New alliance makes speed-to-market a reality

By: 
September 09, 1998


It is tough for one company to be all things to all of its customers. But four companies working together, with each contributing its own area of expertise, can make a difference. One such example of cooperation is the PSI Alliance for moldmaking. During just its first year of these companies working together, Alliance members Bryan Hansel of Prototype Solutions LLC in Minneapolis, MN; Mike Ellison of Accelerated Technologies Inc. in Hebron, KY; John Armstrong of Armstrong Mold Inc. in Syracuse, NY; and Tom Kaczperski of Omega Plastics Inc. in Mount Clemens, MI have built nearly 700 molds.

How It All Began

Hansel entered the business as a trade sales rep for injection molders, moldmakers, and diecast companies. However, the lack of opportunity to add value frustrated him. Then, in 1990, opportunity knocked. Hansel sold a program in which the president of the company wanted to see a prototype.

Hansel found a rapid prototyping service bureau to do a prototype, and signed a rep agreement with the service bureau. As the RP industry matured, Hansel saw more demand for prototypes, to the point where he'd filled the service bureau with work. He kept transitioning to bigger and bigger shops in an effort to keep up with demand. Along with this growth, the need for rapid tooling also became increasingly visible.

Hansel saw an ad for Omega Plastics Inc., a moldmaking and molding company specializing in quick-turn (three to four weeks) prototype tooling and molded parts, and began working as a rep for that company. With a goal of bringing more value to his customers through a variety of RP processes, he needed to move to the next level. He began visiting many RP shops throughout the Midwest. One of those was Accelerated Technologies Inc. (ATI).

"I felt good about what company president Mike Ellison was doing in this area," says Hansel. ATI's expertise is in rapid prototyping and cast urethane. Hansel was also impressed with Armstrong Mold, whose specialty lies in two distinct areas: foundry diecast prototyping and Tru-Tool technology. In this process, the foundry pours the cores and cavities from RP models supplied by ATI, which provides dimensional verification.

"There's no cutting steel, no EDM work," explains Hansel about the Tru-Tool process. "It's all captured in the foundry. We're consistently half the lead time and a third to half the cost of conventional tooling." The cores and cavities are then shipped to Omega Plastics for such finishing work as adding ejection and water lines, and molding the parts. Typical volumes for parts range from 100 to 500.

With the expertise of these four companies, Hansel could make delivery times of four weeks or less possible, even for parts of "unbelievable complexity." By bringing these together, customers could have fully functional parts in the specified material in record time. With these, customers can perform testing and other evaluations while the production tool is being manufactured by a conventional moldmaker.

Last winter, at an all-day meeting in Cincinnati, the PSI Alliance officially came together. "This whole thing came together out of our vision that we wanted to be the industry leader in this market and by realizing we couldn't do it by ourselves," says Hansel. In that one day, the four formed PSI Alliance and wrote its mission statement.

"The powerful thing about an alliance," says Hansel, "is you have some different perspectives and owners who understand different ways of doing the job. Our focus is on what the alliance can do creatively to serve this market and our customers more effectively."

One of the Alliance partners, Omega Plastics is able to deliver aluminum injection molds like these in two to five weeks.

What an Alliance has to Offer

Among the four companies there exists a tremendous amount of manufacturing capacity and approximately 350 employees. Hansel expects Alliance members will reach a combined total of $40 million in sales this year, proof that creativity pays

off. PSI Alliance's slogan says it all: "Tomorrow's solutions for today's products."

Hansel says that a "technology committee" comprised of people from each company is charged with developing rapid prototyping solutions in various methods. "This technology committee is doing some bizarre things," Hansel says. "If you went to a typical moldmaker with some of these things, he'd laugh you out of his shop. We do things other people don't consider."

An administrative committee, which consists of the president of each company, decides where product development technology is going and how the Alliance can help it get there. "We can assess where the product is and what is needed to get the product to market and which members it will take to do the job," says Hansel.

In addition to providing prototype tooling and parts, PSI Alliance offers what Hansel calls "bridge-to-production" tooling. This involves traditional-cut tooling in aluminum, with the ability to do the first 10,000 to 50,000 parts while the customer waits for the conventional tool. This concurrent process means that companies can get to market up to two and a half months earlier by using a bridge-to-production tool.

Hansel makes it clear that theirs is an extremely focused niche. "We're not competing with the production molder or moldmaker," he states. "We take the part of the job he doesn't want, the quick-turn, low-volume prototype. This takes the pressure off getting the tool done because the customer is getting parts." Another advantage to production moldmakers and molders is they can actually see how the mold will run before they even begin building the hardened tool and running production parts.

"There are a lot of upsides to this, but getting people to listen to us is another thing," laments Hansel. "So many molders or moldmakers still try to do it all themselves. They're leveraged to the hilt yet there's no way they can keep up. Creativity and innovation are the keys."

Hansel says he feels lucky to have found three other companies whose management enjoys pushing the creative envelope as much as he does, and predicts that other shops will be "scrambling to be alive" if they don't innovate. "We had a unique opportunity to bring these four companies together," says Hansel. "It's a lot more powerful than we originally envisioned. I guess the lesson here is that we can be more powerful together than we can apart."

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