Canadian Plastics

Designing profits

When Michael Hetherington and Peter Welch started their industrial design firm, Hetherington Welch Design Ltd., 12 years ago they had no strong desire to enter the custom molding business. The logic f...

September 1, 1999   Canadian Plastics



When Michael Hetherington and Peter Welch started their industrial design firm, Hetherington Welch Design Ltd., 12 years ago they had no strong desire to enter the custom molding business. The logic for getting into molding, however, became clearer to them when they continued to have difficulty developing a good working relationship with a molder to trial mold parts they had designed.

“When there was a problem, we’d get dragged into the discussion ‘is it the part, is it the mold, is it the process’ and who should pay for what,” says Hetherington, president. “We knew there had to be a better way.”

They started looking into manufacturing seven years ago, launching the injection molding firm Custom Molders Ltd., as well as the tool & die shop, Brook Tool, both of which are based in a 20,000 sq. ft. facility in Mississauga, Ont. Business partner Mel Bruce is in charge of the molding operation while partner Fritz Payer is in charge of the tool shop, leaving Hetherington and Welch free to focus on design and business development from their Richmond Hill, Ont. offices.

The formula has proved lucrative as design work rather handily transfers into a steady load of tooling and custom molding jobs. “Our design business provides about 80 percent of molding customers and 100 percent of our tooling business,” says Hetherington. “We do not make tools for any one but ourselves.”

Custom Molders has 18 Mitsubishi and Nissei injection molding machines ranging from 50 to 380 tonnes in clamping force. High growth in the molding operation has driven the company to add one to two injection machines a year, a trend Hetherington expects to continue.

“We have anywhere from 30 to 40 jobs on-going at any given time,” Hetherington notes. “Generally, once we get a customer we don’t lose them.”

While the company has designed products for a variety of industries, including medical, consumer appliance and automotive, its area of specialty is the design of electronic devices and equipment. Some of these products include telephones, electronic scanners, security sensors, electronic massagers, smoke detectors, a cordless broom for Black & Decker and many other types of devices.

Revenue from the molding operation has permitted the company to continually upgrade and invest in the latest design technology. The company uses Pro/Engineer and AutoCAD software for 3D solid modeling, Alias software for photo-realistic renderings of designs and Mastercam for generating tool paths for prototype models and molds. The design office also has a shop equipped with CNC machines and other equipment, including a Stratasys Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) rapid prototyping system for making RP models out of ABS.

Hetherington, a toolmaker by training, and Welch, who has an arts background, have seen the ranks of Canadian industrial designers steadily diminish since their first days in business.

“Most industrial designers have fallen by the wayside in Canada,” says Hetherington. “Most of the ones who are gone have failed to keep up with changing technology and times.”


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