Feature Stories Archives
Rocks in Job
components set the stage for PFI's success in the job shop
By Karen M. Koenig
fabricates components used in the stage lighting at concerts,
including the Rolling Stones, showed here
Fabricators Inc. doesn't miss a beat when it comes to
forming and fabricating a wide range of components in its
this York, PA-based fabricator's flexibility stretches not
only to the types of parts it manufactures, but to the
quantity as well.
"We can set
up one machine three times a day for short runs, or have one
machine running the same job for more than a week. Our
minimum quantity is one &emdash; we'll make whatever they
need," says Vice President William Frantz. "Rolling with the
changes is what being a job shop is all about."
diversity of the jobs in Plastic Fabricators' shop varies
weekly, daily &emdash; sometimes even hourly &emdash;
running the gamut from components used in stage lighting at
concerts by the Rolling Stones, Black Sabbath and Reba
McIntyre &emdash; to a machine guard for a duck plucker.
typically come through referrals or the company's internet
site, www.plasticfabinc.com. PFI offers engineering and
design services, "But usually, the customer sends us an idea
of what he wants. We like to see a finished drawing, or at
least a mockup of the concept. We also need to know any
aesthetics. What we'll do then will be to send them
prototypes with perhaps some suggestions for optional
material choices," Frantz says.
PFI has much
experience in working with different materials. "We work
with the gamut: from ABS to anything that can be formed or
machined &emdash; we have done it."
flexibility which sets PFI apart from other niche market
manufacturers. "Our niche is 'versatility,'" Frantz jokes.
However, unlike other markets which can be cyclical in
nature, the job shop market is a steady one.
PFI's 11-man shop is kept busy 12 hours a day, five days a
week, forming and machining a wide range of finished
products. On a typical day, 10 different jobs can be in
progress in the shop, ranging from manufacturing clear
acrylic fire extinguisher covers to polypropylene panels for
a tank. As an OEM supplier, PFI's customers range from
automotive part manufacturers to medical equipment accessory
manufacturers. Other markets served include: electronics,
residential, commercial, heating and ventilation, and air
manufactured by PFI are varied and include: acrylic check
holders for banks, ABS housings and covers for machinery,
splash shields for fluid testing, chemical-resistant ducts
and hoods, POP displays, skylights and replacement domes for
commercial use, museum display cases and in-plant handling
trays. Timing to produce these items, from concept to
prototype, can take anywhere from one day, as in the case of
the stage lighting components used in the music concerts, to
two weeks. "We're big enough that we can service large
production customers, but versatile enough that we can slip
in new projects if needed," Frantz says.
approved as a subcontractor for the aerospace and national
defense industries. The company also produces protective
shields for polished belt drive rims on Harley Davidson
motorcycles, along with polyethylene machined wear strips
for exercise equipment.
One of the
more unusual projects produced at PFI was a set of mock
rockets, used as part of a publicity promotion for a music
tour at various college campuses. According to Frantz, the
design of the yellow, blue and red rocket, conceived to
match the company's corporate symbol, were strategically
placed around the perimeter of the concert area for
different vein, PFI has also manufactured 13 polypropylene
panels for a steel company, which involved "17 straight
hours of continuous hole drilling, 1Ú8-inch holes on
3Ú16-inch centers &emdash; for each panel &emdash; on the
CNC," Frantz says.
"As our name
says, we will fabricate plastics any and all ways," he
his father, Joe, was looking ahead when he named his shop 31
years ago. "He met a gentleman who owned a glass business
and needed some fascia panels," Frantz says in relating the
company's early days. "My dad formed the acrylic fascia
panels and the other guy installed them. He then progressed
into different kinds of thermoforming, and added trimming
mid-1970s, PFI diversified into forming and fabrication of
industrial plastics. During the 1980s, we moved into our
present building and became a regional supplier of
components. The building's size doubled in the 1990s and our
customers now include major national accounts," Frantz
the shop floor
one-room shop had just a single-station thermoformer, one
bandsaw and one table saw. It has since expanded in size to
encompass 120 by 160 feet of space and includes three
additional formers (a single-station MAAC with ceramic
heaters, an EMC with a gas oven and an AAA single-station
former which PFI rebuilt to include electric vacuum), plus
the original 1968 Osborne "which still runs great," Frantz
says. The purchase of a fifth former is currently under
consideration. PFI also uses a PVI oven which it has
converted for drape forming.
prototypes are made from a variety of items including Ren
board and epoxy-coated hardboard. The actual tooling is
produced from aluminum and built by an outside
material is formed, it is sent to one of the company's two
Thermwood Cartesian CNC routers for trimming and/or hole
drilling. PFI purchased its first CNC router with a moving
gantry seven years ago. The newer model, a Cartesian 75,
features a moving table and trimming capabilities of 60
inches by 120 inches. Carbide bits from Onsrud Cutter are
used in the routers.
machines have made the industry a lot better (with regards
to speed and accuracy of trimming)," Frantz says. He adds
that the company may purchase another CNC router in the near
Due to the
varied nature of the business, employees are cross-trained
on all the machinery. In addition to the CNC routers, PFI
utilizes Republic Lagun milling machines for high tolerance
and intricate machining. A Herman Schwabe punch press as
well as a Bridgewood pin router are also used for trimming
on some of the smaller jobs.
cutting of parts and panels is performed on one of four
types of saws. A Bridgewood table saw, a Powermatic saw,
plus two older model BM Root bandsaws with 36-inch depth of
cut are used in the shop. Because the majority of sheet
comes to the shop already cut to size, a larger panel saw is
not currently needed, Frantz adds.
plays an important part in many of PFI's products,
particularly the polyethylene and polypropylene tanks it
manufactures. The company uses two Drader injection welders,
and four Leister hot air welders for the joining and sealing
interesting application of forming, fabrication and welding
is a part we produce for a bakery equipment manufacturer. We
form a sheet of 3Ú8-inch thick polyethylene into a chute,
trim open the end, machine 3Ú4-inch flanges, then weld all
three components together to make a hopper for feeding dough
into a machine." Frantz says.
decorating of plastic parts, including silk screening and
painting, is outsourced.
here is an experienced craftsman. We want to focus on what
we're good at, which is plastic fabrication," Frantz
says it all."
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Plastics Machining & Fabricating
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