Illinois Precision Corp., which began making insert molding machines in 1970, is shedding its humble image.
IPC is beefing up its machines with new programmable logic controllers, adding a sales executive and introducing its first machine specifically for medical molding.
The machinery makers's roots are firmly planted in the electrical coil industry, where overmolding machines encapsulate the wound coils. Connectors are another big market. But medical, which already makes up about 65 percent of IPC's press sales, is growing, according to Randy Candler, vice president of sales and marketing.
IPC's C-frame, vertical presses use book molds mounted on a rotating table. Medical customers use them to overmold parts such as catheters, IV hookup ports, components for defibrillators and patient-monitoring devices, Candler said.
IPC General Manager Dan Davis said the growing medical sales motivated company officials to improve the machine controllers. Starting this year, Eurotherm Inc.'s Maco Compact controller is standard on both brands of IPC presses: the Echo and the new medical press, Echo MD.
Executives from Illinois Precision and Eurotherm explained the company's evolution, and colorful history, during a mid-January interview at IPC in Bicknell, a small town in southwest Indiana.
IPC is housed in the same building as Hermetic Coil Co. Inc., a contract manufacturer of custom coil assemblies. The coils are encapsulated in plastic on injection molding machines. They go into a range of industrial products such as valves, actuators and sensors.
The history of Hermetic Coil and Illinois Precision is one of hands-on innovation. Founder DhuAine Davis, Dan's father, was an electrical engineer and inventor who started a small coil-winding operation in his garage. He worked briefly as an engineer for power tools at Sears Roebuck & Co. When he went back on his own, he continued to develop products for Sears, starting with a copper-clad soldering gun.
Davis sold his patent for a hedge trimmer to Sears, using the money to buy out his partner in his small company, then started Hermetic Coil. He realized that the future of electrical coils was in encapsulating the winding assembly into a plastic housing.
Dan Davis said his father started out purchasing insert molding machines. But he wasn't satisfied, and in the mid-1960s developed his own presses for Hermetic Coil. Customers would come through and say, 'Where'd you get that machine?' And he said, 'I made it,' and they wanted him to make them one, too, Dan Davis said. It kind of spun off like that.
Sensing an opportunity, Davis decided to start Illinois Precision Corp. in 1970. At its Bicknell plant, Hermetic ran other brands of vertical insert molding presses; today, the coil operation continues to use older Simplomatic shuttle machines and Newbury presses, as well as IPC presses.
Davis' innovations include mounting the small coil-encapsulation book molds hinged molds that open on one end, like a book onto a rotary table. The table shuttles under the injection unit, which can be adjusted to deliver different shot sizes. That allows molds of different sizes to be run on a single insert molding machine, for more production.
The book molds automatically open as they shuttle around to the operator, who removes the finished parts and loads the next coil insert. For clamping, a hydraulic cylinder drives a lever forward, and the mechanism closes to lock the mold closed.
That technology allowed IPC to separate its product from other vertical presses. Candler said company records show concentrated pockets of IPC press sales around the Chicago area, as well as in Indiana and Wisconsin.
Dan Davis said that, over the years, the IPC press business grew by word of mouth, with no formal marketing plan. His father visited customers, took the orders, then came back and built the machines.
DhuAine Davis died in 1995. The machinery and coil-making operations, which together employ about 30, remain family-run. Dan Davis handles the machinery side. His sister, Debbie Barton, is general manager of Hermetic Coil, and her husband, Dave Barton, is Hermetic's CEO.
The low-key machinery sales approach is changing. IPC hired Candler in early 2010 to raise the profile of the company. At the same time, IPC is raising the technological bar through improvements such as a servo-driven rotary table and making the Maco Compact controller standard for all molding machines.
The Eurotherm controller is a more-precise shot control, Dan Davis said.
Steve Schroeder, Eurotherm's global business development manager, said closed-loop control is critical for precision molding.
They've gone from basically what you call push and squirt an open-loop system which is basically just measuring your stroke and your screw and then shooting the plastic in, Schroeder said. With medical molding you have to be extremely precise and repeatable. That's where our closed-loop [and statistical process control] come in.
While IPC's old controller covered injection and pack-and-hold, the Maco Compact controls many additional variables, including repeatability, mold storage, setup storage and a complete molding history.
Each IPC machine can run up to 12 book molds. For the new Echo MD press, the company is adding a servo-electric rotary table that can pivot 90 degrees in one second. The regular Echo machine will continue to have a rack-and-pinion table.
IPC makes nearly everything in-house, including the machine base and molds, to offer complete turnkey packages.
The more-aggressive effort has tripled sales of IPC presses in 2010, Candler said. And the overall rebound in plastics machinery makes him optimistic for this year.
It's carrying over into the first quarter of 2011. So we see a huge uptick in orders. People are calling up and saying, 'I've got money to spend,' he said.