As mentioned in our article above on Greg Roembke and his company, thermoplastic injection mold manufacturers who hope to create a new business making and selling molds for processing of liquid silicon rubber (LSR) face an abundance of hurdles. It can be done, though, as proven by Built-Rite Tool & Die Inc., a company founded as a manufacturer of thermoplastic injection molds but which over the years has evolved into a good deal more.
Today, Built-Rite, located in Lancaster, MA, is the parent company of Reliance Engineering, a molder of thermoplastic and thermoset materials, and LSR Engineering, which performs LSR molding. Four years ago the company's president, Craig Bovaird, decided to enter his company into the LSR market segment. "We work with thermoplastics and with thermosets, so we're used to dealing with flashpoints," says Roger Ikonen, project manager for LSR Engineering. "Moldmaking precision has to increase substantially with LSR, which is very similar to traditional thermoset materials which also flash very easily. We felt that LSR would be a good fit for us even though it was fairly new to us." Built-Rite builds molds for medical applications in thermoplastics and thermosets, and with the demand for LSR increasing in medical applications, the company believed that entering the LSR mold business would provide a new business opportunity. Additionally, the company received its ISO certification.
However, the company's leadership recognized that LSR is a different animal, and didn't enter the market without doing due diligence. Ikonen says that several people in the company took seminars on LSR at the University of Wisconsin to learn more about the nuances of the technology. "We started slowly, made the right investments and made sound decisions as we got into it," explains Ikonen. "We've gained a lot of expertise in building LSR molds...Our ability to design, build and sample a customer's mold is somewhat unique in the marketplace. We have partnered with several custom molders and OEM's to provide product development services which involve prototype and short run molding. Production mold building success is enhanced by this service as the pitfalls of a design can be addressed in the development phase. In many cases production mold building commences almost in parallel and allows an expedited and proven entry into the market for our customers."
Ikonen acknowledges that the differences in plastic injection mold design and manufacturing, versus LSR mold design and manufacturing, do not make for an easy translation from one to the other. "A lot of plastic injection mold makers try to get into LSR and wash their hands of it," he says. "It's not easy to do. We realized this going in and set goals, developed a business plan, got help from the equipment people including (injection mold machine manufacturers) Engel and Arburg, and we purchased LSR specific machines; we didn't try to retrofit plastic injection machines.
LSR Engineering currently has several LSR injection molding machines from Engel and Arburg. These machines include both horizontal and vertical clamp as well as rotary table units in addition to all the auxiliary equipment needed to produce LSR parts. "We're extremely happy with the growth we've had in LSR, and we expect to grow a good 20% this year, which will require the addition of 1-2 LSR molding machines," adds Ikonen.