In fact, Kelly said that Performance Plastics uses a third party to produce hot runner components which are then assembled into a hot runner system by its own tool makers. The third party doesn't know the whole picture, and neither does the hot runner supplier.
In addition to the tooling challenges, venting and precision thermal management of the equipment required new designs to handle the toxic fumes and high continuous heat generated during processing.
Performance Plastics worked with suppliers of molding machines, air handling and thermal management systems to make accommodations for fluoropolymer processing requirements. Robotic workstations using hybrid, hot runner technology with direct gated, multicavity molds were developed to enhance fill flow quality and eliminate stem and sprue waste.
The only supplier Kelly was willing to name in the interview is Milacron, which supplies Roboshot machines. Perfomance Plastics worked with Milacron suppliers to provide special screws, barrels and other components that could handle fluoropolymers.
It's not clear how unique the company's capabilities are in fluoropolymer injection molding. Kelly said he has been told by a major medical device manufacturer that it believes Performance Plastics is the only company that can direct gate molded fluoropolymer parts, eliminating runner waste. That translates into major savings because the resin is expensive, and waste typically cannot be reused due to medical specifications.
One result is that Performance Plastics exports up to 30% of its total output annually. Some customers are divisions of global OEMS based in the United States. Interestingly, some are Asian OEMs with no U.S. operations.
Parts now molded by Performance Plastics with the new technology include a syringe and plunger with 0.10 mm molded-in membrane. The plunger has undercuts and no parting lines. Elimination of "stick slip" because of low surface adhesion provides smooth plunger action for better delivery control.
A specimen tray has complex geometry and design details, thin walls and by-passable shut-offs. A single, center gate provides excellent flow for repeatable fill quality, according to Kelly.
Performance Plastics last year received a $197,238 "State Energy Plan Grant" from the state of Ohio. Funds came from the Federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA).
The grant was used to fund half the cost to replace three hydraulically actuated plastic injection molding machines with electric Milacron Roboshot S2000I-B Series.
Performance Plastics operates 22 injection molding machines with a tonnage range form 33 to 330. Kelly said the sweet spot for the company's business is in the 110 to 165 range in tons of clamping force. Head count has held steady for the past four year despite the strong growth because of increased automation and investment in high-speed vision equipment.
Much of the fluoropolymer molding capability was driven originally by the consumer electronics business. That knowledge is now being applied increasingly to the medical market. About 30% of its business is now in medical. One particular target will be replacement of glass in syringes, where there have been breakage, inertness, barrier and other concerns.