By Melissa Donovan
Part 1 of 2
Based in Noblesville, IN, Metro Plastics Technologies, Inc. offers short-run and high-volume injection molding to the appliance, automotive, consumer electronics, medical, agricultural, housewares, and hardware industries. Well-known and respected clients include Allegion, Firestone, and Schlage.
The creation of injection molds involves various tools and fixtures—each specific to the task at hand. Manufacturing these pieces—which are many times only needed in small volumes and fairly quickly—often fell to Metro Plastics’ in-house tool shop or was outsourced. To address concerns regarding meeting deadlines in addition to cost savings, the company looked to three-dimensional (3D) printing technology.
Molding to Plastics
Founded in 1975 and originally called Metro Molding, the company began with the goal of providing superior custom molding services to a regional customer base. At the time, IN was saturated with manufacturing companies such as GenAir, RCA, and Western Electric. Supplying products to such a central group of customers, Metro Molding steadily grew throughout the 1970s and 1980s. In 1981 it purchased land in Noblesville, built its own facility, and changed its name to Metro Plastics.
Today it operates out of a 74,000 square foot headquarters, which houses over 26 molding machines that range in size from 15 to 720 tons. Metro Plastics’ core business is custom injection molding.
The company is also aware that prototype injection molds are necessary in most applications to prove a design before building a multiple cavity production mold. It strives to build a prototype mold that produces exactly what the customer’s production intent should be with no limitation in order to prove the design completely.
Scott Adams, engineering manager, Metro Plastics, joined the company 14 years ago. He began as a sales engineer, moved to project manager, and now oversees engineering. “I love the fact that every day is completely different. As an engineer, I get to problem solve each day—getting new parts from customers daily is dynamic and exciting,” notes Adams.
Tool Shop Blues
Beyond its expertise in tool design, Metro Plastics strives to meet quick turnarounds for its customers. Back in 2019, the company was having trouble machining end-of-arm tooling parts in a timely fashion from its internal tool shop.
According to Adams, if the tool shop wasn’t busy, the part would take a couple of weeks. But, if they were slammed, it could take up to a few months. Realizing there was a better solution available, the engineering team eventually took a recommendation from a sales representative from Jabil Inc. and purchased the Ultimaker S5 Pro Bundle.
Integrating the Ultimaker S5 3D printer with the Ultimaker Air Manager and Material Station, the Ultimaker S5 Pro Bundle offers fast and easy front loading of up to six filaments, uninterrupted printing with automatic material switching, and humidity controlled material storage. The printer is compatible with third-party filaments, including PLA, ABS, nylon, CPE, PC, PP, TPU, and PVA.
“With the goal of a quicker turnaround time and an added bonus of the endless amounts of material choices through Ultimaker’s open material platform, it was a no brainer,” admits Adams.
Implemented into Metro Plastics’ facility at the end of 2019, the company enjoys the 3D printer’s 13×9.4×11.8-inch build plate size in addition to the Air Manager, which helps alleviate fumes in the office area and the Material Station, which allows for easy changeout of print materials.
The Air Manager ensures a safer working environment with even more materials. Its closed, inside-out airflow catches, traps, or diffuses up to 95 percent of ultra-fine particles. The Material Station redefines material handling according to Ultimaker. It eliminates the need for do-it-yourself dry boxes and less time is spent operating the printer.
Initially planning on only using the 3D printer for end-of-arm tooling, the staff of Metro Plastics was quickly proved wrong. “We thought we’d use the printer once a week, but it runs every single day,” notes Adams. It currently uses the printer for general and assembly fixtures as well as coordinate measuring machines, end-of-arm tooling, casings and brackets, and internal design and customer prototypes.
The manufacturing of sensor brackets is one example of how beneficial the Ultimaker S5 Pro Bundle is to the facility. Prior to the 3D printer, the sensor brackets were created out of a metal part, which took a few days to arrive in Noblesville and cost around $40 to $50. With the Ultimaker S5 Pro Bundle and Jabil PA 4035 carbon fiber filled nylon filament, the same part is printed for $5 in one day.
“Now, we rarely outsource. Before our 3D printer, everything was done by our in-house machine shop where we employ a handful of toolmakers. We can’t create our injection molds with 3D printing, but besides that, we utilize our Ultimaker printer for almost everything else,” shares Adams.
Consistent, Quality Parts
Metro Plastics found success with its Ultimaker S5 Pro Bundle. It continues to be amazed at the product’s capabilities. “Since Ultimaker features an open material platform, the options and capabilities are endless. Ultimaker’s 3D printer innovated our manufacturing process by creating new capabilities to automate tasks resulting in more consistent and better quality parts to our customers,” concludes Adams. IPM
Read part two of this series, Committed to Manufacturing Excellence
Nov2020, Industrial Print Magazine