In 2000, BA Die Mold Inc. had just finished moving into a new facility when the economy suddenly slowed down.
Faced with higher overhead costs in the new site, and little money to invest in new technology, the company had to consider other ways to survive, and it looked within.
``I think mold makers are very creative thinkers,'' said Francine Petrucci, president of the Aurora-based company founded by her father, Alan Petrucci, who is chief executive officer. ``When they're faced with a challenge, they figure out answers.''
BA Die Mold, with 16 employees, even took on contracts it would not have bid on previously. It streamlined production and found ways to get molds finished within one to three weeks to keep up with its competitors.
As it moved beyond its comfort zone, it also found its niche.
``We really had to look at what we did really well, other than just saying: `We make quality molds,''' Francine Petrucci said.
The company put its emphasis on small molds with low cavitation - since the company could never compete with firms like Husky Injection Molding Systems Ltd., Alan Petrucci said. It also focused on threaded molds, used in everything from plumbing to filtration to automotive and the medical industries.
``We're doing niche and finding niches that we're really good at,'' he said.
Then BA went even further. While working with a customer to solve a problem with a standard hydraulic-driven screw system for a threaded mold, Petrucci and the company created a new, smaller unit that used electronic servos to drive the threading mechanism.
The mold fit into tighter spaces, since there was no longer a need for a long screw attached to the tool, was easier to control through the electronics and also could be used in all-electric presses.
It was a breakthrough for the customer, but also for the mold maker.
Ten years ago, Petrucci said, that would have been it - one interesting solution for a single customer. But with competitive pressure, the company looked at the system as a potential solution for many customers, and a potential new business strategy for a small toolmaker.
It gave the system a name: PERC - for programmable electric rotating cores - and set about patenting it.
Then it began to market its solution actively to a wider range of molders.
``In the past, we still would have come up with the PERC system, but then it would have gone onto the shelf,'' Alan Petrucci said. ``I think we wouldn't have done all of this if it hadn't been a necessity.''
All of that work has brought the small company both recognition and new business.
Type the words ``threaded, molds and PERC'' into an Internet search engine, and the top results lead to BA.
``We get calls from around the world,'' Francine Petrucci said. ``PERC has opened doors that a small company like ours would never have otherwise. We've had potential customers come to us for PERC, then come back for more and more things that don't include PERC.''
One system cannot solve every problem, of course, she said. BA still has to invest in technology, to get production times down, to continually improve - and find the next potential breakthrough like PERC to keep customers coming back.
``The last seven years have been a test of a lot of things,'' she said.