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IMM's Plant Tour: Outgrowing micromolding

May 15, 2001

10 Min Read
IMM's Plant Tour: Outgrowing micromolding

Hy-Ten Plastics is a growing company in Milford, NH that made big news in the trades in 1993, long before anyone coined the term "micromolding." Hy-Ten precision molded some very small tight-tolerance parts back then—protective shields for disk drive components run in a 30 percent glass/15 percent PTFE-filled LNP nylon. 

Part weight was less than .10g. 

Hy-Ten was equally ahead of its time when it came to quality. Articles in '93 mentioned the company's pursuit of ISO 9002 certification, a somewhat new and expensive proposition growing family-owned molders like Hy-Ten tended to shy away from. When Hy-Ten outgrew its original facility four years ago its new plant in Milford also was ISO certified, ISO 9001 this time around, soon after opening its doors. The company's commitment to quality grew to include design. However, Hy-Ten outgrew micromolding. 

Apparently, there are problems with being too far ahead of your time. Hy-Ten officials confess it was difficult finding adequate growth opportunities for its high-tech wizardry in a virtually nonexistent market niche. Fortunately, new ideas about how to better sell such expertise have opened the door to medical—a large, stable, and predictable market with runs long enough to support Hy-Ten's two-year plans to double its sales and go global. 

Medical offers growth opportunities, but can pose daunting financial and cultural challenges to growing family-owned molders. Nevertheless, Hy-Ten has invested in a 4700-sq-ft, all-electric, Class 100,000 cleanroom. It also has invested in transforming its high-tech wizards into the responsible and accountable type of professionals medical customers expect. Don't be surprised—neckties are as much in fashion now in Milford as cleanroom garb. Let's tour. 

Vital Stats

Hy-Ten Plastics, Milford, NH

Square footage:


Annual sales:

$6.5 million ($8 million expected in 2002)

Markets served:

Medical, industrial, Tier Three automotive, consumer

Capital investment: 

$1.5 million over the next three years

Parts produced: 

30 million/year

Materials processed:

Primarily ETPs

Raw material used: 

35,000 lb/month

No. of employees:

48 (full time)

Shifts worked:

Three shifts, five days/week (cleanroom operates 24/7)

Molding machines:

17, 22 to 275 tons, Battenfeld, Arburg, Niigata, Nissei

Secondary operations:

Assembly, ultrasonic welding, machining

Internal moldmaking:

Yes, also outsources offshore


ISO 9001 certified

Beyond Business-casual 
"Our goal is to change a family-run kind of business into a performance-run business. Value is everything. Price and quality are assumed," says Derik Fritsch, Hy-Ten's new vp of sales and marketing. He joined the company less than a year ago, after a stint at Sony in California. 

His uncle, Franz Fritsch, president, a moldmaker by trade, cofounded Hy-Ten with a group of colleagues in 1963 and bought it in 1982. Derik Fritsch credits his uncle with talking him into an injection molding career. 

"You can get used to a certain comfort level in a personally run family business. Everything is on a first-name basis. But this hampers your competitive edge," Fritsch continues. "There's more to it than just being buddy-buddy with your employees. We all need to indisputably show value." 

This can be a hard transition. Fritsch admits company veterans sometimes worry that their days are numbered. Michael McGown is vp of operations and, with four years of service, is a relative newcomer himself. Like many in the area, McGown once was with Nypro. He says management is taking steps to help everyone at Hy-Ten better learn the new focus, including enrolling them in Dale Carnegie courses offsite. 

"We have become more professional in dealing with our customers in every respect," McGown says. "We even do professional presentations now to show our value, and to show our competency and capability. PowerPoint is our biggest friend." On our way from the conference room, Fritsch adds, "To improve the perception of our company and its guarantee of success we have to insist on accountability. All contribute." 

Quality Rules 

The quality lab is our first stop past the office cubicles and a small kitchen. Bart Crandall, ISO coordinator and head of QA, ushers us to one of the lab's star performers—an automated Microvu Vector 12-by-12-inch optical measuring machine. Crandall believes it is the largest of its type in New England. 

A Brown & Sharpe Gage 2000 CMM is nearby. In addition to a Brown & Sharpe toolmaker's microscope, two Mitutoyo optical comparators also catch our eyes. 

Hy-Ten's policy is that quality is the cornerstone of customer satisfaction. Part dimensions, functional use, packaging, preservation, and cosmetics are meticulously reviewed here to ensure product acceptance. 

"We have yet to experience an occasion where we have not exceeded customer specifications," Crandall says. "We guarantee quality. Our internal scrap rate is less than 1 percent, and our part returns are at zero." 

Supplier-aided Engineering 
Design engineering is the next stop. The company presently has two design engineers and soon may be hiring another to help customers turn their napkin sketches into manufacturable products. 

Although pleased with the performance of its SDRC I-deas Master Series version 7 software, Fritsch plans to possibly add a seat of Pro/E to ease file format translations. Meanwhile, Hy-Ten is using Cadkey 2000 software with ACIS solids in addition to its SDRC software. 

CAE, including flow analysis and FEA, is outsourced by Hy-Ten, mostly from its materials suppliers—LNP in particular. "I couldn't say enough about the support LNP has provided Hy-Ten over the years," McGown says. Eastman and RTP also get Hy-Ten's gold star. 

On our way to the new cleanroom, McGown escorts us upstairs to a mezzanine that overlooks the main molding room. Past offices and another conference room is a corridor separating the main molding room and cleanroom. Machine water and air run underground on both sides, but electrical utilities run from up here, overhead. 

An All-electric Rx 
Back downstairs in the main molding room, we pass the Battenfeld, Arburg, and Niigata molding machines equipped with Dri-Air materials conditioning systems and Automated Assemblies pickers. 

Ceilings around the plant are almost 20 ft high. Most floors are epoxy coated. There are hard rubber mats at the main molding room entrance and on the stairs to the mezzanine. Approaching a big blue door at the far end, we pass a cell sheathed in a portable cleanroom—a hint of what's to come. 

In operation since October 2000, Hy-Ten's cleanroom has 13-ft-high ceilings, and floors covered with easily cleaned linoleum. Hy-Ten presently has two standardized all-electric manufacturing cells in operation under its cleanroom's 24 Hepa filters. 

Each molding cell consists of a Matsui materials handling and conditioning system, a 110-ton Nissei Elject ES-Series all-electric press, and a Sailor servo robot. Materials are conveyed to machine hoppers right through the bulkhead. A Tec parts conveyor has already been purchased as fully automated production is planned. 

Setup stations are in place for six more servomolding machines, some already on order. The company will have to move its cleanroom assembly area, supported by a Branson 900 welder, when the room goes completely all-electric. 

Culture Shock 
We haven't heard much lately from the press OEMs about drive-belt dust problems in cleanrooms, since almost all of them now build all-electrics, but we asked cleanroom manager Craig Brown anyhow. He said that after 900 hours, running 11-second cycles 24/7, the Nisseis exhibited zero belt wear. 

"And the lubrication systems work very well," Brown adds. "It only takes 30 minutes or so to remove any excess grease." Cleanliness and drift-free process control precision were among the reasons Hy-Ten selected all-electrics. 

Also, though electricity rates vary frequently in the area, they still are relatively high. "Rates were just over $9.15/kWh last year. They are $8.74/kWh now," Fritsch tells us. 

"Machine manufacturers have done a tremendous job masking the reality of what's really going on inside an electric. Operating one looks and feels just like it used to with a hydraulic machine," says McGown. Still, Brown admits that resistance to the all-electric room is still prevalent among some of Hy-Ten's workforce. 

"Ask the old timers around the plant to work in here and they act like you're punishing them," Brown says, laughing. "It's a whole different discipline, what with the gowns, and hairnets, and all." 

Homemade Chinese Tools 
Hy-Ten has decades of experience using modular unit-frame tooling. Aluminum or steel tools capable of running prototype parts in a customer's material of choice can be turned around in less than three weeks. 

On the production mold side, Hy-Ten has almost 500 active tools. As part of its new sales and marketing initiatives, Hy-Ten is pursuing multimold programs, like the eight-week, 25-tool job it recently quoted. 

Its toolroom is about 40 percent CNC. There are two seats of SDRC Generative Machining CAM on the floor for its two Trak DPM CNC three-axis mills, and one seat for its Fadal VMC-15 mill. In addition to its other toolroom and engineering capacity, Hy-Ten runs CNC EDMs from Sodick, Charmilles, and Mitsubishi. 

Hy-Ten also is sourcing cost-effective tooling for high-volume runs from a strategic ally in mainland China. A full-time Hy-Ten mechanical engineer is stationed there. McGown says lead time for simple offshore tooling is four weeks. It is six weeks for more complex molds. Its Chinese molds are built to Hy-Ten's design using the same supply lines Hy-Ten uses in New Hampshire. 

Owing to recent successes, Fritsch is confident that Hy-Ten will eventually evolve into the type of performance-based business he feels is necessary for continued growth. Changing the dress code was the easy part. He says the real challenge is ingraining the accountability mentality in-house, doing things like "saying no to 500-part runs of technologically engaging oddities, just because the customer's kids may go to school with my kids." 

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