LS Mold Inc. Discusses the Importance of Flexibility and Being Helpful
LS Mold specializes in precision-machined H-13 and P-20 production injection molds and prototype injection molds in aluminum. What else do you do and in which markets are your tools typically used?
Larry Koning, president: Given our location in Western Michigan, automotive, furniture and medical device are obviously important to us. However, we also serve customers in the consumer, electronics, recreational vehicle and commercial truck markets. And occasionally we make tools for business machines, lawn and garden, lighting, marine, plumbing, sporting goods and even water purification. It’s obviously an advantage to be diversified.
For injection molding, we produce production and prototype single and multicavity tools — the majority with actions — that typically fit presses between 50 and 1,100 tons. We also build injection tools for gas-assist, rotary two-shot, pick and place, and over-molding. On top of that, we have steady work producing tools for thermoforming, vacuum forming and foam molding, and we’ve done a lot of repair work over the years on blow molding tools.
For years, we also made form and trim dies, but our customer was bought out and that work went away. And prior to the 2008 crash, we also made die-cast molds. In that downturn, our customers closed and took a lot of mold shops with them. Fortunately, we weren’t one of them. These days, we do a bit of work for other die-cast toolmakers, but we haven’t made an effort to get back into that segment.
Still another thing we do is we provide sampling for our customers or other mold builders,whether it’s on a tool we made or that was produced elsewhere,and we’ll do short-run production molding for them. We have six injection presses — four Van Dorns, a Cincinnati and a Toshibaranging in size from 85 to 610 ton in our 25,000-square-foot (2,323-square-meter) facility for just that purpose.
Are any of your customers uncomfortable with the fact that you mold parts and potentially compete with them?
Koning: We’re very careful to support our customers’ needs and not be a competitor. People who visit us know who and what we are. If you’re a Tier 1, Tier 2 or Tier 3, then maybe you have some low-end products that are a burden to higher production, that you really don’t want to make anymore but that you still have to produce for your customer. Well, we’re very good on low-volume jobs with multiple color changes and with multiple material changes. We have good process people on staff and we can handle the kinds of jobs that bigger molders just don’t want to bother with.
We also do tooling samples for customers who are still tweaking their design or want to make sure a new tool coming in from offshore actually works correctly. We do T0-T3, landing tools for different companies to help them work out the bugs in the shop. We work hand-in-hand with all our customers. We try to be a strong asset and very customer focused on everything they want us to do.
LS Mold offers also offers gundrilling, EDM and machining. Are you typically offering these services to OEMs or to other tool and die shops?
Koning: We actually provide those services to other moldmakers and to OEMs in the Midwest. We’ve found that for a smaller mold shop, it’s hard to survive just on building tools. You have to get through both the highs and the lows. We’ve found that by being a resource to support other machine shops that are both larger and smaller than us, it not only gives us steady business, but it means that those shops don’t have to do everything in house. For example, we can do their gundrilling, as we have two gundrills in our facility, or we can provide robotic carbon cutting, which is something we’re particularly good and fast at. We’re more than willing to do a lot of different things to support ourselves.
LS Mold also provides mold repair, maintenance and commissioning/validation services. Is this mostly for new tools coming in from offshore or for older tools that just need a little TLC?
Koning: We offer repair and maintenance services for older tools to help extend their life and keep them running well so our customers don’t have problems. In most cases, those tools are brought to our shop. We also help validate new tools. Those typically are coming in from offshore; although, with all that’s going on with China right now, we’re seeing fewer tools from overseas.
After 40 years in the business, we’re thankful to still be here. What we’ve seen in that time is that the good shops roll with the tide and work hard to be the best they can be. It’s very important to have good friends and partners in the moldmaking industry. We’re very, very focused on local work with local molders. We help them any way we can — with repairs and engineering changes. We’ve taken this approach for a number of years, and it’s worked well for us.
Your company is extremely versatile in the range of services it provides customers. Is there anything else LS Mold does that we haven’t covered?
Koning: Working in the plastics industry and making tools, as we do, we really enjoy working with inventors. And we like to invent things ourselves. Our latest product is called the golf ball tender (golfballtender.com). We worked with our local golf pro to develop a soft, rubberized plastic part that fits around any flag pole on golf links to keep people from having to reach their fingers into the hole to retrieve their ball and potentially damaging the hole. It’s being sold in Canada and Europe right now and shortly will be available for sale in the U.S. and South America.
We also invented and sell a product we call the Magsterhook (magsterhook.com). It’s a line of magnetic hooks for suspended ceilings and is very popular with classroom teachers. Before, when they wanted to change out artwork hanging from the ceiling, such as leaves for fall and snowflakes for winter, it could take hours. The teachers had to drag around a chair and climb on and off it to change whatever was hanging from the ceiling. Now they can change a whole classroom in minutes from the ground. It’s much faster and safer. Wedding planners, home offices and churches also use it.
We also produce whip guides used in the gundrill industry.
And, believe it or not, another product we developed and sell to the packaging industry are very realistic looking plastic blueberries. We laser scanned four different sizes of blueberries to make a tool to mold them. They had to be as realistic as possible in terms of weight, size and color. They’re used in the packaging industry when a packing machine is being tested to ensure the machine fills, weighs and closes the lid on clamshell packaging correctly. Normally, they either used dog food,which crumbles and makes a mess,or they used real fruit, which is costly and also makes a mess. With our plastic blueberries, they can recalibrate their machines accurately for life.
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