Farmington Hills, Mich.-based injection molder PolyFlex Products Inc. has found a new market for its automotive packaging and manufacturing product capabilities in military applications.
The supplier's products, which protect and carry high-value steel, aluminum, plastic, glass or computer electronic automotive components, are well suited for many other industries, Ken Bylo, executive vice president and partner of PolyFlex, told Plastics News.
The components interface with high-speed automation, rail transport and high-load capacities to carry engines, transmissions, motors, electronic and battery components.
"We use a wide range of materials to satisfy these applications," Bylo said. "Seeing the changes that are happening in the military and the advances happening, we see a very strong need for our expertise in the market and our speed."
The company is developing lightweight packaging — expected to be carried by drones — that can be used in military applications, he said.
"Knowing the right materials to use and understanding how those materials will protect" the protective packaging components, which "can't add a lot of strain to the equipment," is important, he added.
PolyFlex has been investing to expand its capacity for the past few years to handle double the production it currently holds, including an investment in new 3D printers to develop its prototypes within days.
"The amount of [printing] materials available now can closely resemble a production intent, so we can get a really good, not only fit and function, but actual trials out of the prototypes now," Bylo said.
While some of the suppliers it currently works with are already contractors for the military, PolyFlex also works with "significant suppliers" to EV markets, he said.
"It's not only vehicles seeing a surge in battery technology," Bylo said. "So many products that we use in everyday life are migrating to battery technology. The incredible demand has created a need for high-speed manufacturing and special handling needs.
"People don't usually look at a packaging component's or industrial component's high tolerance or high precision. … We bridge the gap between just packaging and a piece of equipment," he said. "The cost of these [automotive] components is so expensive that it's no longer just putting them in a box and Bubble Wrapping them. It needs protection from static discharge, impacts. … You have to absorb that energy.
"[By] teaching customers that plastics have far-reaching capabilities … [like] replacing steel fabrications, brackets and certain structural details," Bylo said, "plastics can be utilized in a wide range of environmental conditions."
From design to manufacturing, PolyFlex is used to quick-turnaround production.
"In our research, we found that the military is looking for a quick response, not years of development," he said. "That's pretty much the way the automotive industry has always been."
The supplier has a rapid response team that works to find solutions for suppliers and OEMs that might have a problem with their current packaging or equipment.
"There's a lot in our business that would easily adapt to military requirements," Bylo said, including materials expertise and customization, multiple manufacturing facilities to ensure uninterrupted production and pre-approved government supplier registrations and qualifications.
A certified small business with DUNS, CAGE and NAICS codes, PolyFlex Products is ISO 9001:2015 certified for quality and conducts testing to ensure all products meet MIL-SPECs and MIL-STDs.
PolyFlex is also actively pursuing more opportunities to use recycled content and hopes to end "the stigma of regrind being of poor quality," Bylo said.
"Sometimes it doesn't make sense to send a product back to its initial location, but we always make sure [there's a way to recycle it,]" he said. "People don't realize that you can take recycled content and bring it back to virgin specifications … by blending other materials or additives … or blending with other materials to create stronger alloys."
The company's projects with OEMs and suppliers recycle post-industrial products and convert them back to new products. It also has life cycle plans with end users to recapture the materials.
"Often these products generate valuable credits toward new products," Bylo said. "It's not always a cost save to recycle, but understanding the overall impact of recycling may be of greater value."