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Many people in the plastics industry may know Joe Prischak as the chairman of the board for The Plastek Group (Erie, Pennsylvania), which includes Triangle Tool and Penn Erie. What many of you may not know is that he is an honorary alumnus of a school he never attended, helping to create the world’s largest undergraduate plastics engineering program at Penn State Erie, The Behrend College, to which he and his wife Isabel donated $2 million for scholarships in 2011. He is the president and CEO of HaVACo Technologies, a designer and builder of heating, ventilation and air conditioning products made in the United States. He is the developer of the Lake Erie Speedway, a racetrack in Erie County that features NASCAR-sanctioned stock car and truck races. He is the founder of a nonprofit called Africa 6000 International, which is devoted to drilling wells and installing water systems across eastern Africa. He founded the nonprofit after he returned from a trip to Africa. To date, Africa 6000 has drilled more than 80 wells. Together with his wife Isabel he has five boys. They all have names that begin with the letter “D:” Dennis, Douglas, Donald, Daniel and David. Additionally, Joe has played another role that is near and dear to my heart: He is the founder of MoldMaking Technology (MMT) magazine. Twenty years ago, he and partner Gary Orfe invited me to join their crusade to launch a trade publication dedicated to covering the moldmaking industry.

Moldmaking Motivation

Joe’s beginning in moldmaking is a familiar one. He started in plastics manufacturing in 1949, working his way up from grinding scrap plastic at 25 cents an hour to working lots of overtime in a toolroom for 40 cents an hour. In the toolroom, he took care of molds, ran a Bridgeport milling machine, lathe, drill press and grinder. He moved on to repairing molds. “The next thing you know,” he says, “I started building new molds for radio cabinets, television bezels, radio knobs and ice cube trays.” No formal apprenticeships existed back in those days.

Joe got hooked on moldmaking because he loved making something out of steel and seeing the finished product. That is definitely a common feeling among those in moldmaking regardless of the decade that they entered the trade. I remember interviewing the late Amber Zapatka, a 25-year-old plastics engineer with Nypro in Clinton, Massachusetts, for our MoldMaking Matters video a few years ago. She also noted that it felt good to see products in stores that she had a hand in making.

Eventually, Joe ventured out on his own. He decided to start Triangle Tool with two friends who became his partners. The trio set out with $5,000 each to grow the business. Joe’s entrance into plastics molding came after he landed a Schick safety razor account. Triangle was building the molds and Schick was looking for someone to mold the parts, so Joe thought, Why not us? His partners were not interested, so they left that part of the business to Joe. Plastek Industries then started in 1971, and the rest is history. Today, the Plastek Group is comprised of 10 companies and 2,000 employees worldwide. Joe retired as president and CEO of Plastek Group in 2002 but remains chairman of the board.

Moldmaker Turned Publisher

Despite the evolution of technology used in moldmaking, the reasons that moldmakers have for choosing their careers has not changed much from generation to generation. Back in the 1950s, moldmaking itself was very different than what what it is today. Back then, almost everything was done by hand, molds were only as big as you could lift by hand, and mold bases were round. Today, mostly everything is done with computers, molds can be large enough for someone to stand inside, and mold bases and components can be square.

According to Joe, one of the biggest differences was the secretive nature of the early moldmaking industry. “No one was comfortable showing or sharing what they were doing. You hid everything. If you came up with an idea, you kept it for yourself,” Joe says. This became his inspiration for launching MoldMaking Technology (MMT) magazine, and many years later that idea became a reality.

“The only way the industry would grow was if we all helped each other. I wanted to give moldmakers a place to share information. This became my primary reason for starting a magazine dedicated to moldmaking,” Joe says. He started the research for the magazine in late 1990s, assembled a young but motivated team in 1997 and launched the first issue of MMT in 1998. I had the honor and privilege of being a part of that initial team (see sidebar).

“The good part of MMT was that I didn't have to do any work. I hired good people who did all the work. All I did was go along for the ride,” Joe shares.

“The only way the industry would grow was if we all helped each other. I wanted to give moldmakers a place to share information. This became my primary reason for starting a magazine dedicated to moldmaking.”

MMT Moves On and Grows

For seven more years, Joe invested in MMT. The magazine continued exposing a lot of the technologies, processes and strategies that were used in mold manufacturing through technical articles and success stories. Joe believed that these success stories highlighted real-life things that were happening in the industry. “Now, all of a sudden, everything was not a secret,” Joe says.

As the magazine continued to grow, Joe was on the lookout to pass the publication on to a company that could take it to the next level. In 2004, he sold the magazine to Gardner Business Media (GBM), a family-owned publishing company based in Cincinnati, Ohio. The company started in 1928 as Gardner Publications, Inc. with its flagship magazine, Modern Machine Shop. When GBM purchased MMT, Rick Kline Sr. was the company president. Today, he is chairman and CEO. His son, Rick Kline Jr., serves as president, and his daughter, Melissa Kline Skavlem, serves as COO. Three other family members manage operations. It was after a chance meeting with Gary Orfe, the late co-owner and publisher of MMT, at a Plastics Industry Association (PLASTICS) meeting (which at the time was an SPI meeting) that Rick discovered that MMT might be for sale.

Although Joe was a self-made man, and Rick grew up in a family business, the two had common ground, especially when it came to people. Rick shares a similar outlook to Joe, saying, “My grandfather always said, surround yourself with people smarter than you are and you'll be successful.” He notes that although he and Joe came from different backgrounds, they sort of ended up in the same place. They hit it off right away and reached an agreement rather quickly. Neither party has looked back since.

GBM purchased Plastics Technology magazine in 2000. With Modern Machine Shop and Plastics Technology in its portfolio, GBM was covering both sides of moldmaking—metalworking and plastics. This provided the logic and motivation to add a moldmaking book, according to Rick.

“We believed MMT was serving a strong, important niche in manufacturing, which we could grow, especially with the help of a new relationship with PLASTICS on the National Plastics Exposition (NPE) show and a strong, existing relationship with the Association for Manufacturing Technology (AMT) on the International Manufacturing Technology Show (IMTS),” Rick says. MMT opened GBM’s eyes to opportunities in areas on which they were not focused, such as conferences, shows and products around the brand.

For example, one brand MMT created, from which GBM learned a lot, was the Leadtime Leader Award, which Rick says is an industry favorite. “That award reminds me of how important MMT is to the craft and to the moldmaking industry. GBM now does a similar competition called Top Shops for its other publications.”

Rick also believes that Amerimold, formerly the MoldMaking Expo, has been another great addition to GBM. This annual industry event has grown each year since the acquisition, especially in the area of molder attendance and participation from moldmaker exhibitors.

MMT is something we look upon with great affection and a lot of pride. I've come to really appreciate the people in it. It takes a lot of skill and a lot of knowledge to be really good, and I think we've helped them along the way,” Rick says.

“MMT is something we look upon with great affection and a lot of pride. I've come to really appreciate the people in it. It takes a lot of skill and a lot of knowledge to be really good, and I think we've helped them along the way,” Rick says.

Both Joe and Rick agree that some of the biggest advances in moldmaking throughout the magazine’s 20 years have been in software, automation and five-axis machining. More specifically since the purchase in 2004, Rick notes automated CAD/CAM software, five-axis machining’s impact on complex molds, additive manufacturing in tool repair and prototyping and work coming back from overseas.

“Right now moldmaking is one of the hottest industries in manufacturing as far as buying capital equipment. The survivors of offshoring and the recession are very successful today,” Rick says. It is these moldmakers who improved their productivity and now better understand the business and the science of moldmaking. “They know what quality means, what on-time delivery means and what working with the customer means,” Rick says.

More importantly, these leading shops also are not afraid to share their knowledge, experience and expertise with others. They are the ones who come together and grow bigger because they're not afraid of sharing. Which brings us back to MMT, a brand through which the industry continues to share, which helps today’s moldmakers produce even higher-quality molds at lower cost with higher productivity.

“We are going to continue to provide content, the way people want it and when they need it,” Rick says. “Our work is important. We strive to help American manufacturers be more competitive and productive to produce better-quality products.” And in the words of MMT’s founder Joe Prischak, “MMT will continue to be successful as long as people continue to want to share.”

Here's to another 20 years of MMT.

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