Henry DeRocher, a pioneer in injection tooling who founded his own molding company at age 60, died Nov. 21 at age 93.
Born in Parker, Pa., DeRocher trained in metallurgical engineering at Carnegie Institute of Technology before moving to Cleveland to develop plastic injection molds. He eventually founded Automation Plastics Corp., an injection molder in Aurora, Ohio, in 1980.
After college, DeRocher did research for the U.S. Navy to develop nylon rotating bands to reduce barrel wear on large battleship guns.
For his research, he visited Nylon Molded Products (Nymold) in Ohio, which made prototype parts for the project.
DeRocher joined the firm in 1953, working at plants in Bedford Heights and Garrettsville, Ohio. At Nymold he worked closely with another pioneering plastics molder, Robert Hoffer Sr., who later founded Hoffer Plastics Corp. in South Elgin, Ill.
Nymold developed more than 1,000 molds during DeRocher's tenure, according to Harry Smith, who later served as DeRocher's general manager at Automation Plastics. Smith bought the company from DeRocher in 1999, and now serves as president.
“When Henry began Automation Plastics in 1980, at the age of 60, he began molding nylon battery seals for Union Carbide in 32- and 64-cavity molds. Henry developed many high-cavity molds as well as very long-life molds,” Smith said.
“One of the 128-cavity aerosol molds for Seaquist [Closures] ran over 40 million cycles in its lifetime,” Smith said.
DeRocher continued to keep an eye on Automation Plastics after he sold the company, even after he retired in 2004. Today the firm has more than 100 employees and molds nearly 2 billion parts per year.
“Henry's early vision of the company was to design and build custom tooling and to mold close-tolerance, flash-free parts for automated assembly,” Smith said. “Having in-house mold-maintenance capability has been pivotal to the company's success.”
Smith said DeRocher was a trained engineer, but he “wore just about every hat there was to wear in a startup business.”
“It's been a privilege to work side by side with a pioneer of the injection molding industry. Both his technical genius and business acumen have been nothing short of remarkable,” Smith said.
“He always enjoyed the challenge presented by developing the next-generation mold design for his customers, but in his later years, perhaps he enjoyed even more developing the next generation of people to continue the business he created.”
DeRocher is survived by his son Ben and daughter Josephine.
A memorial service was held Dec. 1 in Chagrin Falls.