Teel Plastics Inc. is growing its injection molding production with the purchase of two new presses to meet demand for swab sticks for COVID-19 testing, medical packaging and water filtration components for municipal wastewater treatment facilities.
Teel President Tom Thompson told Plastics News that injection molding now makes up about 6-7 percent of the Baraboo, Wis.-based firm's sales.
The company, which has primarily been in extrusion for the last 70 years, began to take interest in injection molding in 2017 when existing customers asked Teel to look into molding technologies to consolidate their vendor pools, Thompson said.
Teel purchased its first injection press that year, an Arburg machine, and has added two to three every nine to 12 months since then, he said.
Depending on the results of new customer project timing, Teel plans to buy two or three more machines, in addition to the two Teel already purchased in 2020, Thompson said.
"It's definitely growing very quickly," Thompson said. "We really felt from a market standpoint, we knew plastics, we have a lot of material knowledge, we have a lot of different capabilities with compounds and an analytical lab."
Teel is now running production on a total of eight Arburg machines, he said, including one 350-ton, one 110-ton and six 165-ton machines.
Over the next three years, Teel expects to expand with up to 26 injection molding presses, Thompson said.
"We see a very strong future for us in this area," Thompson said.
Teaming up with Arburg, Thompson said, was "another important factor" in Teel's move into the injection molding market. Arburg's local support "has been an asset," he said, with an Arburg maintenance, sales and service contact stationed about 15-20 miles away from Teel's headquarters and an Arburg training facility about 150 miles southeast in Elgin, Ill.
"We were just very impressed with how they manufactured the presses," Thompson said. "We decided not only to buy the presses but also the robots. We felt it was important to have that integration. We have one for each of our presses."
Currently about 75 percent of Teel's molding sales comes from the medical market, he said, and most of that is for existing customers. But Teel has brought on some new "very large Fortune 500" medical customers that are starting with small orders.
"I think that as they get to know us and we perform well for them, that business is going to continue to grow," Thompson said. "I feel good that they're giving us the chance at some of their molding opportunities, smaller opportunities. But if we do a good job for them it will lead to very large growth."
Teel has also started some assembly lines, which, combined with extrusion and injection molding, has "really helped" some customers, he said.
Half of Teel's injection molding machines have been working to produce swab sticks for COVID-19 testing, which is "an important part" of Teel's ramp up in the space, Thompson said.
"Some of these swab sticks are pretty intricate," he said. "They have break points and very different dimensions, which sometimes can cause, if you don't mold them correctly, the parts to bend a little bit as they cool. We haven't had that problem, but that's something our customers have had an issue with others that have tried molding these parts."
Typically, the machines have a 64-cavity mold running on four-second cycle, Thompson said, and "can really pump out the parts that are really high quality."