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Quebec’s Precimold is finding its own way forward

The mid-1960s was a long time ago, and you don’t last from then until now without reinventing yourself along the way.


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May 2, 2013 by Canadian Plastics

Gunter Weiss on the shop floor.
Gunter Weiss on the shop floor.

The mid-1960s was a long time ago, and you don’t last from then until now without reinventing yourself along the way.

Take Precimold Inc. The Candiac, Que.-based contract manufacturer, custom injection molder, and tool maker of precision medical, electronic, and technical components didn’t start out as such when it was incorporated in 1966. Company founder and current president Gunter Weiss arrived in Canada from his native Germany in the early 1960s armed with a master’s degree in precision mechanics – and zero plans to fabricate molds in the plastics sector. But working in Canada’s medical instrumentation sector drew him into making molds for an assortment of rubber parts – and then, in 1970, into purchasing his first injection press to mold window stops, followed closely by a second unit to make wrist watch components.

The window stops and watch components contracts went belly-up when the customers ran into financial hardships, leaving Precimold with idle presses – a short-term crisis that quickly morphed into a blessing. “When companies like NCR, Northern Telecom, and Singer found out that our presses were available and that we could mold parts they could not have manufactured elsewhere, our injection molding business really took off, eventually becoming at least as important to the company as moldmaking,” Weiss said. And, according to Weiss, it’s also what has built Precimold’s reputation over the years. “Molding small, technically complex parts is perhaps what we have become best known for,” he said.

SOLD ON NEW EQUIPMENT

To that end, Precimold has been on a buying spree lately, acquiring new equipment both for precision molding and also for an increased demand for precision moldmaking. “We recently purchased a Sodick Wire EDM machine, a Sodick Ram EDM machine, a Hardinge CNC Lathe, an Engel molding machine, three portable cleanrooms, robots, and an assortment of auxiliary equipment,” Weiss said.

There’s no mystery behind the purchase of the portable cleanrooms. “We’re getting more heavily involved in cleanroom medical parts molding, which is a good fit for our expertise with small and complex parts,” Weiss said. But the same could be said of umpteen custom molders. Some of the other newly-acquired equipment, however, reflects something more unique, Precimold’s deepening commitment to a market that others are approaching with extreme caution: the automotive sector. “Traditionally, our involvement in the auto industry has been in manufacturing ball bearing retainers; we design and make the molds, and do production in our molding facility,” Weiss said. “But in spite of the negative economy that everyone talks about, we’re becoming increasingly involved in a broader range of automotive work. It wasn’t entirely our own decision; our customers have been sending more and more work to us lately, and that justified our buying extra equipment.”

There are worse problems to have, and it’s only the latest example of the company’s above-noted tendency to follow its own path in search of new business – sometimes reinventing itself in the process. That path had taken another turn in 2010, when Precimold purchased the Search & Rescue lighting division EJE Trans-Lite (EJETL) from one of its clients, Rutter Inc. of St. John’s, Nfld., for which it had been molding all the plastic components of EJETL’s patented Digi-Lite onboard life jacket. Fast forward three years later and Canada’s Department of National Defense (DND) has come knocking. “We’ve been given a mandate by the DND to design a hydrostatic electro mechanical inflator component for life vests,” Weiss explained. “The finished product will incorporate a combination of injection molded parts, metal parts and electronics, and we’re now in the final stage of development. At present, the contract is to supply life vests for cruise ship lines and Coast Guard vessles, but we believe the product is a revolutionary design that has worldwide potential.”

 

SLINGS AND ARROWS

But the going hasn’t always been as smooth as Weiss would have liked. Not long ago, Precimold was operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It employed 90 people and generated $9 million in revenues. Cut to today and the company has slimmed down to 50 employees working five days a week, and sales hover around $4 million, in large part because major customers like Avon and Lexmark have been sending orders to China. “You have to react to the situation; when there’s a bad storm on the horizon, you have to head back to port quickly to take shelter,” Weiss said. “But the pendulum swings both ways, and business does come back. One car manufacturer asked us to remake the molds they had ordered from China because the supplier could only deliver them in a year. Another client left us for India only to come back a year later in a panic; we solved their problem and they’re now a loyal customer again.”

In recognition of Precimold’s success in weathering any number of economic storms for almost 50 years – and as a salute to his position in the pantheon of Quebec plastics pioneers – Weiss was named the 2011 Person of the Year by the Federation of Plastics and Alliances Composites (FEPAC). The company has also been recognized for excellence in mold fabrication and for the injection molding of high precision parts in both Quebec and Canada.   

And if you think Weiss has learned a thing or two along the way – you’re right. “The key is to diversify, and to seek new opportunities without losing your hold on core markets,” he said. “I’ve seen too many plastics processors go under because their one and only big client left them for China. We’ve been hurt by that too, but our tenacity and imagination have been our biggest assets and have kept us going.”

So don’t anyone bet on the reinvention process being over yet.