Blackwell Plastics Inc. is looking into its past for future business.
The mold maker and injection molder has been in business for 70 years, and over those years, it has turned out thousands of molds.
We've got tools in storage that have been there since the 1940s, said Jeff Applegate, president of the Houston-based custom molder, who said he pays $1,200 per year to store them. We've got pallets on top of pallets on top of pallets.
Then one day, project engineer Dane Kinchen a former toolmaker asked a simple question: Why not use some of those old molds again, by machining new cores and cavities from existing steel?
Everybody's been talking about recycling and repurposing, Applegate said during an Oct. 7 telephone interview. It's so prevalent in the plastics industry to look at regrind and using recycled material. Well, we've got all this scrap sitting over there, so we say let's repurpose them and give them a new life.
Repurposing allows the company to give its customers more options while also keeping its mold makers busy and adding work for its molding lines, but Applegate notes that it works in only specific business cases.
For a high-volume contract, a new mold makes sense because it is paid off over millions of parts. But Blackwell specializes in low-volume business tens of thousands of shots, compared to hundreds of thousands. It also has experienced toolmakers on staff with time available, and a range of used molds available to choose from its stock.
The company has begun going through those warehoused pallets of old molds to determine which are still salvageable and which need to be scrapped. It is pulling only from molds that are no longer in use, he said, and in many cases the original customers have been sold or closed.
Some of these, you couldn't find the original owner if you hired a private detective, he said.
For one repurposed mold, Blackwell couldn't even determine what the original part was for, but its eight-cavity format was perfect for a low-volume contract for bushings once the mold was refurbished with new cores, plates, ejector pins and other needed work.
Blackwell was able to recycle another mold that had produced a cylinder for an old contract into a 11/2-inch-diameter rod that its customer wanted to use to try out a different material.
Nobody wants to spend big money on something like that, he said. We can take an old mold, machine it out and create an opportunity. If you were to go out and just build a new mold base, it would cost $1,500. For $100, you can buy new plates and a day of machining.
The company also expects to retain molding contracts from customers who can opt to keep the entire project in one place, he said.