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January/February Feature

The Sky’s the Limit for Insulfab Plastics

This custom machinist and precision die cutter takes its growth to a new level.

When the International Space Station zooms within viewing distance of Earth, employees and management at Insulfab Plastics Inc. exhibit more than a passing interest.

Although they can’t see the component that they contributed to the station, personnel at the Spartanburg, SC-based corporate facility say they can recall the several months spent working with their customer’s electronic design and quality engineers perfecting the machining process and the component.

This component for the International Space Station is a far cry from the radio bases and tool and die work that Insulfab first produced when two brothers from Budapest, Hungary, moved operations to the United States and later incorporated in 1923. Although the founding family continues ownership, with fourth-generation member Frank J. Hanus III as president, nearly everything else has changed. Insulfab Plastics has expanded its capabilities while narrowing its focus, preferring to concentrate on its core competency — custom CNC machining, die cutting and assembly.

Change and Opportunity

The company, which moved from New York City, NY, to its headquarters in Spartanburg, SC, switched from working with metals to machining and die cutting non-metallic products, most of them in the high-tech industries.

Its near $20 million in sales are to the electrical, electronic, medical, test and instrumentation, PCB assembly, aerospace, semiconductor and other process industries.

“Much of our customer base is in the Fortune 100, such as Texas Instruments, Tyco, AVX and Solectron,” says Graham Bridges, marketing manager.

The emphasis on high-tech was deliberate, a result of Insulfab changing its strategic objectives in everything from the materials it uses to its focus on new market applications. Growth has also come from keeping its customer base satisfied, he adds.

“It’s a cycle" says Bridges. "Sales will bring in opportunities that tend to challenge our capability. If we meet the challenge, it most often opens the door to newer and more challenging opportunities.”

New Equipment Key to Competitiveness

New equipment is key to staying competitive. Recently, Insulfab Plastics installed two Dahlih 4-axis milling centers at the Spartanburg facility. Within the past two years,this facility also has purchased two Mori Sieki 4-axis lathes. “They not only turn, drill and bore like conventional lathes, they mill as well,” comments Jay Bailey, a machine operator at the plant.

For example, Bailey describes the work being done on a plastic piece being machined for the aerospace industry (pictured on page 17). “Shaping its outside diameter and outfitting it with grooves, threaded holes, rigid taps, diagonally drilled holes and spot facing call for a variety of operations that formerly would have been divided between the lathe and milling centers. Now it’s only a matter of programming the Mori Sieki to perform all the tasks. Its tool changeover speed to the fourth axis is within two-tenths of a second, so there’s no need for setting up a milling machine.”

Other recent machinery additions include 4- and 5-axis Robo Drill rapid drilling and milling machines and a new Hendrick CNC saw capable of handling sheet product 10 feet wide by 10 feet long.

According to the company, the equipment purchases were the result of Insulfab’s aggressively pursuing a piece of business or a particular market.

Die Cutting and Tool Making

Aggressive marketing and competitive machining is nothing new to the 200 employees at Insulfab Plastics. The company says its three strategically-placed divisions, Spartanburg, Franklin, NH, and Ponce, Puerto Rico, enable Insulfab Plastics to easily meet customers’ needs.

The New Hampshire division specializes in die cutting of thin materials, ranging from NEMA-grade thermoset laminates to exotics such as GE’s Valox, Ultem and Lexan, up to DuPont’s Kapton and Cirlex polyimides which are used in flex circuitry and high temperature applications. Currently, this division makes up half of the company’s sales, which grew 19 percent in 2000 and are expected to increase another 15 percent in 2001.

This division also manufactures its own die cut tooling. Eight Class-A tool and die makers keep up with the challenges of producing tools for the company’s 42 presses. With a capacity of up to 110 tons and speeds of 1,500 strokes per minute, the presses are used to cut thousands of components daily.

“Tool design has had to keep up with our evolution. What was once just making a tool heavy enough to withstand impacting electrical grades of insulation has changed to faster, smaller and greater precision tooling,” says Bridges. With capacity of up to 110 tons and speeds of 1500 strokes per minute producing hundreds of thousands of components, these challenges are never ending, he adds.

New EDM and hole popper technology were installed at the Franklin facility and have enabled the toolmakers to surpass punching hole diameters of 0.018 inch. A new Bruderer punch press capable of being coil or sheet fed was also installed at the plant.

“This is just the beginning,” comments Jeff Murff, national sales and marketing manager. “Our marketing strategy over the next five years revolves primarily around this facility, from continually addressing capability to aggressively considering added value operations such as in-process printing and combining of material.”

The strategy also involves new marketing opportunities. “Although the electrical portion of our business is very important to the stability of this organization, most of our resources will be spent developing opportunities in everything from the automotive, medical device to electronics industries,” Murff adds.

Core Competency

According to Bridges, Insulfab’s engineering and machining capabilities have brought the company added business from OEMs. “Machining and die cutting is our core competency. It’s not theirs. Everybody is looking to remove cost from their organization,” he says.

Insulfab has also used its engineering capabilities to help customers not only reduce production costs but to improve their product and processes. “Developing our engineering department was key to our growth,” says Bridges.

The Southern division’s engineering group is led by Ronnie Morton. David Jones and Gerry Weinert head up the engineering group in the New Hampshire area.

“We always look at how to improve cycle times, but most often if we see an opportunity to learn what the component does, we can improve it. Many parts we see are over-engineered, sometimes under-engineered,” claims Morton. “We look at it (from) another level. Most engineers are looking for form, fit and function. We look at it from a rapid, yet precision manufacturing method. If you can improve the precision at which a part can be manufactured you generally improve its capability in the field,” he adds.

Insulfab has four design engineers dedicated to the design of PCB (printed circuit board) Process Tooling. A large portion of the 46,000-square-foot machining floor space is also devoted to the PCB tooling manufacturing — solder pallets, press fit tooling, vacuum chucks — all of which are designed for shielding, assisting or supporting PCBs through the assembly process.

“New materials, new vendors, more engineering staff, new equipment and now growth are all part of the plan,” says Mark Bailey, product manager PCB applications.

Bridges also predicts a continued growth mode for Insulfab Plastics. “The company’s passion to develop new markets and components applications; and the establishment of new manufacturing technology capabilities and facilities to support our endeavors (will) assure this growth,” he says.

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Plastics Machining & Fabricating
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