COLUMBUS PLASTICS FIRM CREATES THE MOLD
Employees Measure Off Charts in Publication Survey
Precise Mold and Plate isn’t a factory, even though it looks like one. Located in an industrial park just west of Indianapolis Road behind Blairex Laboratories, the sounds of machines are evident and work fills the floor. But Precise Mold & Plate has no production line. Employees do not assemble the same, identical parts day in and day out.
The company’s 55 employees are craftsmen, owner Don Dumoulin said. “Really, our guys are artists,” he said. And constant creativity makes for happy workers, Dumoulin said.
National trade publication Plastic News agrees, naming Precise Mold & Plate the best place to work in the plastics industry. The selection is partially based on a thorough review of workplace policies and demographics. However, employee responses on a blind survey were the biggest factor in making the selection.
Precise employees measured off the charts in almost every area of the survey, said Katie Springman, Best Companies Group program coordinator. Her company conducted research and surveys on behalf of Plastic News.
Down on the factory floor, camaraderie is apparent, Dumoulin said. Brian Smith, who started with the company two months ago, points to a recent favorite mold. Carefully carved into a surface of hardened steel is a starburst pattern.
Smith covers up the center of the dye with his hand. Suddenly, the pattern assumes the shape of two dozen spoons. He points to another, similar casting, formed by the mold core of plastic knives. Each of these blocks forms half of a mold used to mass produce various injection molded plastic objects.
Max Mensendiek started on the floor when he was 17 years old. Nearly three decades later, he’s still with the company. He is part scientist, part detective. A large part of the company’s business revolves around repairing worn or damaged molds. Each broken mold which enters the building for repair suffers from some tiny but vital flaw. Mensendiek’s triages each mold, searching for obvious imperfections. A stack of freshly shaped, plastic laundry hampers sway near his workstation, each revealing more information about his current analysis.
If Mensendiek’s watchful eyes fail to uncover the cause of problems, engineer Josh Jeffries performs a battery of exacting tests using a tool which measures down to one 2,000th of an inch. Jeffries’ father was a tool maker, and he grew up around the trade. In more than 19 years with the company, he has seen all kinds of designs come through the door — children’s car seats, car parts, even a full-production plate used to mold He-Man action figures.
Once the problem is identified, exact specifications are sent to a cluster of computer numerical control (CNC) router operators hovering around a computer-controlled metal cutting machine, which carves away microscopic layers of steel, reforming and reshaping the mold into perfect condition.
Some specialized molds, such as headlight housings and optical parts, require a mirror-like, polished sheen. This work falls to Steve Heitman, 36-year veteran tool and die maker with the company. This is no work for machines, he said. Heitman and the other polishers hand-grind each component. Heitman enjoys his work so much that he occasionally pulls bits of scrap metal from the waste pile so that he can explore new polishing techniques. The results scatter around his work space and fill a nearby tool closet.
The mold and plate business is not a high-volume trade, Dumoulin said. Each year, the company produces between 50 and 100 new molds for customers ranging from Tesla Motors to consumer goods manufacturers producing everything from action figures to laundry hampers. The majority of its current business involves repairing and restoring worn or damaged molds manufactured by other companies.
Many Precise employees have been with the company for more than three decades, Dumoulin said. As a highly skilled trade, Dumoulin wants to start training the next generation of mold and plate makers. “We need to get kids into this trade,” Dumoulin said. The craft of tool and die making takes years to master, even under the tutelage of experienced craftspeople.
This article was written by Ben Skirvin at The Republic in Columbus, IN. It was published on February 11, 2016, and subsequently updated to correct minor inaccuracies.