Ivanhoe Tool & Die: Building a Brand

This moldmaker’s five decades of success “hinged” on its decision to focus on complex unscrewing molds.


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Ivanhoe Tool & Die Co., LLC (Thompson, CT) opened its doors more than half a century ago performing general machining as well as mold building. However, it evolved over the years into a moldmaker that designs and builds plastic injection molds of many styles—including unscrewing molds, side-action molds, molds with multiple-staged parting lines, stack molds, molds with in-mold closing, two-shot molds, multiple types of collapsible core molds, and all combinations of the above.

Finding a niche for complex molds like these—in addition to a group of dedicated, hardworking employees—has resulted in many decades of success for this shop. Its approach from day one has been to provide outstanding quality and service to those customers who recognize the value in these qualities and are willing to pay for it.


The Early Days

James McWilliam founded Ivanhoe Tool & Die Company in 1952. The first building that they occupied was in Oxford, MA. Three years later, that building was damaged by the “Great Flood of 1955.” After repairing the flood damage, McWilliam expanded the facility, but was informed by the state he had to vacate the premises, as the entire area was designated a floodplain. In 1960 the company moved to its current 30,000-square foot facility.

It wasn’t long before the company accepted some really exciting projects. In the early ‘60s Ivanhoe did a lot of machining for the components used in space suits. “There would often be astronauts visiting our facility,” McWilliam recalls. “It was an exciting time to be a toolmaker. We also made parts for the pressurized suits used in the Japanese Air Force.”

On the mold design and build end, Ivanhoe was the first mold builder to really perfect the unscrewing mold, McWilliam says. “We have built so many unscrewing molds that some people think that’s all we do,” he notes. “We have built more than a thousand unscrewing molds, but it’s only a small part of what we do now. There are many other players in that market now, but we still feel that we produce some of the best, most reliable, fastest-running unscrewing molds on the market today.”

Then, in the latter part of the same decade, the company developed its own proprietary collapsible core—used for everything from large coffee jar lids down to 20mm closures. The early ‘70s saw the development of the expandable cavity, which resulted in a lot of molds for lipstick caps produced with this design.


The Innovation Continues

Today, Ivanhoe continues to design and build intricate molds. “In order to be taken seriously in the multi-cavity mold market, you have to design and build molds that have fully interchangeable components,” current Ivanhoe President Scott McWilliam (James’ son) explains. “That ability starts in engineering, as the drawings must be fully toleranced, and include all of the necessary information to produce parts that can be assembled with no fitting or modification. We have been building molds that way since the early ‘80s.”

Another trait that sets Ivanhoe apart from its competitors is its reputation for having strong design ability that starts with Ivanhoe’s customer’s product designs. The company firmly believes in working closely with its customers in the early stages to avoid potential problems down the road. And, Ivanhoe is not afraid to turn down business it feels may tarnish its stellar reputation. “If we see a design that we believe has a high potential for failure, we may let the job go to someone else, rather than be associated with a ‘problem mold,’” states Engineering Manager Rocky Huber.

This strong work ethic is carried throughout the entire process. “Many mold builders can design a mold to produce the same part,” Scott states. “Some, however, will cut corners in the design—usually to make the mold less expensive. We will not build a mold that we don’t believe will run fully automatic for an indefinite period of time, and we won’t quote or build an inferior mold just to ‘get the job.’”

Mold sampling completes almost every mold build. “We sample nearly every mold before we ship it on our two mold presses,” Scott notes. “The only exceptions are out of necessity. For instance, stack molds and two-shot molds are very machine-specific. When a mold that we build cannot be run in our equipment, we send Ivanhoe personnel at the customer’s site to assist with the start-up. Our Plant Manager, Bob Covello, is a skilled molder, and the ability to perform this service has proved very valuable to us over the years.

Scott will not allow a mold to be shipped until he is completely satisfied that is a quality product, and worthy of the “Ivanhoe Name Tag.” To that end, the company has been ISO 9001 certified since 2001. Scott explains that the biggest benefit from the certification process has been more internal than external—allowing them to issue and track engineering change orders more effectively. “Obviously, the ISO standards that we set up affect every area of our business—from calibration to vendor selection,” he notes. “It really helps standardize the way we run our business, no matter who is performing the function. It keeps us on our toes and formalizes the way we operate.”


Eyes and Ears Open

Ivanhoe keeps its ears to the ground when thinking about its future. “We are always looking for new methods in all aspects of our business,” Scott states. “We have nearly all of the latest equipment available. There are certainly always new machines on the market that have enhancements, and you can’t always have the absolute latest and greatest. If there is a piece of machinery that we believe will give us a competitive advantage or make us more efficient, and we can justify the purchase, we buy it. It’s as simple as that. We are a financially secure company, and that gives us the ability to get the equipment that we need, when we need it. That may be one of our strongest advantages.

“We are always researching methods of maximizing cooling and enhancing heat transfer. We have come up with a number of proprietary solutions to enhancing fluid flow through difficult areas. We also are in the early stages of looking at a method of enhancing the heat transfer coefficient in our water circuits that—if it works as expected—will be very unique and beneficial.”

Over the years, this moldmaker has survived and thrived on its ability to come up with unique solutions to the challenges it has faced—while maintaining the high quality standards it has come to be known for. “As a group, our people are proud of the product that we manufacture,” Scott affirms. “An ‘Ivanhoe Mold’ is synonymous with quality, and it feels good to be a part of that.”