Remember that story about the Pied Piper, who led rats and children out of the town of Hamelin?
At Plastics Encounter, injection molder Indiana Plastics Inc. had a piper of its own. But in this case, the piper was attracting visitors to the company's booth on the show floor.
Gary Friedman was playing a plastic Xaphoon, pronounced ``zafoon,'' and nicknamed ``the pocket sax,'' because it sounds like a saxophone, despite being just a shade longer than 12 inches, and fashioned from two pieces of injection molded ABS.
Friedman discovered the bamboo version of the instrument at a folk music festival in California in 1989 and ``fell in love.'' Now the Los Angeles resident travels the world, selling the instrument.
The Xaphoon is unique because it can play two complete octaves, including all the sharp and flat notes, without any external valves or keys. But the bamboo version had a problem - it was too slow to produce. During a 20-year period, Xaphoon creator Brian Wittman had made only about 20,000 of the instruments, all by hand. He could not keep up with demand.
``For nine or 10 years, he was looking for someone to build it in plastic,'' Friedman said.
That's where Indiana Plastics entered the picture. The company had related experience making saxophone and clarinet mouthpieces, sold under different brand names. So, with Wittman's blessing, the Elkhart, Ind.-based injection molder took one of the best bamboo Xaphoons, based on sound quality, and set about reverse-engineering the instrument.
The company digitized the model and made nine plastic prototypes before it came up with perfect sound quality and tuning, according to James Kruis, vice president of the molder and its sister company Kruis Mold & Engineering Inc., an Elkhart toolmaker.
The company used that prototype to build a mold, and eventually production samples that were sent to Wittman in Hawaii for his approval. The company started regular production of the instrument in December 2000.
Xaphoons are an interesting but small part of Indiana Plastics' business. The custom injection molder also makes parts for the automotive, consumer products and medical sectors, according to Jim Taylor, who handles sales for the company.
Kruis said his father and uncle started Kruis Mold in a garage in 1958, and added the molding company in 1966. The business still is family owned. It has one injection molding plant with 12 presses, ranging from 13-330 tons of clamping force.
Kruis now splits his time between the United States and China, where the company sources many of its molds. ``I spent 19 percent of last year in China,'' he said. ``It's an emerging market that needs monitoring at this point.'' He noted that the first couple of molds the company bought in China took a lot of extra effort, but he recently took delivery of a completed tool that took just two months to design, build and ship.
Kruis said exhibiting at a trade show was a new experience, and he was happy with the traffic the company was getting at its booth.
``I think having Gary as my pied piper is helping,'' Kruis said, as Friedman played in the background.