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McNeal ‘Contracts’ Custom Jobs

Precision machining and higher level assembly work distinguish McNeal Enterprises from competing job shops.

By Karen Koenig

MEI offers both pressure forming and vacuum forming services. As a part is being formed in the ZED former, the operator will use the Delta bandsaw to trim the excess material from a previously formed part, thus eliminating any downtime and/or bottlenecks.
McNeal Enterprises Inc. (MEI) will handle any job, any size, any time. Its only requirement: that the material be strictly plastic.

“When Bob McNeal started the company more than 20 years ago, he recognized the need for a company specializing only in plastics machining,” says De Anna Godfrey, vice president of business operations for the San Jose, CA-based job shop. The importance of a plastics-only shop, she adds, is that it eliminates the possibility of contaminants such as metals, wood or cutting fluids on the plastic material.

McNeal later expanded the company’s capabilities, first with fabricating and forming, and more recently, with higher level assemblies. MEI will install customer consigned materials such as inserts, fasteners, O-rings, seals, tubings, hinges, hasps and mechanical and electronic components. In addition to its assembly production area, the company also has an on-site Class 1000 cleanroom for the assembly and packaging of sensitive materials.

“We provide complete turnkey solutions for customers. We will also assist in purchasing the materials, handling suppliers and working with any subassemblies. Everything from start to finish,” Godfrey says.

The company’s capabilities are numerous. Inside the 62,000-square-foot facility, MEI offers thermoforming, machining and fabricating, plus specialty services such as pressure testing, laminating and aqueous, ultrasonic and chemical cleaning. MEI’s optical polishing goes beyond lapping and chemical or flame polishing to include a special proprietary coating which improves image resolution. Other specialty operations include deburring under a magnification of up to 300x, cleaning, painting/silkscreening, plasma treating and programmable stress relieving.

Industries Served

Although the company is a true job shop — handling all types of plastics machining and fabricating for any industry — a large percentage of its work is for the medical and biotech industries, Godfrey says. Some of the applications in these fields are: manifolds, transducers, flow cells, blood separators, catheter components, surgical tools, implantable devices, DNA analysis samplers, chemical sampling devices and filter housing blocks.

Other industries served by MEI are: instrumentation, semiconductor, electronics, optics, fluid engineering andtelecommunications. Products manufactured include: wafer processing, electrical/RF insulators, lenses, laser optics, prisms, electronic housings and bushings.

“We don’t have our own product that we market — we’re not an OEM. All of our customers provide us with a blueprint and we manufacture the products they specify. Our only requirement is that it’s plastic,” she says work in progress
MEI is ISO 9002 certified, which means it must maintain a “paper trail” of all its processing. Not an easy feat when one considers that the company typically has 300 jobs in process.

Tracking begins once the order is placed. At the beginning of each job a traveler is issued, listing the specified material(s), quantity of parts to be manufactured, operations to be performed and tooling requirements.

“We then monitor the jobs using an integrated software system that not only quotes, orders and prints reports, but provides a real time accounting of any work in progress,” says Godfrey. “It enables us to hold contracts on a great number of parts and allows us to also build to forecast or build to the purchase order (on a just in time),” she says.

The plant is divided into work cells to facilitate a smooth work flow: thermoforming, fabricating, machining, assembly and quick turn.

Thermoforming and Fabricating

The Thermoforming and Fabricating Departments are
  A small component is trimmed on the SCMI router after forming
located adjacent to each other. MEI uses two ANDI Stratos CNC routers and a CNC Fadal mill to trim/mill all vacuum- and pressure-formed parts molded in the ZED former.

Godfrey says thermoforming, then machining, is a very cost-effective process for customers requiring less than 1,000 parts. MEI has the capability to form heavy-gauge parts up to 36 inches wide by 36 inches long by 24 inches deep. The company can fabricate parts up to 48 inches long by 96 inches wide by 48 inches deep on its trimmers.

“We don’t do any injection molding. But what we can do is take any part and machine it to the closest of tolerances,” Godfrey says.

In addition to the CNC trimming, some of MEI’s other fabricating capabilities include: manual trimming on an SCMI router, milling on Bridgeport machines, bonding, ultrasonic welding and mechanical fastening.

“When we moved into our new facility (last October) we brought in some new equipment and added multi-tasking. Our employees are all cross-trained on the various machines,” Godfrey says, adding that, depending on the scheduling of the work in process, employees may be “temporarily reassigned” from fabricating to the machining cell.

Machining Cell

The machining area is where much of the high precision work takes place. Operating five days a week, 24 hours a day, rows of 4-axis CNC high speed milling machines and 3-axis live tool turning machines work continuously to machine parts within ±0.0002-inch tolerance, depending on the customer’s specification, Godfrey says.

Closer tolerances are just one of the advantages machined parts have over those that are injection molded, she adds. Other advantages are: design flexibility, lower stress and reduced part distortion, heavier cross section capabilities, no draft angles required, and no weld lines, gate scars and injection pin depressions.

Both large and small parts can be machined quickly and easily, Godfrey adds. Components as large as 30 inches wide by 60 inches long by 30 inches deep can be milled on the CNC machines while the CNC turners have a 21-inch long by 40-inch wide part capacity. MEI’s machining capabilities include: drilling, threading, tapping and screw machining.

“This area is designed for the large production jobs. Anything smaller, or prototypes, is run in the Quick Turn department,” Godfrey says.

Quick Turnaround

Like the name implies, the Quick Turn department is dedicated to small jobs requiring one day to one week turnaround time.

“These are typically jobs under 10 parts. We keep it separate from the production area so we won’t have to compete with the larger jobs for machine time.” she explains.

The department is also used to develop and run test samples of prototypes. MEI often works with its supplier, DSM Engineering Plastic Products, prior to determining the material for the specification. Godfrey adds that her local DSM representative, Alvin Ortega, has also helped to make presentations to companies considering plastic as a replacement material for metal.

“We’re a full service operation. We offer design assistance for manufacturability, material selection and help with metal to plastic conversion which is very big right now and offers lots of savings to a manufacturer,” she adds.

For more information on McNeal Enterprises, go to

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Plastics Machining & Fabricating
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