Consider Reaching Out to a Different Market to Survive Tough Times

This mold manufacturer has reassessed its market base and began dabbling in the energy industry based on its experience with CNC machining—making it a natural transition.

Triangle Tool Co. (Milwaukee, WI)—specializing in injection, structural foam, and compression molds for large plastic parts—is experiencing continued success during the economic downturn in large part due to its foray into the energy industry, a new market for the company.

According to Technical Sales Manager Vic Baez, because Triangle Tool has always specialized in large products, it is common to see steel blocks and forgings weighing greater than 50 tons and requiring multiple, precision operations for each piece. “Most companies would find this type of work intimidating, but we have leveraged large work to become one of North America’s strongest businesses,” Baez explains. Soon, the company will have completed an additional workspace of 18,000 square feet, growing its facility to more than 173,000 square feet to account for new capabilities.

 

A Natural Transition

Baez notes that the company made a “focused investment and commitment to five-axis CNC machining development early on”, knowing eventually that programming would ‘catch up’ with the technology and Triangle would be able to adapt and/or expand its business as it needed to. The company currently has nine five-axis machines, more than 20 three- and four-axis CNC machining centers and four sampling presses up to 3000 tons—including the new 1100-ton Husky added last year to showcase the speed of its stack mold designs.

Additionally, the company’s employees are frequently cross-training on machines and software in order to increase their value to the company. “By cross-training, Triangle Tool has been able to substantially increase production and decrease the amount of waste that can easily manifest itself when manufacturing large molds,” Baez notes.

All of this helped the company make the decision to branch out into the energy industry. “The decision to reassess the market, expand offerings and seek new companies that were a good, long-term fit was based on relationships and logistics to the industry,” Baez explains. “Our CNC machining capacity, experience and capability to safely and efficiently handle heavy product for the molding industry was a perfect match for the emerging energy markets. This has been a natural transition for us since the Midwest is the hub for large products, such as windmills and large mining and foundry products. Centrally located in the Midwest, Triangle Tool is positioned to grow and react to the industry’s needs.”

Fortunately, Triangle Tool has had to make little adjustment to its operations. “Specialty machining enables us to utilize excess capacity of our large machining centers,” states Baez. “We have upgraded our CMM and other inspection systems to accommodate the specialty machining measurement needs. We are also in the process of working toward ISO/AS certification,” Baez points out. “While ISO/AS certification is not a requirement, it streamlines the process for qualification as a new supplier.” Additionally, Triangle Tool hired a sales person to focus primarily on specialty machining opportunities.

To market its new capability the company has joined the AWEA (American Wind Energy Association) organization and recently exhibited at Cast Expo 2009 and the Wind Expo 2009.

 

Predicted Growth

Baez sees Triangle’s entrance into the energy market as a viable growth opportunity. “Growth for us looks very positive—especially in the wind energy industry,” Baez notes. “We are on target for this division to account for up to 15 percent of our business. We are excited about this new venture, and in spite of the current economy, we are planning for a very strong 2010.”

Baez advises those who are new to these emerging markets to not stray outside of core competencies. “Just because the markets are growing, the product may not be right for your business model,” he cautions. “The mistake would be in trying to reinvent yourself without a very clear understanding of the long-term requirements.”

Triangle Tool has no need to reinvent the company; rather, they are looking to capitalize on the equipment, skill set, and expertise that they already possess machining enormous tonnage of steel and aluminum. Considering a windmill rotor hub can weigh up to 15,000 pounds with a diameter of 15 feet and a windmill main tower frame can weigh up to 30,000 pounds, specialized equipment and expertise is needed. Parts need to be maneuvered and machined, which requires highly specific equipment and skilled personnel. This makes the energy market a logical fit for Triangle Tool.

“Since we focus on a highly engineered, large product niche market we have not seen the mass migration of our work to overseas competitors,” Baez concludes. “In fact we see an opposite trend, that is, the development and returning of work to North America. Many European companies are looking to provide products to the U.S. and find it more economical to build large tools and mold product here in the states rather than shipping molds and parts from oversea. Also, consider right now is the value of the euro compared to the dollar. Other companies are realizing that by the time they account for all of the expenses and lack of service after tool build, overseas tooling does not always prove to be more economical. Triangle Tool continues to stay true to core values while venturing into the energy market, and looks optimistically to the future.”

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