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March 29, 2002

11 Min Read
IMM's Plant Tour: A molder that's true to its name

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Like its main molding room, all of Hi-Tech's manufacturing areas are climate controlled. This helps molds, materials, machines, and machine operators work more smoothly.

Bill Kristensen Sr. is the founder and president of a premier custom molding/ contract manufacturer in New England called Hi-Tech Mold & Tool Inc. Called Bill Sr. around the shop, he donned a toolmaker's apron on Feb. 28 at the request of his sales and marketing manager, Carl Olson, who needed a favor.

Olson asked Bill Sr. to fix a tiny core pin that was bent and was causing ultrasonic welding problems downstream. All the other toolmakers were busy, or not available, and production was shut down.

Olson says, "Late in the day he comes in, sits in my office, and proceeds to tell me how he practically rebuilt the mold. He's got grease on his hands and a big smile on his face. Then he says he's going to the gym.

"Guess what?" he continues. "That tool started up beautifully the next morning. Bill spent a good part of the day with assembly operators, enthusiastic about how much productivity improved. My customer got his parts Monday morning, and he was a hero to his customer. That's how we grow."

Bill Sr. started out as a toolbuilder in the 1960s. Since adding custom molding to moldmaking and starting Hi-Tech in 1983, he and his company have built a reputation of being a reliable, responsive, full-service supplier that specializes in technically demanding applications—the tough stuff that often makes others stop before they get started.

How tough? Try this one: Hi-Tech presently molds, machines, and assembles a developmental product it helped design for a major aircraft component supplier. An aluminum-to-plastic conversion, it's the water separator for the USAF F-16 fighter bomber—a 11/2-lb shot of glass-filled Ultem PEI. That's just for starters. Let's tour.


Hi-Tech Mold & Tool Inc., Pittsfield, MA

Square footage: 55,000 (45,000- sq-ft manufacturing floor, 10,000-sq-ft mezzanine; a 20,000-sq-ft expansion is slated for 2003)

Annual sales: $8.8 million (20 percent growth expected for 2002)

Markets served: Medical (38 percent), industrial (20 percent), aerospace (18 percent), automotive (8 percent), automotive aftermarket (6 percent), sports and recreation (5 percent), food services (5 percent)

Capital investment: $6.5 million

Parts produced: 22.2 million/year

Resin consumption: 800,000 lb/year

Materials processed: Nylon, ABS, PC, PBT, PVC, PU, PEI, PES, LCP, PEEK, PEKK, PAI, PPS, PSU

No. of employees: 90

Shifts worked: Three shifts, five days/week

Molding machines: 24, 8 to 500 tons, mostly Nissei

Secondary operations: Assembly, decorating, coating, packaging, testing, shielding

Internal moldmaking: Yes

Quality: ISO 9002

Nice Neighbors
In 1998 Hi-Tech moved into a new 55,000-sq-ft facility in a new industrial park near Bousquet Mountain, home of one of the first ski resorts in the U.S. The industrial park is in Pittsfield, MA, home of yet another famous name, GE Plastics.

Hi-Tech ran the first commercial quantities of GEP's Ultem. And it wasn't just because Hi-Tech's original plant was right across the street from GEP's PPDC, either. GEP was delighted to find a local molder with a mind open to such technologically challenging projects, according to Olson.

He ought to know. Before coming to Hi-Tech about four years ago, Olson was an applications engineer at GEP's Advanced Polymers Group when Ultem was hatched.

Over time GEP would suggest Hi-Tech to customers interested in finding a molder willing to work on tough projects involving its specialty ETPs. This relationship continues today, even though Hi-Tech is no longer GEP's next-door neighbor. And GEP is by no means the only one to profit from a long-term relationship with Hi-Tech.


Engineering Support
In fact, Hi-Tech still works closely with its first customer, Otis Elevator, even after it moved much of its production south of the border about five years ago. Before then Hi-Tech had transferred one of its own engineers to Otis' HQ in Bloomington, IN to act as an engineering liaison. Hi-Tech now maintains a field office in Tucson, AZ to maintain direct contact. Hi-Tech also uses a warehouse in Nogales, Mexico.

Another field technical program manager, Chris Araujo, covers the eastern U.S. out of Pittsfield. He just came on board from another large, full-service injection molder in January and brought his expertise in insert molding and automotive programs with him. "Engineering support is essential in the type of programs we are involved in, and we put a lot of time and effort into them," Olson says.

Most Hi-Tech sources, like Dave Pellegrino, toolroom manager, attribute successes they achieve by teaming up with their customers to the teamwork they practice in-house. "There's not enough room on a business card to describe the number of things each of us does to make a project work," says Pellegrino. "I can't emphasize enough how much everybody here contributes to our success, from the machine operator to the president."


Partnering on Plant Design
Every department was involved in designing Hi-Tech's new plant. The head of each department formed a team of key employees to specify their department's needs. The layout strikes a good balance between compartmentalization and openness. It also reflects decades of hard-won experience in custom molding.

For example, the mold maintenance and storage area is adjacent to the main molding area, saving time and effort. A Motan materials handling system on the mezzanine can deliver any material to any press anywhere in the plant. And there is minimal forklift traffic. Hi-Tech uses overhead bridge cranes instead, and uses them in a practical manner.


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Secondary operations are in lean workcells. Assembly and decorating capabilities include welding, heatstaking, adhesive bonding, painting, EMI/RFI shielding, and pad printing.

Rather than let a single central crane dictate the design of the entire plant, the company took a different tack. One overhead 3-ton crane is in Hi-Tech's cleanroom, another is in the main molding area, and yet another is in the toolroom.

There are no subterranean trenches and drains. Machine utilities run on top of the poured concrete flooring under covers. Mold utility connections are mounted on standardized manifolds designed to easily set up every conceivable type of mold. This approach also makes molding machine capacity expansion and reconfiguration much easier.


Old Reliable
In addition to conventional molding—if you can call anything it molds "conventional"—Hi-Tech also does inmold decorating, insert molding, gas assist, overmolding, structural foam molding, and injection-compression molding. It presently has 24 presses. Sixteen of them, including three new all-electrics purchased in 2000, are Nissei machines.

Hi-Tech has been bullish on Nissei from day one. When he was evaluating his first machine purchases Nissei officials put a bug in Bill Sr.'s ear. "If you can prove you can put the same amount of material into a cavity every single time, you've got a good machine."

Bill Sr. found he could do so with a Nissei molding machine. Today, his computerized SPC system is based on shot weight. Hi-Tech also uses Taguchi DOE and DSC to further ensure the quality of both incoming materials and outgoing finished goods. Its Nissei machines have been put through their paces, but 19 years later one of Hi-Tech's original Nisseis is still running.


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The parts in this tray are tight-tolerance film wipers for Polaroid cameras.

Plans call for replacing all the older presses, but Olson says these new machines may not be all-electrics. "We can run a mold in a 400-ton electric that formerly required a 500-ton hydraulic, but we evaluate new machine purchases on a case-by-case basis."


The Four-legged Stool
"Molding, tooling, engineering, and secondaries—these are the four legs of our stool," says Olson. "But we continually try to cultivate our expertise in every phase of the process, including materials."

Hi-Tech builds all types of molds, from simple to complex designs, prototypes to Class 1 tools, SPI Class 101 to 104, some with hot manifolds, and some that are multicavity. Historically, most of its work has been in H-13. Hi-Tech uses most of the tools it makes in-house, but has a loyal clientele for high-performance molds. In 1993, for example, Hi-Tech built a two-cavity, Class 101 lantern mold for a major battery company. Six years later the customer ordered a second mold to add capacity, and to replace a competitor's tool that ran a 35 percent longer cycle. The original mold is still running, 364 days of the year.

A two-man crew is exclusively dedicated to mold maintenance and minor repairs. All molds are cleaned and inspected after use. Hi-Tech regularly accepts transition tools from other molders, which keeps this crew busy.

When it comes to design and engineering, Hi-Tech supports its intensive project management efforts with MoldFlow, Pro/Engineer, and Unigraphics software. The company is as skilled in DFMA and parts consolidation as it is in 3-D modeling and materials selection.

In spite of all its impressive accomplishments, Hi-Tech still has an open mind for trying something new. For example, one biomedical company transferred a series of 40 parting line injection tools to Hi-Tech for molding in its Class 100,000 cleanroom. It decided to purchase a new parting line Arburg rather than modify the tools to fit a horizontal press. Olson tells us that customers have been guiding the company's transformation into lean thinkers. He says, "Customers frequently show us something new and ask us, 'Can it be done?' Our attitude usually is, 'We don't know, but we'll give it a shot.'"

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Every department was involved in the design of Hi-Tech's new plant.



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Hi-Tech manufactures and assembles this complex ABS/TPE housing. It's then treated with nickel-filled paint for EMI/RFI shielding in the company's paint room before pad printing the flip side (left). Hi-Tech's positive-pressure, Class 100,000 cleanroom is pressurized 24/7, whether or not anyone is inside. The latest addition to the cleanroom press capacity is a 200-ton Nissei all-electric (right).



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Developmental Ultem water separators for F-16 fighter jets are tested for quality by Hi-Tech on one of its two Mitutoyo CMMs (left). Hi-Tech partners early on with its customers, providing DFMA services for developing parts like these bicycle rack and snowboard mounting components for Thule of Sweden (right).



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CAM programming, mold assembly, electrode milling, micro welding, and polishing are carried out in Hi-Tech's well-equipped toolroom. Machine capacity includes a Prototrak lathe (shown here at the left), a Mitsubishi sinker, and a four-axis Fadal CNC machining center. A two-man crew is dedicated to mold maintenance and minor repairs, inspecting and cleaning all molds after use (right)



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Hi-Tech uses its customers reusable pallets for its finished goods. Customers knock them down and send them back. As you can see (left), they're made of wood, which really keeps things green. This (right) is an annealing oven Hi-Tech uses for heat treating some of the high-performance parts it produces.



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CAM programming, mold assembly, electrode milling, micro welding, and polishing are carried out it Hi-Tech's well-equipped toolroom (left). Machine capacity includes a Prototrak lathe, a Mitsubishi sinker (left), and a four-axis Fadal CNC machining center (below).



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The plant's Carrier environmental control system, including this Hepa filtration unit (left), is so big it had to be dropped into place with a heavy-lift helicopter. Hi-Tech's centralized and computerized materials drying and conveying system from Motan (right) is designed to deliver all the materials it runs to all of its molding machines in all areas of its plant.



Engineering support
Here are three recent examples of how Hi-Tech Mold & Tool's engineering support helps its customers:

  • Thule of Sweden (www.thule.com): Hi-Tech was one of Thule's first domestic manufacturers in 1986. It is one of its preferred suppliers, having become almost an extension of Thule's design department by helping the recreational products OEM compress its product development cycle.

  • Smartlens Co. (www.smartlens.com): Smartlens' Prograin filter fits in the back of a 35-mm camera, under the film rails. Light passes through a .040-inch-thick section, creating a grainy look in the picture. Another company, a big name in the photography market, spent a year trying to develop an injection moldable filter. It was unsuccessful. Hi-Tech did it in five months, including the tool to run it in, just in time for an important exhibition.

  • Plastics Sterilizing Tray Inc. (www.pst-corp.com): PST markets reusable trays for the sterilization and repeat sterilization of surgical instruments in autoclaves, ethylene oxide, and plasma. Hi-Tech is the sole supplier of molded PST trays with snapfit lids, which it helped to develop. The materials used are Ultem PEI, Radel PES, and LCP.




Contact information
Hi-Tech Mold & Tool Inc.
Pittsfield, MA
Carl Olson; (413) 443-9184
www.hitechmoldtool.com
[email protected]

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