HTS International Corp. is betting $21.4 million that it can expand North American use of conformal cooling in plastic injection and blow molds.
HTS has chosen the Knoxville, Tenn., area for its world headquarters and new U.S. manufacturing facility and research and development laboratory. The company will start construction in 2017 and complete all phases by 2018.
Conformal cooling entails building molds with cooling channels that curve to follow the shape of the molded part. Proponents claim it can cut molding cycle times, and make parts with less molded-in stress and no sink marks. The technology is mature in Europe but has not yet been widely adopted in North America, partly because molds incorporating it are more expensive than molds with straight, gun-drilled cooling channels.
The United States is aggressive in adopting new technology, said HTS CEO Will Sames in an email. HTS became active in the U.S. market in January 2016 and has mainly worked in the Southeastern United States with its high concentration of automotive customers, including assembly plants for German carmakers Volkswagen AG, Daimler AG and BMW AG.
“Conformal cooling is not a new technology, though we have a new, high-quality way to make it,” Sames explained. HTS uses its proprietary Metal Fusion Technology, a type of additive manufacturing.
“We know this technology,” he added. “Much like automation and other productivity technology, it is very effective in the United States and high-labor cost areas, helping [companies] compete globally.”
HTS will focus on packaging, consumer and automotive markets. Packaging molds are well suited to conformal cooling because their high-volume runs and high cavitation exploit the technology's benefits. Auto molders also can boost productivity because many parts are technically challenging with structural ribs and other details.
“Conformal cooling is disruptive and pushes other parts of the molding process to the limit — in some cases automation equipment must be upgraded to keep up,” Sames claimed.
Sames said the Knoxville area is attractive because it is central to customers and near Oak Ridge National Laboratory. HTS plans to take advantage of the laboratory's proximity to expand the range of alloys it uses, and its use in industrial applications.
HTS's headquarters in the European Union is in Vienna. It runs production facilities in Italy and Slovenia and sales offices elsewhere in Europe.
HTS claims conformal cooling can cut cycle time by 20 to 40 percent on average and improve profitability by as much as 55 percent.
The HTS facility will include 50,000 to 60,000 square feet of manufacturing and research space. A metallurgical laboratory will support the metal additive manufacturing part of the business. About 200 jobs will be created during the next four years, according to a news release from the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development.
“We are seeing companies reshore production to the U.S. and expand existing U.S. production,” Sames said. The company's mission is to make U.S. manufacturers more efficient and competitive globally.
“Employment in Tennessee's advanced manufacturing sector has grown more than 33 percent since 2010, four times higher than the nation's growth average for these high-skilled jobs,” noted Tennessee Economic and Community Development Commissioner Randy Boyd in a news release.