KENTON, OHIO Mold maker Pleasant Precision Inc., known for its Round Mate interchangeable mold inserts, has expanded its own injection molding operations by adding a clean room.
Kenton-based PPI also has started building molds for liquid silicone molding and plans to begin molding LSR in the near future. PPI has developed a Round Mate specially designed for LSR, a growing part of medical products.
PPI, with about $4 million in sales and 43 employees, is becoming a full-service company, said Chief Executive Officer Ron Pleasant. For example, the company serves two medical customers by building and repairing molds, providing mold inserts and molding parts.
Ron and his wife Carol still own Pleasant Precision, the mold shop he founded in his garage back in 1976. But last fall, Pleasant brought in Ken Jenkins as president. Jenkins was the former president of World Class Plastics Inc., a custom molder in Russells Point, Ohio, a town near Kenton in west-central Ohio.
Soon, PPI hired another World Class Plastics employee, Steve Oppy, to handle sales for the beefed-up injection molding operation.
Ron Pleasant, an injection mold maker by trade, now is focusing on factory operations and a move to lean manufacturing.
``It was time that we really brought in someone who was more business-oriented,'' Pleasant said of hiring Jenkins. ``We really want to grow considerably more than we are right now. I just felt that we want to move differently, forward in the future, so being able to develop someone else in a slot like president allows me to focus on some of the intimate things, like lean.''
Jenkins said Pleasant is a technical expert and inventor. Jenkins is bringing professional management and a charged-up attitude to PPI.
``I want to raise visibility. That's my purpose in coming to Pleasant Precision, is change, and it is energy,'' Jenkins said. ``You can't have the same culture you had 15 years ago. Your culture has to change.''
When PPI developed its special mold concept in 1989, the company initially only used the inserts for its own molds. The mold cavity is cut into an insert, which can be quickly installed onto a mold base shaving valuable time out of the tool-production process.
Pleasant has built up his company's business on fast, precision injection molds for relatively small plastic parts.
A few years after creating the inserts, Pleasant hit on the name Round Mate and began selling it to other mold shops, as a series of standard mold products that fit together in a modular way. More recently, PPI has added a series of rectangular mold inserts and created a Modular Mold Systems Division.
For molders in Ohio, the company also offers a preventive mold maintenance program. Dubbed the ``milk-man'' approach, PPI picks up a job, finishes it, then drops it back off and gets the next one.
Injection molding generates about a third of total sales. Boosting injection molding activities will help PPI in several ways, Pleasant said. First, molding can even out what can be the up-and-down nature of mold making, which he said is even more pronounced because of today's shorter lead times for molds six to eight weeks, instead of the 14 or 16 weeks years ago.
``It causes things to be very rapid. So two or three of our best customers call and all of a sudden, its jobs stacked on top of themselves. And once you get over that and then, chunk, right back down until the next jobs come in,'' he said, drawing a saw-toothed line on a sheet of paper.
Pleasant Precision has done molding before, through a joint venture called Innoplas Corp. that ran 16 presses in PPI's factory building. Ron Pleasant said PPI got out of the venture in 2000. Innoplas moved to another building, then in 2007 closed down and sold its assets to another molder.
Now PPI is molding parts on six injection presses. A general molding bay has an HPM press with 400 tons of clamping force and two Shinwa Seiki machines of 50 and 120 tons. A portable Class 10,000 clean room is available. Oppy said PPI is molding for several markets, including automotive and construction.
The other area focuses on medical molding a Class 100,000 clean room that PPI opened several months ago. The clean room has three presses, two Mitsubishis, of 110 and 150 tons, and an 80-ton Sodick Plustech.
All six presses are equipped with picker robots.
PPI is not doing any LSR molding yet. ``Definitely by January 2009, we will be molding some product here with silicone,'' Jenkins said.
In LSR molding, liquid silicone rubber is pumped in through a water-cooled nozzle and gets cured to a thermoset inside a heated mold. In many ways, it's the opposite of thermoplastic injection molding.
Right now, PPI is sampling its molds at Dow Corning Corp., which supplies LSR materials. But doing its own LSR molding in-house will help the company better understand the process.
``The molds are quite different,'' Pleasant said. ``Venting is an issue. Ejection is the biggest problem, because the material can flash. So the mold has to be very, very tight.''
PPI is getting ready to file patents on its modular mold insert for LSR. Pleasant didn't want to give many details, but he said heater bands will heat up the insert only; the mold base itself will stay at room temperature, safe to touch.
Another way molding will boost PPI is to show customers that officials of the mold maker ``practice what we preach'' by using the Round Mate to foster lean manufacturing.
Pleasant is moving his company's mold-making operation into lean, as well. Three mornings a week, employees meet in a room just off the production area to talk about every project. Using a board with colored magnetic tiles, they track each job through a series of milestones, functions such as roughing cavity blocks and detailing the cavity.
Three similar boards are on the shop floor.
Microsoft Project software helps schedule mold and mold insert jobs and chart progress, sharing the information with every employee.
The company also is moving machine tools around to create work cells and has cross-trained mold makers to run several different pieces of metal-cutting equipment. That allows a smoother production flow.
Mold making is inherently ``lean,'' since you generally make one specific mold at a time, a classic one-piece flow to fill an order. But PPI used to dedicate a department to mass-produce Round Mate inserts, in batches of 40.
Now, in lean style, cross-trained employees in a single work cell can build a mold, then turn around and make five or 10 Round Mates, then go on to another mold. The work flow is steadier and people stay busier.
And things run much more efficiently.
``Now we can deliver Round Mates next week. It used to take four to six weeks,'' Pleasant said.