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Custom Rubber Molder Sees Increase in Demand for Custom Parts
With about fifty percent of its business centered on custom-molded rubber products, Minor Rubber focuses on providing cost-saving design solutions and rapid prototyping for its customers. By listening to customers early on and asking questions about materials, dimensions, and tolerances, the company can often make changes that save the customer substantial money and result in a better designed part for the application. As with one recent part, tooling was reduced from about $6,000 to about $400 because it was determined that it could be extruded and cut rather than molded, said Tom Fitzhenry, vice president of sales for Minor Rubber.
"Basically we try to listen to our customers, and when they're looking for something, we like to ask a lot of questions early on and not just take their print as being gospel," Fitzhenry said. "So many times, you'll find that engineers and sales people alike will designate a material just because they've heard of it and not because it may be suitable to the application. So we like to really get involved with our customers to understand the application and get in on the ground level and try to come up with something that would be ideal for their requirements."
Fitzhenry sees a strong increase in demand for custom parts, and said that Minor Rubber is building more tooling now than it has in the past six to seven years. "Since the recession has eased up a bit, we're seeing people now buy new tooling for products they've had in the design stage for a couple of years," he said. "We're doing new projects every single day, and it's a pretty exciting time right now for a lot of companies."
Minor Rubber offers rapid prototyping in silicone or polyurethane, enabling customers to ascertain whether their concept design is feasible. By making the soft tooling, the company can keep cost low, and there's no need to wait six to eight weeks for a mold. "It's all about seeing if the concept even works before getting involved in real tooling, and, in most cases, we can get it to them in two weeks," Fitzhenry said. "It allows customers to prove out a concept in a much shorter period of time at a much lower cost than it would take to build permanent tooling."
Minor Rubber, based in Bloomfield, N.J., has been providing custom molded, extruded, and fabricated components for more than 70 years to the electronics, transportation, defense (DoD), medical, agriculture, aircraft/aerospace, and other industries. In addition to commercial-grade materials, the company specializes in compounds that meet or exceed the requirements of Military (MILSPEC), ASTM, SAE, ANSI, and FDA specifications.
"We are able to handle spec materials and critical applications, and this is where you're going to find the U.S. to be preferred over a foreign source in many instances," Fitzhenry said, explaining that about once a month, a customer turns to Minor Rubber after having a bad experience with doing business in China. Customers express frustration with Chinese quality and a slow turn-around time. Especially with unique, engineered parts that aren't just commodity items, product companies are turning to U.S.-based sources for the higher quality and dependability, Fitzhenry said. Customers are discovering that the materials they request from China are not being used because vendors are trying to maintain profit margins and keep costs low. "So there's a lot of problems today with specifications where China is not really meeting the spec, and there have been failures," he said.
One recent customer needed a part with a specific conductivity, but decided against Minor Rubber for a cheaper quote from China. Four months later, that same customer was knocking on Minor Rubber's door wanting to know how fast they could get the parts because China wasn't able to meet their material needs. "I think the job shop today is in a stronger position than he was two or three years ago with making product here in the United States," Fitzhenry said. "China is still a factor, but there's going to be situations now where customers feel much more comfortable purchasing a part from a company they know here in the United States," he said.
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