Manufacturing molds to form plastic and metal parts requires a knowledge of how the material to be molded forms in the mold. H.S. Die and Engineering Inc. has a skilled and experienced staff of 11 project engineers and 35 designers who use computer-aided design to create the molds for parts designed by their customers.
“We design the mold to make the part,” Project Manager Dale Hermiller explains. H.S. Die and Engineering Inc. can produce stack, blow, injection, compression and structural foam molds. Hermiller estimates that from 90 to 95 percent of the molds the company manufactures are for injection molding.
“We’re extremely well-versed,” owner and CEO Marcia Steele emphasizes. “We can do large tools all the way down to small tools. We are a full-service company. We can build molds, and we can try them out. We also offer secondary equipment.”
Those secondary operations include assembly, heat stake welding, robotic assembly, verification assemblies and clip installation – “anything that would need to be done to assemble the part,” Hermiller says. He estimates that 98 percent of the company’s work is for plastic parts and the rest for metal die casting and custom machining of metal parts, such as brackets for the aerospace industry.
One of the major industries that H.S. Die and Engineering serves is automotive. It produces molds for companies worldwide but primarily for those in North America. The company also provides molds for the aerospace and agricultural equipment industries and for the manufacture of golf carts. H.S. Die and Engineering’s customers are the Tier 1 and Tier 2 companies that serve OEMs.
“Those people that make the parts are our customers,” Steele explains. “So we have our tool and die shop where we make the plastic injection molds. Then we have our injection molding shop, and they run very limited production – mostly for sampling of our tools – to make sure the parts are correct first shots. Then from there, the customer will take the mold, and they run production parts on the mold.”
“Our forte is that we can really handle large tools,” Hermiller stresses. “We have an 88-ton crane to handle large molds. One large part that H.S. Die and Engineering produces a mold for is one that forms the roof of a truck cab. The company also produces molds for automotive bumper covers and instruments panels and for molding trash cans.
Headquartered in Grand Rapids, Mich., H.S. Die and Engineering has three manufacturing plants in that city that are within 30 minutes of Gerald R. Ford International Airport. The corporate office includes a 140,000-square-foot shop that employs 210 people on day and night shifts. The second plant devotes 24,600 square feet to manufacturing on day and night shifts, and the third plant has a 24,000-square-foot shop that operates 24/7. The first shop employs 210 people, the second shop 30 and the third shop 10.
H.S. Die and Engineering’s equipment is highly automated. “We’ve updated several pieces of equipment,” Hermiller says. “This is very capital-intense. We’re always upgrading and improving our equipment to make it newer, faster and more precise.”
Among the latest improvements are new computer numerical controls for equipment, finishers, electrical discharge machining equipment, and gun and boring mills. “We’ve come a long way in 47 years,” Steele remarks. “There’s a lot of new technology, and now it just keeps changing by leaps and bounds. You buy one thing, and six months later, there’s something new that replaces that.”
H.S. Die and Engineering does molding feasibility studies for parts its customers submit to it. “We make recommendations or concessions,” Hermiller says. “We understand that the functionality still needs to be there, but if they can move something and it makes it a better, moldable part for them, that can help.”
Improving mold-making can save valuable production time. “It might save them two or three seconds per part, and that all adds up in the end,” Steele points out.
Even though models change frequently in the automotive industry, sometimes the same parts and molds are used. “If they have a model year where they can carry over a part that works, then they’ll use that,” Hermiller says. “If the change in a part is not substantial, we can change the mold, but 99 percent of the time, it requires a new mold, and that usually changes with the model year.”
All the mold-making at H.S. Die and Engineering is custom. “Nothing is off-the-shelf,” Hermiller emphasizes. “We order everything by job. Everything is so different – the parts can vary – everything is custom. We do it made-to-order. Once we get a part, we decide what size steel it’s going to be to make the mold and we order the steel and the components that go in. We have a little bit of inventory, but most of it is all custom-ordered to the job.”
H.S. Die and Engineering was founded in 1969 by Harold Steele, who passed away five years ago. She ascribes the company’s success to her late husband. “He was the go-getter,” she recalls. “He was always the one to stay ahead of technology and to have the greatest and best. That was his goal.”
That tradition continues at H.S. Die and Engineering to this day as a woman-owned, family managed business. Steele’s female ownership is not emphasized by H.S. Die and Engineering as much as it is important to its customers, she maintains. “I think it’s more for them than for us,” she says. “The auto companies are more into a lot of that, but we probably both benefit.”
Hermiller, who is Steele’s son-in-law, ascribes the company’s longevity to several factors. “We always try to be partners with our customers and help them do their job so they can help us do ours,” he says. “We have done in the past seminars to help our customers understand the mold-making process.”
“Even though a lot of them are engineers in certain areas, they don’t understand what it takes to build a mold,” Steele adds. “But they know what the mold is going to do.” During these seminars, H.S. Die and Engineering explains to the engineers the parts-forming capabilities of various molds and what it takes to create them.
Training Is Extensive
Another reason for the company’s success is its employees. “We have a very skilled, dedicated set of employees,” Hermiller says. “We’re always bringing in and training new people and developing new talent.” That talent is located at technical colleges, high schools and through word-of-mouth.
“We have an apprenticeship program here,” Hermiller says. “We do send our people to school for training – that’s an ongoing policy at our company. We’re always looking to educate our people, whether on the job or through apprenticeships or classes they can take at the local college. We try to provide a great working environment. All of our shops are air-conditioned, well-lit and clean. When you talk about people working, they spend a lot of their time here, and we want to make it as comfortable for them as we can.”
Hermiller adds that H.S. Die and Engineering is most proud of its employees and their loyalty. “We’ve been able to weather the ups and downs of the industry,” he points out. “We’re well-rooted and stable in the industry, with all the people that we have here being part of our team.”
Steele concurs that teamwork is most important. “We try to stress that we work as a team together, so that makes everybody feel that they are all part of it, no matter what job they’re doing here,” Steele says.
Her advice on how to stay successful in business is tried-and-true. “I guess the customer is always right, but you’ve got to give and take a little bit,” she recommends. “Sometimes, if they’re not quite right on something, and we know it’s not going to work, you’ve got to be nice about how to change it for the better.”