New Medical Manufacturing Niche Sustains Moldmaker during Trying Economic Times
However, as semiconductor manufacturing continued to move offshore, the market for these molds became increasingly volatile. NDC President Kevin Hartsoe realized that changes had to be made in not only the services the company offered, but the customer base it was serving. After careful consideration Hartsoe determined that medical manufacturing would be the next sustainable market for NDC.
“Including medical manufacturers as clients came about at a slow and steady pace,” Hartsoe explains. “We knew that serving the new customers would entail some shift in focus from building transfer molds to precision injection molds. Though NDC had built close tolerance molds for decades, the processes are different and so we began to hire more staff and purchase the machinery required to compete in this new market.”
Hartsoe began by adding more salespeople, toolmakers and injection mold-based technical staff. Technology-wise, NDC added solid design programs, machine programming software and some of the latest in high-speed hard milling technology, including a Sodick high speed milling center that features linear motor positioning instead of the traditional feed screw. According to Hartsoe, this technology permits positioning down to the tenth of a thousandth of an inch, and allows the use of end mills down to .0050” in diameter in its 40,000 rpm spindle. “The combination of high speeds and small end mills allow NDC to finish machine very small, very detailed cavities in one setup and often eliminate the need for some type of secondary machining, such as sinker EDM,” he elaborates.
“Since we have more than 30 years of experience making insert molds for the electronics industry that required high tolerance fits, we felt that medical insert and high tolerance molds were a natural fit,” Hartsoe notes. “My team was used to high tolerance molds. We have built 2,304 cavity molds with a .0005 mismatch tolerance that required 16 lead frames to be placed in the mold with a loading jig. So when we are asked to build an eight- or 16-cavity mold with loading bars and catheter tubes it comes naturally.”
In 2003, NDC established a sister company to fill a void in the electronics and medical over-mold industry. The idea was to be able to supply turnkey systems including molding presses, notes Mark Sullivan, Head of Injection Mold Sales. “Dave Campbell, formerly CEO of ESC International, and Kevin formed NDC International (NDCI),” Sullivan says. “ NDC International supplies molding presses and automated assembly equipment for both the electronics and medical industries. Their product lines include Hanmi Semiconductor, Kulicke and Soffa, FA Systems Automation, Imecs and others. With medical electronics constantly growing, NDCI has supplied many turnkey systems.”
In response to customer requests, NDC began to do small volume contract encapsulation molding in 2008. According to Sullivan, this business unit has grown yearly and NDC has added two full-time mold press operators. “Low volume niche parts is the key,” he emphasizes. “Some of our POs call for molding 15 parts.”
NDC’s expansion efforts continue. Last May, the company entered into a partnership with Hayward, CA-based Delphon Industries—a company that handles, processes and packages high technology components and medical devices. NDC will offer turnkey packaging solutions for Delphon—from prototype to production. According to Delphon President Jeanne Beacham, this partnership supports Delphon’s strategy to provide its customers in the semiconductor, medical and automotive industries with a single source for complete IC packaging and assembly services.
Hartsoe adds that, “This will be a wonderful opportunity for both firms as it allows us to reach more potential customers. The real winners, we believe, will be the marketplace as customers will have a single source supplier for their packaging needs.”
The past two years have been challenging as the economy has been in a downturn. “We were determined to hang in there and once again redefine how to keep up with a larger than ever presence from offshore moldmakers,” Hartsoe says. “I was getting between three and five emails per day from offshore moldmakers only too happy to take jobs on at an ever lower rate. So, we decided that we needed to become ISO 9001 certified. We hired a full-time engineer to head this up. We also went through a 5S process with the help of our local Delaware Industrial resource center that is part of the Manufacturing Extension Partnership, which is part of NIST.
Today, NDC has survived—and thrived. “Last year, the shift in markets had really taken hold,” Hartsoe notes. “Originally, the semiconductor market made up 100 percent of our business. Today medical molds make up approximately 60 percent of the tools we build every year. Even though a new market is being served, we have found a niche in the manufacturing of insert molds for varying devices—as well as manufacturing encapsulation molds for the electronic devices used in implanted medical components. Customers have found that they can rely on our vast experience in building molds that encapsulate or over-mold devices such as lead frames, wires and tubes.
“Customer service is still the key,” Hartsoe concludes. “Customers expect quality and it’s something they pay for. What they are surprised at is that we think nothing of getting in the car or on a plane for a face-to-face visit to work out concepts and ideas. They wouldn’t get that from a supplier in China