emergency medical settings, with an estimated 7,500 similar devices sold worldwide last year.
``Anywhere you'd have 50 or 100 people gathered anywhere, you're going to be seeing these,'' Somple said.
The complex manufacturing demands were right within Mack's revised business outlook.
``When we saw business going offshore, we said, what do we do well, what skills can we bring to other products,'' he said. ``We're spending a lot more time analyzing our customers, deciding where we want to be.''
* Judge's Award: Mercury Marine used DuPont Co.'s Zytel nylon to replace the housing on a fuel supply module for the Verado outboard engine that previously used seven different metals.
The resulting component, made with tooling by Industrial Molds Inc. of Rockford, Ill., provides a 35 percent reduction in weight and eliminates 31 potential leaks. By integrating connections and seals, the unit also saves the company 13 percent in costs, even though the previous unit was made in Asia.
Pyramid Plastics Inc. of Rockford is the molder on the program, with final assembly of the module by system integrator Magneti Marelli Powertrain USA LLC in Sanford, N.C.
* Recreation & Leisure: Motorcycle maker Buell Motorcycle Co. of East Troy, Wis., wanted its new Lightning Cityx sport motorcycle to young riders accustomed to the bright colors in today's consumer electronics and turned to Bemis Manufacturing Co. of Sheboygan Falls, Wis., to supply the components.
The bike has a tank cover and air box with a transparent, chemical-resistant blend of polycarbonate and PBT that supplies the colorful highlights while also remaining rigid at high speeds. CDM Tool & Manufacturing Co. of Hartford, Wis., supplies the tooling for the injection molded components.
* Retail/Consumer Products & People's Choice: Tupperware Corp. kept the design, production and tooling in-house for its new FlatOut Collapsible Storage Containers.
The injection molded system uses a combination of polypropylene and thermoplastic elastomer for a mix of rigid and flexible ridges in a colorful container that can fold in on itself for storage, but expand to a variety of sizes for use.
The Orlando, Fla.-based company is molding the containers at its Hemingway, S.C., plant, with tooling produced by its Diecraft Australia facility in Reservoir, Australia.
* Single Part: Tupperware's olive oil bottle turns to a mixture of in-house design and outside expertise in molding and toolmaking. The polycarbonate bottle boasts a thin wall and twisting shape to catch consumers' eyes.
Several molders rejected the concept early on before Nypro Inc. of Clinton, Mass., agreed to make the bottle through injection blow molding. R.J. Abramo Associates Inc. of Halliston, Mass., made the steel, two-cavity mold, which includes a textured base for easy handling.
* Building & Construction: In a tie vote, judges honored the half-in-ground junction box made by Horizon Plastics Co. Ltd. and Site Lock, a portable wireless alarm system produced for toolmaker DeWalt Industrial Tool Co.
MSI Mold Builders was the mold maker for the junction box, produced by Cobourg, Ontario-based Horizon with polyethylene through low-pressure structural foam.
DeWalt's wireless alarm, created in collaboration with Minco Group of Dayton, Ohio, which was molder and mold maker on the program, provides an anti-theft device for contractors at building sites.
The system includes motion sensors, vibration sensors, sirens and a strobe light encased in injection molded polycarbonate and ABS. The base unit also includes a 1.2-watt cellular radio to contact a monitoring service.
* Furniture: Iceberg Enterprises LLC of Glendale Heights, Ill., turned to sister company Penguin Molding LLC of Sturgis, Mich., to make its injection molded and extrusion blow molded family of display easels.
The easels range from a high-end blow molded A frame with a storage shelf to a simple sign display, using interchangeable injection molded legs. The lightweight and adjustable units allow users to easily set them up or adapt them to use in a variety of settings. Mold makers Ram Pattern Inc. of Le Claire, Iowa, and Bradrock Industries Inc. of Des Plaines, Ill., supplied tooling for the easels, which use a combination of polypropylene, polyethylene, ABS and nylon.
* Industrial & Military: The Citadel liquid and tomato paste container currently is used in the food industry for long-term storage of tomato-based products, replacing a combination of wood and corrugated metal containers.
Buckhorn Inc. of Milford, Ohio, uses low-pressure structural foam with a combination of PP and high density PE. The containers must be able to be stacked up to five high and hold their cargo for up to two years. Brinkman Tool & Die Inc. of Dayton, Ohio, supplied the steel and aluminum tooling.
* Lawn & Garden: Buckhorn also produced EverKote armored wood, which combines an engineered wood core encapsulated in PP through low-pressure structural foam molding. The product also earned the independently judged Industrial Designers Society of America/Plastics News Design Award.
The combination of materials creates a structural element that can replace pressure-treated lumber in vertical supports, but because of the outer plastic coat is not susceptible to weather and water damage over long-term use. Green Machine Tool Inc. of Dayton supplied the eight-cavity aluminum mold.
* Automotive: Innatech LLC's rear deck lid touch-off molding for the 2005 Ford Mustang convertible already received one award from the Society of Plastics Engineers Automotive Division. Now it adds the SPI recognition for the two-shot part used to trim and close out the sheet metal on the car, replacing a metal-stamped component.
The molding uses a glass-filled nylon substrate with an overmolded thermoplastic vulcanizate for its surface material. Rochester, Mich.-based Innatech also provided the tooling for the program, designed by Cooper Standard Automotive.