Decatur Mold Tool and Engineering Inc. is investing $12 million into a lights-out expansion that will bring its facility in North Vernon, Ind., to 101,320 square feet for manufacturing injection molds and custom machine parts.
The company is adding 14,320 square feet of space to improve tool building lead times and take on more projects for customers seeking domestic tools, Decatur officials said in emails.
Founded in 1966, Decatur is a certified Women's Business Enterprise with President Rhonda Hoerle and 140 employees offering tool building and contract manufacturing to the appliance, automotive, consumer, container, aerospace, medical and military markets.
Decatur customers are inquiring more about domestic builds and the number of them deciding to keep the work in the United States has increased significantly, according to Louie Fields, Decatur director of operations and efficiency.
Tariffs placed on molds from China started to level the playing field, then other factors came into play.
"Ten years ago, no one would ask for the domestic quote. Now almost every RFQ [request for quote] has a request for domestic pricing," Fields said in an email. "The increase in tariffs, COVID shutdowns, material delays, increased shipping cost and shipping delays we have experienced over the last several years are forcing our customers to reevaluate the benefits of building offshore."
In 2021, Decatur received a $45,000 Indiana Economic Development Corp. Manufacturing Readiness Grant and spent it on automation for high-speed optical 3D scanning to expand and streamline its metrology capabilities.
Now the company is investing in the latest technology for lights-out manufacturing with five new machines purchased for five-axis machining, five-axis electrode machining and electrical discharge machining. The new equipment will be set up in cells with robots feeding the machines the raw materials to build a mold, such as cores, cavities and electrodes.
Advances in mold design technology are reducing the need for "old school" tool making and changing employee roles more to technical support. Fields said Decatur machinists will work more with the design department for continuous improvement in the beginning of the job, program the automation cells for 24/7 operation and review the data from the scanning of each block to gain an understanding of what went well and where to make adjustments.
Decatur's investments will provide the capacity to turn around mold delivery with similar lead times to the company's strategic affiliates in China without customers having to pay expensive fees for air shipment, company officials said.
"We are excited for this next chapter in Decatur Mold's history," Hoerle said in an email. "This new expansion will allow us to help our customers reduce uncertainty and lighten their workload by leveraging the amazing technology that is available to shops such as ours. Our family is committed to supporting our incredible employees by ensuring that we make great jobs available for those in our community and I see this as an important step in continuing this legacy."
Decatur officials expect the facility upgrades will be completed in August 2023.