A Mold For Success

Plastics technology center ready to help manufacturers with testing,
engineering and a lot more.

By: Matt Pross

    Pennsylvania is a hotbed for plastics engineering in practice and a domestic focal point for plastics engineering in theory with 40 percent of the nation's degreed plastics engineering programs located in the Commonwealth. Wit this depth of technical and educational expertise in plastics manufacturing located right here in Pennsylvania, it's not surprising that there are a variety of resources out there of PA plastics manufacturers to take advantage of.
    One such resource, the Plastics Technology Center (PTC) in Erie, has supported the industry for almost two decades through it's wide rand of service offerings and capabilities. Founded in 1989, the PTC grew out of Penn State Erie's nationally-recognized Plastics Engineering Technology (PLET) undergraduate program as a Penn State outreach center for manufacturers in northwest Pennsylvania.
    Broad-Based Capabilities
Employing three full time, degreed plastics engineers with unique areas of expertise, the PTC's focus area now spans across the state and country. As a partnership between the Northwest PA Industrail Resource Center (NWIRC) and Penn State Erie, the PTC's knowledge-base in plastics engineering and plastics manufacturing processes is well-balenced and broad-based - bringing together experts from both industry and academia to provide a complementary mix of service offerings, including plastics engineering, design, computer-aided engineering (CAE), new product development, processing, materials testing and manufacturing troubleshooting.
    "We are extremely broad-based in the types of services we provide," Tom Moyak, Project Engineer at the PTC, said, "In many areas we are extremely strong, however, when we don't have the in-house expertise to meet customer's needs, we look outside the university for resources."
    "In our position as part of the NWIRC and an outreach center of Penn State, we always look out for the customer's best interest," he continued. "We're honest, experience and unbiased -  all the things that manufacturers look for in a technology partner."
    The PTC's CAE Consortium is a great example of the tangible value the center brings to plastics manufacturers. Through the consortium, members have access to injection molding simulation software, such as the MoldFlow software suite. With this type of computer-aided analysis, a plastics manufacturer can work out potentia engineering flaws upfront before wasting time, capital and material.
    "In addition to simulating an injection process with the MoldFlow technology, a member can also test the software's usability before investing heavily in it," Moyak explained. "We have a full-time MoldFlow analysis expert on staff at the PTC to help consortium members to get a feel for how the software fits with their tools and processes prior to bringing it in-house."
    Real-World Success Stories 
Through the consortium's services, Viking Plastics, a progressive injection molder based in Corry, Pa., was able to bring back some business that had originally been sourced to a Korean manufacturer.
    "Because of the MoldFlow modeling, our tools improved upon the Korean supplier's cycle time by nince seconds and our scrap rate was less than three percent," Marty Radock, a Program Manager at Viking Plastics, explained. "We increased cavitation from two to four, and reduced the number of operators needed from eight to two."
    Since Viking was able to produce higher-quality parts, the thermal systems supplier was able to ship directly to Mexico for the first sub-assembly. "First-time-through quality yielded significant savings in freight," Radock said.
    From helping an international manufacturer like Viking Plasticsto aiding an entreprenuer with new product development, the PTC caters to all levels of the plastics manufacturing industry.
    An Insurance salesman by day and a quarterback coach on the side, Altoona's Bob Crook created the Ultimate Defender (UD) as a training solution for football players. His hand-made models quickly drew attention because they aided the athletic development of players on the field. Soon other coaches and parents were approaching him for a UD of their own. Such a "defender" is applicable as a training tool in a variety of other sports besides football including basketball,  baseball, soccer, golf, volleyball and in plyometric drills.
    Thanks to a Ben Franklin grant through the Altoona Blair County Development Corporation and to the direction of PennTAP's Jay Schneck, Bob Crook found his way to the PTC with well-used, early versions of his Ultimate Defender. He wanted to learn how to take his idea to the next level with a full scale production method.
    "We looked at a number of manufacturing processes for the UD to find the best fit for the product," Moyak explained. "In this case, rotational molding stood out as the best process for making the big parts this application required, while meeting the customer's need for lower startup costs. Additionally, the process resulted in an aesthetically appealing product that allowed the customer to maintain his profit margins and achieve the annual volume necessary to meet his sales projections.
    "The PTCdid the full design for the product and added a lot of value. The UD is a really cool product and the consumer is ecstatic about how it turned out," he continued. "We helped him manage the entire process from the initial steps of designing the product and choosing the materials all the way through until the product was in hand.
    "Additionally, manufacturing was sourced to Sterling Technologies, Inc. of Lake City, Pa,. which for us here at the PTC, means a win-win scenario becuase we helped a Pennsylvanian realize his dream of launching a proven training tool with the help of a PA-based manufacturer."

For more information on the Plastics Technology Center call (814) 452-0094 or visit www.plastics411.org.

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