This year Elite Mold & Engineering Inc. bought its first all-electric injection molding machines two Toshibas after studying the technology and machinery players for a few years. President Joseph Mandeville said there's no going back now for his Michigan company.
``We made that decision, from this point on, we're going to be buying electric machines,'' he said. The Toshiba ECNII machines, with clamping forces of 85 and 110 tons, are molding medical parts at Elite Mold & Engineering's plant in Shelby Township, Mich.
Elite Mold & Engineering joined other small and mid-sized molders that have embraced all-electrics for all future new-machinery investment. All-electrics have steadily grown in the U.S. market, to account for more than half of all injection presses sold.
Michael Werner of Toshiba Machine Co. America said all-electrics offer substantial energy savings, precision molding and accurate repeatability.
``Pretty much all molders are looking at all-electric technology. In the case of the smaller companies, they're seeing the true value in it, not only in energy savings, but the opening of processing windows, the control,'' said Werner, technical sales manager of Toshiba's plastics machinery division.
Elite Mold & Engineering has seven injection presses, ranging in clamping force from 55-400 tons. The company serves medical, consumer products and electronics markets, specializing in fast-turnaround molds and low-volume molding of parts with tight tolerances. The company also is diversifying into parts for the oil industry and the defense sector.
Mandeville discussed his company's growth in the medical market during an interview at Elite Mold's booth at the Medical Design & Manufacturing Midwest show, held in Rosemont in late September. Toshiba also exhibited there, at the Plastec Midwest/Plastics USA show at the same location.
Mandeville owns two companies in Shelby Township, Mich. Elite Mold & Engineering and Elite Plastic Products Inc., an 18-press molder of automotive parts for lawn mowers and snow blowers. The sister companies are in separate buildings that sit side by side. Together, elite Mold & Engineering and Elite Plastic Products employ about 60 people and generate sales of $10 million, Mandeville said.
The medical market looks pretty attractive now, as the automotive industry takes a nosedive and consumer spending cools off. But Elite Mold & Engineering is no medical newbie it got into medical molding seven years ago.
``We decided that we needed to be more diversified in our company. At that time, we were looking at trying to see what fields to get into,'' Mandeville said. Medical seemed to be a good fit. ``We do a lot of precision work and were able to produce quality parts in a rapid-turnaround pace.''
The sister molding companies learned speed from automotive work, and it applies to medical customers as well, Mandeville said. ``They want their projects to be launched fast and quickly. Get it to market fact it all saves time. So the whole development period gets crunched into a smaller time frame, and we've had to adapt to that,'' he said.
Mandeville said medical will keep growing, eventually accounting for 75 percent of business at Elite Mold & Engineering. The Midwest firm now markets its services across the United States and exhibits at regional MD&M shows. The company has added salespeople in Boston and on the West Coast.
Mandeville is studying whether to build a clean room.
The company also is looking at buying a Toshiba press to mold liquid silicone rubber. Mandeville said Elite Mold & Engineering already makes LSR molds for Dow Corning Corp.'s internal molding operations.
Elite officials took a couple of years to make the decision to buy electrics. Mandeville said they wanted to be comfortable with all-electric machines and figure out who are the industry leaders. Big companies can afford to try one out first. Mandeville does not have that luxury. ``I have to make good decisions. I look at, who's going to be supplying those machines? Because I want to stay with that supplier for the next 10 years,'' he said.
Toshiba of Elk Grove Village, Ill., claims the ECN machine requires 60-80 percent less energy to operate than a standard hydraulic injection press. Werner said the energy savings is a very important factor to customers on the East and West Coasts. ``But in the Midwest here, that's not going to be your key feature. It's a side benefit, but the main one is, these machines perform flawlessly,'' he said.