BEYOND AUTOMOTIVE MOLDING
By Mark Stephen, Managing Editor
PEGLOW TOOL & DIE: DIVERSIFYING TO REMAIN COMPETITIVE
PEGLOW TOOL & DIE: DIVERSIFYING TO REMAIN COMPETITIVE
After 28 years in the same Niagara Falls, Ont. facility, custom injection molder and mold, tool and die maker Peglow Tool & Die Inc. is without question well-established.
That’s not to say the company isn’t subject to the ups and downs of the plastics processing industry, however, or isn’t flexible enough to remain open to new business ideas.
Like many other shops, Peglow Tool & Die has been hit by the declining fortunes of the auto industry — in their case, by plant closures in the St. Catherines, Ont. area in particular. “Ninety per cent of our business used to be automotive-related work, primarily die-making, as well as a small amount of injection molding of tool aids used on automotive production lines,” said company president Stephen Peglow. “Now, automotive work probably constitutes 10 per cent of our die-making business, and we are not molding anything for the auto industry presently.”
To compensate, the company has taken on the widest range of injection molding work possible. “We’ve manufactured everything from novel sand rakes for golfers, to serving trays, to soap holders, to prosthetic components,” Peglow said. “We will take on virtually any part order, and as a result our injection molding output has actually increased over the past year.”
Oftentimes, the pursuit of new opportunities involves sitting down with a prospective customer and assisting with part design. “It’s a service we’re happy to provide, and it facilitates part prototyping,” Peglow said. “Once the customer is satisfied with the design, we’ll go immediately into full-blown production.”
UNLOCKING THE MEDICAL MARKET
An area of particular promise is molding medical parts. “Presently, we manufacture parts used in research and development for the medical field, such as work aids for labs,” Peglow explained. “This is a new market for us, and we anticipate it growing.” The company does not yet manufacture microparts, nor does it have a cleanroom, but Peglow anticipates the installation of a cleanroom if this side of their business continues to increase. “We’re also investing in automation to enhance our injection molding machines, so the parts come through with as little interference with an operator as possible,” he said. “The quantities of our automotive parts were never large enough to warrant this step in the past, but we consider automation absolutely necessary to stay competitive in the medical parts market.”
Peglow Tool & Die is not presently ISO certified, but Peglow doesn’t believe this hampers their medical parts contracts. “We document everything we do, and have a quality program that satisfies all of our customers and passes all yearly quality control audits,” he said. “Some of our staff are taking ISO courses, though, in addition to the part measurement training necessary for making medical parts.”
The company currently operates three Battenfeld injection molding machines in its 8,000 square foot plant: a 100 ton, a 110 ton, and a 275 ton unit. “Battenfeld provides very good technical support,” Peglow said. “Their machines are reliable and competitively priced, and the staff will do whatever they can to assist us.”
Peglow describes himself as optimistic about his company’s future. “The key to our growth — and to the growth of a lot of other Canadian molders, as well — is going to be diversification,” he said. “Being able to take on a wide variety of jobs is the future of our industry.”
Given its location, it’s perhaps ironic that one of the few injection molding markets Peglow Tool & Die isn’t involved in lies on the company’s very doorstep: Niagara Falls’ ubiquitous souvenir industry. “Those trinkets are all made in China,” Peglow said with a smile.
Peglow Tool & Die (Niagara Falls, Ont.); www.peglow.ca; 905-358-9583 Battenfeld (Wittmann Canada Inc.) (Richmond Hill, Ont.);
PROTOPLAST: EXPANDING NICHE MARKET APPLICATIONS
Cobourg, Ont.-based Protoplast Inc. has always been a busy shop, not only manufacturing injection molded parts for both automotive and non-automotive markets, but also serving as a single-source supplier of molds, and delivering integrated turnkey services to a wide range of customers.
For a long while, though, there was no question as to which market segment was the most lucrative. “At one time, we had in excess of 75 per cent of our business from automotive production,” said Catherine Rolph, vice president, finance and administration. “Now, with the softening of the auto industry, automotive production currently represents approximately 40 per cent of our business.”
While remaining committed to the automotive industry, the company has made a conscious decision to use the slowdown to good effect, diversifying production and broadening its customer base for injection molded products to include medical, consumer, bio-technology and agricultural markets. “Diversification has always been paramount to our strategic planning,” Rolph explained. “Our current diverse composition gives us the ability to track and respond to other market trends and conditions as they develop.”
One of the company’s projects involves working with Exxon/Santoprene to develop creative processes in injection blow molding that will fill a niche in a variety of markets, automotive and non-automotive alike. “For us, this will be the key to long term planning and sustainability: niche markets that feed the product development cycle in all industries,” Rolph said.
Protoplast currently houses 13 injection molding machines in its 40,000 square foot processing plant. Primarily manufactured by Sumitomo, but also including a Demag model, the machines cover a range from a 75 ton electric unit to a 500 ton hydraulic molding machine with magnetic platens. “All of our injection molding units are flexible enough to suit any of the non-automotive markets we’re currently targeting,” Rolph said.
PLAYING TO STRENGTHS
Originally founded as a tool shop in 1981, the company also continues to take advantage of its strengths in this field. “We’re succeeding in non-automotive markets by spending time to develop molds that are the right choice for the project, whether it be a multi-cavity H13 mold with a hot manifold, or a hybrid mold combining highly thermoconductive materials in hard to cool places,” said Terry Harris, who started at Protoplast in1985 as an apprentice mold-maker and is now manager, design and engineering.
The company plans to continue work as an automotive molder, particularly for such “new domestics” as Toyota and Honda. In the meanwhile, however, Harris credits the discipline and experience in lean manufacturing gained from working within the automotive margins with helping Protoplast secure other accounts. “The one phrase I never get tired of hearing when I pick up the phone is, ‘I need your help with a problem’,” he said. “This tells me we’re doing something right.”
Protoplast Inc. (Cobourg, Ont.); www.protoplast.com; 905-372-6451 Demag Plastics Group (Strongsville, Ohio); www.dpg.com; 866-491-1045
Stephen Sales Group (Markham, Ont.); 905-940-5577 Sumitomo Plastics Machinery
(Norcross, Ga.); www.sumitomoPM.com; Plastics Machinery Inc. (Newmarket, Ont.); 905-895-5054
GW PLASTICS: BRINGING AUTO PARTS EXPERTISE TO HEALTHCARE MOLDING
By any standard, GW Plastics Inc. is a formidable organization. With six facilities worldwide, totaling 350,000 square feet of manufacturing space and housing more than 150 injection molding machines, the company ranks among the top 100 injection molders in North America.
Focusing on close tolerance precision molding and assembly, GW Plastics has long been committed t
o the automotive market. They remain so, but focus primarily on safety-related products such as seat belts, airbags, and sophisticated insert molded fuel system components.
While its output of these parts remains consistent, automotive applications are decreasing as an overall percentage of the company’s total manufacturing revenue. Healthcare manufacturing, meanwhile, is on the rise. “Five years ago, our business was evenly split between automotive and healthcare markets,” said Larry Bell, vice president, business development and marketing. “Today, two-thirds of our production relates to healthcare.”
Bell sees similarities between the value of precision plastics in both the automotive and healthcare industries. “Much of the value that our industry has been bringing to automotive parts for the past 30 years is equally applicable to the healthcare market,” he said. “This includes part consolidation, weight reduction, and metal replacement.”
Due to the precision demanded in molding its safety-critical automotive parts, GW Plastics is particularly well suited to expand its role in manufacturing healthcare parts, Bell said. “Our production standards for automotive parts are already very high; our healthcare customers demand the same high level of precision,” he explained. “For example, in all of our safety-critical applications, for both automotive and healthcare applications, we use cavity pressure transducers to ensure a high level of consistency, shot-to-shot, day-to-day, standardized across all of our production locations.”
The company benefits further from having six Class 8 (formerly Class 100,000) cleanrooms, which allow for the contract manufacturing of complex healthcare diagnostic, medical devices, and drug delivery applications — a growing market segment as more and more aging baby boomers require medical attention.
GW Plastics uses Engel injection molding machines for many automotive applications, and finds the machines well suited for healthcare production, with little upgrade needed. “For healthcare parts, it is sometimes necessary to install automated press-side, Class 8 packaging stations equipped with HEPA filters,” Bell said. “Because we have a high level of standardization across all of our plants, it’s important for us to standardize on molding machines as well, and Engel fulfills our needs for most applications.”
The importance GW Plastics places on molding medical applications can be seen in its recent establishment of a new division called GW Silicones, equipped with state-of-the-art Engel liquid silicone rubber (LSR) machines. This division is primarily focused on the LSR rubber molding for healthcare and other related industries. “GW Silicones provides us with an additional level of support to our customers in the healthcare market,” Bell said. “While automotive molding remains very important to us, we expect healthcare production to continue to be a larger percentage of our total output over time.”
GW Plastics Inc. (Bethel, Vt.); www.gwplastics.com; 802-234-9941
Engel Canada Inc. (Guelph, Ont); www.engelglobal.com/na; 519-836-0220