An Illinois-based maker of core pins played a key behind-the-scenes role in boosting production of plastic vials used for COVID-19 testing.
Crafts Technology, a 127-year-old company based in Elk Grove Village, makes precision wear parts, components, assemblies and custom tooling from superhard materials. The firm was asked to expedite production of tungsten carbide core pins needed to meet skyrocketing demand for the much-needed vials.
Making the specialized core pins would typically take nine to 12 weeks, according to President and CEO Jeff Taylor. But for this job, Crafts Technology did it in three weeks.
"We almost feel a kind of moral call to action," Taylor said in the telephone interview. "We feel like we should do anything we can to shorten lead times and participate in that solution."
Crafts Technology made the pins for Prestige Mold Inc., a Rancho Cucamonga, Calif.-based Tier 1 tooling supplier to medical diagnostic company Hologic Inc.
Hologic decided to retool an existing mold to make vials for the COVID-19 test kit. It could have used conventional steel core pins but asked if it was possible to source tungsten carbide pins.
Medical molders are already familiar with the advantages of tungsten carbide core pins. With regular steel core pins, molding a vial can result in a part with one side thicker than the other, which molders can fix by lowering the injection pressure or decreasing the cycle time.
Using tungsten carbide allows Hologic to injection mold vials more precisely and with a faster cycle time. In the case of the COVID-19 test vials, fast cycle times were critically important, because millions of tests are needed to reopen businesses around the world.
"That's where we came in, because they were already using carbide. And they really liked carbide, it's kind of best in class for quality and cycle time," Taylor said. "They called us, on a whim, and they asked if we could deliver this in three or four weeks. And we stepped up and said we can do it, we will do it. And then we did do it."
Meeting that aggressive deadline first required working with his raw material supplier to shorten its lead time by several days. After that, Crafts Technology changed its manufacturing process to run production in parallel, like an assembly line, which isn't typical for making precision tooling.
"We were able to shorten the lead time by doing a lot of things in parallel," Taylor said. "The team made a concerted effort to focus on velocity without hurting quality and without increasing risk."
When the core pins were finished, they were disinfected, securely packaged and driven to Prestige Mold in Rancho Cucamonga to eliminate the possibility of the parts being lost or delayed. Taylor would not provide details on the size of the project but said that it gave Hologic the ability to mold millions of vials per year.
Crafts Technology, which has 47 workers, has been employee-owned since 2014. The firm is continuing to make products used by medical OEMs and suppliers in the fight against COVID-19. And the company is sticking to its commitment to expedite core pin production with a four- to five-week turnaround goal.
The company has also added equipment to boost capacity, including new computer numerically controlled grinders.
"We're doing a lot of other COVID-19-related orders," Taylor said. "Conservatively, we have at least a half a dozen jobs that are for COVID-19 projects, and every day we just keep getting more," he said.