West Des Moines, Iowa-based Engineered Plastic Components Inc. is picking up new work as it changes over its fleet of 500 injection molding machines to all-electric presses.
The benefits of repeatability, energy efficiency and reliability outweigh the initial cost investment, according to company officials, who have purchased 200 presses in the last six years, all built by Japan Steel Works America Inc.
Founded in 1994 by President and CEO Reza Kargarzadeh, EPC began producing parts for the automotive industry with three injection molding machines before growing into the appliance, medical, aerospace and heavy equipment markets.
EPC now operates out of 18 locations in 10 states and Mexico that offer injection molding, two-shot injection molding, vacuum forming, cast skin, urethane foaming and painting.
With $310 million in annual sales for 2021, EPC ranked 31st among North American injection molding processors, according to Plastics News' latest ranking.
For the automotive industry, EPC produces simple shoot-and-ship parts and complicated instrument panel, door and HVAC assemblies for Ford, GM, Toyota and Honda.
Kargarzadeh didn't know much about JSW presses until 2002, when EPC acquired Palo Plastics in Palo, Iowa.
"We noticed that these machines, they just run," Kargarzadeh, an engineer who focused on product design and tooling and holds several patents in the plastics industry, said in a case study.
While traditional hydraulic injection molding machines currently make up most of the U.S. market share, the demand for all-electric versions continues to gain momentum with processors like EPC.
The need for EPC to move to all-electric machines became evident when the company faced challenges producing an HVAC door for a major automotive customer. The HVAC door is located inside the dashboard, and it allows the passage of air from the air conditioner or heater. The 253.1-millimeter-long part demanded tight tolerances within 0.3 mm, which is less than the thickness of a hair.
EPC staff couldn't get the part qualified for dimensional repeatability on the hydraulic press, according to Bob Bachman, EPC vice president of sales and program management.
"It was very challenging. We were only able to get to about 0.5 mm with the hydraulic machine between parts," Bachman said. "It was a requirement, and if we wouldn't have been able to meet it, we would not have been successful."
EPC then sampled the part on a 500-ton all-electric JSW press.
"When we ran it on that machine, we got it to the customer's specifications," Kargarzadeh said.
As a result, EPC now produces 28,000 of the HVAC parts per week or 1.2 million pieces a year, generating more than $2 million in sales.
To show the parts are within the acceptable specifications, EPC collects daily data for automotive customers that shows the future capability of a process (CPK data) and how the process has performed in the past (PPK data).The comparisons also can be used to identify variations.
"Our experience is that we get better CPK and PPK with JSW machines," Kargarzadeh said, adding that EPC also uses a coordinated measuring machine and scanners to take precise measurements and verify data.