After 60 years of mold making, Banner Mold & Die Co. Inc. is feeling more secure now, thanks in part to plastic cutlery.
``From what I am seeing, a lot of our customers will stand fast and continue to do business in the states. I'm optimistic now. Six years ago, I was not,'' said Ralph DeFelice, treasurer of the family-owned business.
Banner Mold has had its ups and downs since DeFelice's late father, Amedio DeFelice, and some friends started the business in 1946 in a Leominster garage.
Now, the company operates from a 50,000-square-foot facility that holds remnants of its past, as well as the machinery needed for mold making in the modern era. Ralph DeFelice recently showed a visitor machining centers, three computer numerically controlled electric discharge machines, as well as grinding equipment, gun drills, lathes and milling machines. Banner has two injection molding machines to test molds.
``It is all computerized now - if you haven't changed with the times, then you're out of business,'' said DeFelice, who has worked in the business since he was age 15.
Even the steel used in molds is different now - the emphasis is on grades of stainless steel that can be used near food and medical products without rusting.
He said cutlery is about 70 percent of its business, and Banner ships worldwide. It still does some molds for combs and hangers. Banner also makes molds for the cosmetic, toy, consumer products, defense and industrial areas.
Banner Mold is owned by DeFelice, his brother James, who is president, and his sister, Donna Miller, an investor. Ralph DeFelice also has two sons in the business: Brian, chief engineer; and Joshua, building supervisor.
Amedio DeFelice was known as ``the comb king'' at a time when Leominster was ``Comb City.'' He showed his sense of humor by naming the company after ``Little Banner'' a horse that he bet on that lost a race.
The name still brings a chuckle today to those knowing the story.
Over the years Banner worked on combs, toys and women's heels - all industries that have moved largely to cheaper overseas markets. In the 1970s when disco was in vogue, DeFelice said the firm had 30 people working just on molds for women's heels. The heels were of the type that lighted up - perfect for dancing. However, when the shoe business dried up, the company had to cut its workforce.
Today Banner is much smaller, but it continues the tradition.
Its offices are loaded with parts of Leominster history. There's a turn-of-the-century, oak machining desk that displays all sorts of belt-driven machines. Amedio bought it to remember the past long before his company started business. It sits in the front of the machine shop. On its shelves and tacked to the wall are combs, heels and many other products that once were produced in the area.