Like most companies, we carefully plan capital purchases at Littlestar Plastics. One consideration in that planning process is the voice of our customers. When they recommend an investment that will lead to additional opportunities, we are not afraid to act.
In 2016, one of our largest customers – and a company we’ve been working with for more than 20 years – approached us with an opportunity. There was a four part assembly that it was having difficulty sourcing. In this case, it wasn’t the complexity, it was the size of the parts. We didn’t have a molding press that could handle parts that large.
They asked us to provide a quote anyway and once we did, they asked us if we’d buy the necessary equipment if they awarded the work to us.
It wasn’t an easy answer. To make the parts in question, we would have to make a significant investment – one that wouldn’t be covered by their project alone.
To give them an answer, we had to revisit some of our core philosophies.
At Littlestar, we pride ourselves in being able to solve problems and produce parts on deadlines others can’t meet. The key to being able to do that is having capacity. To maintain 100 percent on-time delivery a company needs to be able to have the flexibility to move work around to different spindles, machines or presses.
Adding the presses necessary would add tremendous capacity. As a molder of high-end, engineered resins, we don’t do much of the high-volume, low complexity work you see at most injection molding shops. The type of press we needed for this project isn’t typically found in a company that specializes in complex, lower-volume parts.
Another philosophy at Littlestar is to stay at the forefront in terms of capability. To do the parts in question, we needed servo-controlled hydraulic presses that could mold polymers such as Torlon and Polyetherketone compounds in large shapes up to two pounds. There are just a handful of companies in the world that can injection mold those compounds at that size.
Strategically, adding the presses would both give Littlestar more capacity and open new markets for larger components, so we made the investment. We now have presses with 360 ton barrel capacity, producing two pound shots, with hydraulic core pulls.
The first family of parts consumed about 20 percent of the new press capacity. Since coming online, Littlestar has added more work, including some from a new customer in the foodservice industry, and now the press is running at about 40 percent of capacity.
The return on investment for these types of presses may be faster in a high volume shop, but furthering our ability to help clients solve problems is our competitive advantage. This new capability allows us to bid on jobs we couldn’t have before, introducing more companies to Littlestar, and what’s possible with plastics.