Toy trucks molded from a wood-plastic composite are designed to sustain interest among both children and their parents.
Luke's Toy Factory in Danbury, Conn., is selling trucks with 30 percent less plastic, and are wholly made in the United States. Four types of trucks — fire, dump, cargo and tipper truck — allow toddlers to mix and match the truck components, helping them develop motor and special skills.
Jim Barber, founder of Luke's Toy Factory, started on his toy manufacturing journey in 2012 when a friend introduced him to wood-plastic composites. Barber, a photographer, knew little about plastics or toys so he attended the NPE trade show that year in Orlando, Fla.
Walking the aisles and asking questions, he found exhibitors very willing to explain some of the rudiments of plastics. Armed with that bit of knowledge, he then embarked on a quest to make a toy that wasn't quite wood, because wood is expensive to detail, and not quite plastic. Plastic has exceptional moldability but wood feels better in the hand.
Jim Barber's son Luke created a prototype truck with a 3-D printer and joined his father and another father/son duo to launch the new company. With a Kickstarter campaign they raised $15,000 to get things going and found Vanguard Plastics Corp. to help move the project to commercial reality. Many other molders did not want to take such work on, he said, but Vanguard, based in Southington, Conn., was willing to give it a try.
Before launching the toy trucks, Barber and his staff had to run them through several tests to make sure they passed safety issues like impact resistance and absence of toxic chemicals. And they had to prove the toys' production process was economically viable.
With these hurdles overcome, the toy trucks were ready to sell to 3-year-olds at a list price of about $19.95.
Now Luke's Toy trucks are sold in about 225 specialty toy stores and gift shops. The eight-person company assembles the trucks from parts molded by Vanguard, packages them and ships them.
Vanguard uses single- and multi-cavity molds to make the trucks' seven parts in a 50-ton Boy injection press. Barber settled on a 30 percent wood-fiber-filled polypropylene from RheTech of Whitmore Lake, Mich., as the material of choice. The wood fiber is from maple trees because its light color allows easy pigmentation.
Vanguard President Chris Budnick said his company is launching its own line of wood-plastic products. Maple Origins bowls are injection molded in Southington from a similar maple/PP composite. Budnick said he plans to take them to mass markets in 2017.