Custom injection molder Plastic Components Inc. has invested $1.4 million to open its third factory at an industrial park in Germantown, Wis. — a 15,000-square foot building to make rapid prototype, single-cavity molds.
PCI's Engineering Resource Center opened in its own building on Oct. 10. The automated facility has designed and built some molds in as fast as two days, said PCI Vice President Ryan Duffey.
Working with customers, mold designers create the mold using Moldflow simulation software and a complete review of the part design. They decide on locations for gates and parting lines. They build in water lines. The data is fed into one of two programmable CNC machining centers, which can run automatically to cut the mold cavity, creating an insert that is put into a mold base. PCI tests the molds on injection presses.
PCI runs a highly automated custom molding plant at its headquarters building. Two years ago the company opened up a nearby molding factory to run lights-out, with no employees.
Now ERC gives PCI another service, helping customers do rapid prototyping, with steel molds that turn out actual, production-quality parts in the same resin as the final part. The single-cavity molds can be duplicated to make full-production multi-cavity molds, President Tom Duffey said.
Duffey said fast new product development is a permanent trend for U.S. manufacturers.
"We're trying to validate and substantiate that American manufacturing still can absolutely, positively compete in the global marketplace. And the rapid prototyping angle, I think, is a really important piece of that puzzle," Duffey said.
Ryan Duffey, Tom's son, spearheaded the Engineering Resource Center. Company leaders got the idea to get into rapid tooling in late 2012. PCI at first launched the ERC at the company's in-house mold repair shop.
Since Nov. 1, 2012, ERC has built 85 prototype tools, Ryan Duffey said. The company soon bought one machining center. "The response of the marketplace was incredible, and that machine was just running nonstop," he said.
So PCI officials realized they would need more space and more production capacity. They bought a second machining center and added people. Now, three full-time toolmakers are dedicated to the ERC, and the company wants to hire a fourth.
Before deciding to start the Engineering Resource Center, PCI surveyed its customers about their rapid prototyping needs. "About 65 percent of the customers we talked to said that new product development, and getting products to market more quickly, was an important strategic priority," Tom Duffey said.
Customers told PCI that they used outside rapid prototype houses, but only got sample parts, not finished parts in a specific resin that could be actively tested. That could box them into a corner and make it harder to make changes later.
With the ERC, Tom Duffey said: "They could have a lot of confidence that they parts that they hold in their hand would be same as parts from a production tool."
PCI can build production molds, but it still outsources most of its full-scale production tooling. The rapid mold-making work is a standalone business, not contingent on PCI providing the molds or doing the final molding, he said.
PCI gutted the building, a former warehouse, and upgraded electrical power to create the Engineering Resource Center. The company took possession of the building, which is located next door to the headquarters plant, on Oct. 10.
PCI's fully automated lights-out plant is around the corner in the same industrial park.
Meanwhile, PCI is adding to its stock of Toyo injection molding presses. Tom Duffey said the company's sales are up 19.2 percent so far this year, from $20 million in 2012. "Right now, October will be the biggest month in our history," he said.
PCI is adding two new Toyos with 400-tons of clamping force at the headquarters; the previous largest size press there are 300-tonners. Those larger machines will be installed in November and December. To free up space for the presses, PCI moved finished goods inventory over to the Engineering Resource Center.
At the lights-out plant, PCI is adding two new 90-ton Toyos and expanding its overhead mezzanine level that supports auxiliary equipment. The 90-ton presses join the original five 55-ton Toyos.