Orlando, Fla. — You've heard about stack molds, but Athena Automation Ltd., Robert Schad's injection molding press company, has developed a stack machine: two injection units feeding two single-face molds mounted on a center section.
The press can run different colors or different materials. Both molds should have similar cycle times, since the press can run as fast as the slowest cycle.
CEO and Chief Operating Officer Harold Luttmann said Athena officials came up with the idea about three years ago. The company delivered the first stack machine earlier this year and has now sold eight.
Schad said a stack machine is simpler than a complex stack mold.
Schad and Luttmann discussed Athena Automation's progress in an interview at NPE2018. Athena did not exhibit at NPE but it did send a delegation to see what's new. That included the 89-year-old Schad, who founded Athena in 2008 and began injection press production five years ago in Vaughan, Ontario. Production really took off two years ago, when Athena opened its 155,000-square-foot factory.
Luttmann said Athena has manufactured about 60 machines so far.
Athena has renamed its press line Niigon, a nod to the Pottawatomi First Nation people who live on Canada's Georgian Bay. Schad has had a close relationship with the group for many years.
"We have the rights to the Niigon name on a global basis," Schad said. "They love the idea that their name is now going global."
Athena makes injection molding machines with clamping forces ranging from 150-550 metric tons. They come with a five-year warranty. Markets include medical, closures, PET preforms and packaging, Luttmann said.
Athena employs 82. Schad said the company is set up with just-in-time assembly of components brought in from outside suppliers, like a car factory. That saves labor and time. Machines are built to order.
Niigon machines can be customized with more than 50 pre-engineered options, including the stack machine, rotary table and cube molding, multimaterial, two-stage injection, and injection-compression, plus a variety of screw geometries, shut-off nozzles, increased clamp stroke and daylight, and integrated mold services and auxiliary equipment.
The cube machine uses dedicated linear rails for the mold, and the same high-load bearings for the moving platen and the cube mold. Schad said several of the cube molds have been running in customer plants for about a year.
Schad said Athena provides very good service to build a relationship with customers. That generates brand loyalty, he said.
"The other goal was to have the machine bed very, very solid. Like a machine tool," Schad said. "We have a bed that is now shared by all the machines. So we can buy the steel in the same lengths, in the same way. And we can put the bed together. So, we are two to three times stronger than most of our competitors."
Schad decided early on that Athena would not build molds, but instead work closely with toolmakers. Schad thinks future NPEs will focus much more on technology for mold making, where the real skill is needed.
"We need more mold makers," he said.
"We deal with the mold maker. We will help him. We look at it. We critique. And, if we have an idea, we give it to him; it's your idea. Any machine ideas are ours, but any mold ideas are yours. So we don't develop behind their back or steal their technology. We have a true partnership agreement," he said. "A partnership spirit."