Issue Spring 13
Founded as a prototyping shop in 1996, VistaTek has since expanded due to customer demand to offer finished plastics injection molds and production parts. The advantages are numerous, the company says.
“Since we could debug the prototype tooling, we can transition directly into production tooling,” Managing Director Dan Mishek points out. “So there’s a cost advantage and also a timing advantage. It’s a simpler process – since we’ve already done the molding design and the programming – to do it again. We can do it more efficiently. Even with the sampling, we know what the cycle times are, what the pressures are and how the material flows from what we learned in the prototype tooling.”
This eliminates two different technologies, philosophies or expertise levels between prototyping and production facilities when different companies do the job. “With one facility, you have the consistency of working with the same team,” Mishek notes. “It is a greener method of manufacturing, where you have minimal costs shipping products around to different vendors, which saves time and money. Then you can call one supplier to get instant updates.”
Historically, plastics injection molding companies that produced parts have worked with separate companies to produce the molds. “To me, that never made good sense,” Mishek observes. “What’s more difficult to do – make the mold or to process the plastic? Everybody will agree it’s more difficult to make the mold. If I give you a poor mold, you will produce poor parts. The advantage is, with us, we’ve minimized the risk by making the tool, doing the injection molding and offering full inspection.
“Therefore, I can’t point the finger at the guy and say he made a bad mold, or the guy didn’t process the plastic – I have to do both,” he continues. “People really like to use one source to minimize the risk, to lower the cost, to be a greener method of manufacturing and to increase the speed to market.”
Additionally, VistaTek uses the team system in mold-making rather than having one master mold maker be responsible for a single mold. This eliminates inconsistencies and an individuals’ philosophy of mold-making.
VistaTek manufactures tooling, parts and products for more than 2,000 companies in a diverse customer base from electronics to medical and agricultural equipment. No customer is too small or too big. In 2011, the company made more than 500 molds. Mishek calls parts 16 inches and smaller the company’s “sweet spot,” although VistaTek also manufactures finished products and has the capabilities to decorate, package and ship them.
Besides prototyping parts and making prototype molds, the company can produce parts lights-out with the automated equipment in its single, 15,000-square-foot manufacturing facility. “We are a true U.S. custom manufacturer, and that’s how our customers view us,” Mishek emphasizes. The company offers over-molding – molding a different plastic, such as a softer one, over a more rigid plastic for a power tool handle – and insert molding – injecting plastic over a part made from another material, such as metal.
“Some of our competitors have manufacturing limitations,” Mishek asserts. “They offer making a portion of the part or building the part with missing features. This means the customer has to go in and drill or tap a hole or execute product testing with missing features. Would you buy a pie without a crust, or would you buy a new car and have to put your own tires and windows in it?”
Back from Offshore
A trend that Mishek has observed is that part runs are getting shorter but the products themselves are being sold at higher margins. To justify this, the part quality has to be high with featured complexities, over-molding or decorating.
“The quality cannot be sacrificed, and the speed has to be there to get those products to market,” Mishek points out. “This will allow people to order low volumes at a faster speed.” He cites smart phone accessories – such as covers in a variety of colors and styles – as examples of products run in lower quantities but sold at higher margins.
Mishek also sees the return of more products from offshore to domestic manufacturing due to the products’ complexities, standards required of them and the faster turnaround times customers require. “People want to work with one company and not work with multiple vendors for the same product,” Mishek asserts.
“We’re seeing a giant trend for reshoring programs to bring projects back from China and India,” he remarks. “With labor costs increasing in those regions and with the U.S. having a weak dollar, it’s been very cost-effective to manufacture stateside.”
Mishek’s parents, Jim and Lorinda, founded VistaTek and have since sold it to Mishek, his brother, Allen, who is in sales and marketing, and their sister, Jennifer Sutherland, who is director of operations. Although they are the second-generation owner/managers at the company, they are third-generation manufacturers – their grandparents were in the sheet metal fabrication industry.
The latest improvements to the company’s manufacturing processes are its addition of four new plastics injection molding machines – two electric and two hydraulic – and more computer numerically controlled mills for machining molds.
“Every six months, due to our growth, we’re reevaluating how we can be more efficient with lean manufacturing and using alternative technologies and energies,” Mishek notes. “We’re really in growth mode and evaluating everything all the time.”
For the future, Mishek sees more expansion – the company’s products are sold throughout North America, some of South America and a little bit of Europe, he says – increased capacities in first-article inspection and even manufacturing the company’s own line of finished products. The type of product has not been determined yet, Mishek says.
“I’m a long-term optimist but a short-term realist,” he notes. “One of our goals is we hope by producing quick-turn, quality parts at a competitive price that we will help innovation. Hopefully [that] will spur an increase in U.S. manufacturing.”