When an industry-leading provider of precision-made rubber, plastic, and die-cast components decides to spin-off its plastics operations into a separate entity, it usually does so with a vision for innovation and growth. That's the scenario for QMR Plastics (River Falls, WI).
The firm had its birth as a division in 1995. Since that time, it has doubled its sales volume through a combination of leading-edge technology, factory-of-the-future manufacturing operations, and highly motivated employees. The newcomer follows in the footsteps of its companion division, Minnesota Rubber (Minneapolis), which built its reputation on 50 years of experience in engineering, designing, compounding and manufacturing custom-molded rubber and plastic components.
QMR Plastics and Minnesota Rubber form part of Quadion Corp., also headquartered in Minneapolis. Tool Products, a manufacturer of aluminum and ZA die-cast parts, comprises the third spoke of the corporate wheel.
The spin-off of QMR Plastics from Minnesota Rubber into a separate operating company makes sense, both from Quadion's standpoint and for the customers. In many instances, molding components of either plastic or rubber can provide a distinct advantage in function and economics. The expertise provided by the sister companies enables the customer to select the optimum material for the application. Such a choice gave Quadion an opportunity for increased profits. Hence the symbiotic split.
Early in 1995, QMR Plastics moved into a 35,000-sq-ft, state-of-the-art facility. Housing two dozen automated presses with capacities from 28 to 200 tons, the company designed its operations and processes with QS 9000 and ISO 9002 certification in mind. Both were achieved last year.
"We had a goal of defect-free, on-time performance, so our facilities and the people operating them had to be the best," says Darwin Nogelmeier, director of sales.
Design engineering aid. But QMR Plastics offers customers much more than a nice facility and modern machinery to produce their components. Customer services include: engineering design support, on-site mold repair and maintenance, multiple-part assembly, and hot runner/manifold tooling.
Customers include world-class OEMs in the appliance, agricultural, automotive, and fluid power industries. Alphabetically speaking, they run the gamut from AlliedSignal and Kodak to Square D.
For these customers, QMR Plastics' technical personnel provide in-house system and manufacturing engineering assistance. These technicians can lend engineering support for assemblies, subassemblies, custom seals, rubber-to-thermoplastic (TPE) conversions, and metal-to-plastic conversions.
At the customer's disposal are high-end CAD/CAM systems that can receive 2D and 3D file formats geared to reducing the customer's part-design cycle time. Functional and life-cycle part testing services are available, as are complete tool design and construction specialties. This includes the entire management of all tool-making steps from design to sampling. In addition, the company has 18 technical sales support personnel strategically located in 12 regional offices to further assist customers. (Visit www.qmrplastics.com on the Internet.)
In addition, QMR Plastics has as one of its strengths a great deal of experience in hot-manifold and hot-runner technologies. The hot-manifold process in particular has a huge potential for growth. It offers increased production due to faster cycle times, as well as minimal regrind generation and less chance for material contamination.
The hot-runner technology adapts especially well to PEEK (polyetheretherketone) processing, The semi-crystalline polymer won't dissolve in common solvents and resists a wide range of organic and inorganic liquids. Properly compounded, the material's friction properties make it a good candidate for bearing-type applications. For instance, the material can remain in service for thousands of hours at temperatures in excess of 250C in steam or high-pressure water environments. It also has a V-O flammability rating down to a cross section of 0.057 inch--without the need for an additive.
A seal ring for an automatic transmission offers a good example of PEEK's capabilities. The double-step joint ring (one of four designs) costs less than the metal ring it replaces. The gap in the joint accommodates thermal expansion, with the overlapping section maintaining a controlled seal. In addition, the gap maintains the critical flow of oil through the transmission, providing more precise control in shifting.
Such designs have helped QMR Plastics enjoy a robust growth in its short lifetime. But it's only a sampling of even greater things to come, according to Director of Sales Nogelmeier.
Star status. QMR Plastics' new facility got rave reviews in "Factories for the Future," an article that appeared in the November 1995 issue of Progressive Architecture (PA). "The interior...exudes the vitality of a great railroad station--airy and expansive, with long-span exposed trusses supporting the roof," the story reads. "Simple shed dormers, 88 ft long, let light wash down on the white-painted metal structure."
From a strictly practical point of view, the factory features high-quality metal-halide lamps for good color rendition of its plastics products. The PA editor also notes that "the most impressive thing about QMR Plastics is that employees working at the plastic injection molding machines can look straight out through generous expanses of glass to a slope planted with wildflowers, with a stand of trees at its crest."
A tunnel 6-ft wide and 7-ft deep houses utilities, allowing quick hookups to machinery, air handling, sprinkler systems and lighting. Structural support (pre-engineered trusses) are concentrated in the 12 ft between the overhead crane and the ceiling.
The PA reporter adds that such facilities hold lessons for today's businesses that are tempted to cut initial building costs to the bone. Cheap buildings, the article argues, hobble companies that wont to get the best out of their tools and their employees. QMR Plastics has done just that to the satisfaction of their growing list of customers.
Custom designs drive QMR Plastics' success
If a quick start is your goal, it'll happen with the aid of a primer bulb…providing you're starting a small gasoline engine for a weed trimmer, snow blower, or some other type of lawn and garden equipment. Pressing on the bulb causes pressure that forces gasoline into the intake of the engine, aiding in quick starting. A thermoplastic urethane (TPU) was the only material that met the stringent requirements of the application, including:
Enabling the bulb to withstand repeated flexing without distortion.
An added benefit: the consumer sees the gasoline as it flows.
Although finding a chemical bond between a thermoplastic elastomer (TPE) and metal has been an ongoing challenge in the elastomeric world, QMR Plastics developed a TPE-to-metal bonding agent with superior performance for a quick-disconnect coupling used in natural gas utility vehicles. The coupling acts as the female end of the handle in the quick-disconnect application. It consists of Santoprene® chemically and mechanically bonded to a stainless-steel sleeve. The mechanical bond is achieved through knurling on the O.D. of the sleeve. In a continuous effort to improve the quality of the bond, a QMR engineer developed a unique process that successfully provides an incredibly strong bond between the Santoprene and the metal.
Also, consider the push-button component for Eastman Kodak'sTM Fun SaverTM Sport one-time-use camera. QMR Plastics custom-colored the Santoprene material to Kodak's specifications. Because of the camera's underwater use, the push button had to achieve sealing capabilities of 12 psi. To accommodate this, the part was formed with an enlarged bead on the O.D. This design, in combination with the TPE's relatively good compression set, provided Kodak with a flawless seal.