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IMMC's plant tour: MIM molder targets new markets

May 7, 2000

6 Min Read
IMMC's plant tour:  MIM molder targets new markets

Metal injection molding is but one of the competitive weapons in the manufacturing arsenal of a vertically integrated multinational known in the U.S. as Taurus International. Working as one with its Brazilian parent company, Taurus uses investment casting, forging, and machining in addition to MIM to manufacture firearms for global markets.

It is one of the top five producers of semiautomatic pistols and is number one worldwide in revolvers. It also makes rifles, carbines, and shotguns. Business is booming. Still, Taurus has set its sights on new growth opportunities in different markets. It now offers custom manufacturing services, including MIM, to provide competitive solutions with the most cost-effective technology best suited to a customer’s particular application.

Taurus had been outsourcing MIM parts for about 10 years until volume requirements warranted bringing MIM in-house. The company was already well acquainted with MIM’s ability to produce small, strong, complex parts at very competitive prices. Its MIM operations began in the States about five years ago. More recently, a mirror-image MIM facility was started in Brazil.

In a short time, Taurus became the first MIM molder anywhere able to produce parts to demanding MIL-standard specs. Today, it specializes in small-to-medium volume runs of near-zero tolerance parts that typically weigh from 1 to 100g. The company’s award-winning quality, design engineering skills, and rapid growth in MIM has surprised many, including its former MIM suppliers. Ever been in a molding plant with its own firing range? No? Let’s tour.

Its Own Best Customer
Eduardo Lopes de Barros, our guide, is MIM general manager at Taurus. De Barros started up MIM in Miami and oversees the company’s Brazilian MIM operation. After pointing out the intricately designed, multifunctional MIM parts on display under glass in the lobby, he ushers us into a conference room. There we are joined by Robert G. Morrison, executive vp and coo. Both agree that getting into MIM so quickly would have been all but impossible without having a built-in customer ready and waiting.

Publicly held 61-year-old Forjas Taurus S.A. of Porto Alegre, Brazil is the parent company of the privately held 19-year-old Taurus International of Miami. MIM is a separate P&L center. Taurus also avails itself of the Brazilian operation’s capacity, which includes investment casting, forging, machining, and plastics injection and coinjection molding. "We are one company," Morrison states.

Forjas Taurus was the first firearms manufacturer to be ISO certified and the first anywhere to forge titanium for firearms. The company’s titanium Taurus Tracker revolvers—available in either a seven-shot .357 Magnum or a five-shot .41 Magnum—are eight times stronger and two-thirds lighter than comparable steel models. They also feature soft-touch grips molded and multimolded in Santoprene, and several MIM parts. The latter include adjustable sights, thumbpieces, and the company’s own internal trigger lock system—another industry first. Experiments in titanium MIM molding are under way.

"We are still the largest consumer of our MIM parts. All of our designers must take manufacturing into account, and we design all of our own products with MIM in mind," Morrison explains. "A typical Taurus handgun has about seven MIM parts. But MIM is an emerging industry in every field. Setting up a MIM operation in Brazil has freed our MIM capacity here and we are now aggressively pursuing new markets to grow."

He admits that there is still a considerable amount of "alchemy" in the MIM process. You have to know every phase of the process and know how each affects the others. Getting started was no easy affair, Morrison adds. "But when your best customer owns you, you have to learn how to do things very fast. After all, you can’t lie to your own mother."

No Margin For Error
Our first stop in the shop is Taurus’s well-equipped repair room. All of the spare parts here are in barcoded bins. Barcoding is used extensively throughout the plant. There also is a test firing range in the repair room, one of two in the plant. Taurus ensures that every single one of its products works properly before it is shipped.

Nearby is the company’s quality control room. De Barros tells us that Taurus offers an unlimited lifetime warranty on all of its firearms. That same confidence in the quality of its own products is carried over to the parts it custom molds for others. "We do SPC and DOEs, perform DFMA, and take all of the other measures to ensure our quality. But, at the end of the day, we test fire all of our own products. No one here will accept failure."

On our way to the MIM molding area, we pass a bank of CNC machine tools near a polishing station. De Barros explains that Taurus practices CNC machining as part of its dedication to automating secondaries wherever possible. Machining is also offered as a parts manufacturing process when it is more practical. Taurus never oversells MIM when helping customers determine the best method of manufacturing their metal parts. The company is a single source for a variety of cost-effective alternatives.

The company’s tool staging, MIM molding, debinding, and sintering all are configured in a compact layout that saves floor space but still maintains ample room for efficient product flow. The unit frame molds belonging to its customers are as fully checked and prepped prior to each run as its own. De Barros says Taurus is considering bringing moldmaking in-house in Brazil to help reduce the cost impact of tooling up for short runs. Nevertheless, it is already capable of producing up to 5000 parts from the prototype molds it builds in-house.

Aggressive Growth Plans
Both of its small toggle presses run automatically. As in every area of the plant, preventive maintenance is a regularly scheduled practice. There are scales beside the presses. If part weight drifts beyond upper or lower control limits, the presses are stopped and the problem is immediately identified and fixed. Finishing secondaries like high-speed tumbling and bead blasting are nearby.

Taurus plans to move its manufacturing operations into the expansive warehouse now used for product staging and shipping. De Barros says Taurus plans to install more molding machines in Miami this year and has already sent a new MIM furnace to Brazil. Both plants are growing thanks to custom molding.

Taurus also plans to expand its barcoding system into other areas of its plant. And a new open-architecture MIS system will soon be installed. De Barros says the additional equipment and systems will help Taurus better serve its own production requirements and its existing customers, while enabling it to pursue new growth markets, such as automotive.

De Barros and his colleagues are confident that Taurus will be able to leverage the reputation for high-caliber quality and innovation it has won in the firearms business into continued growth in other market areas. With the array of manufacturing resources at its disposal and its decades of experience in taking the hassle out of importing and exporting, they feel Taurus is well-armed for the hunt.

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