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North Bay Business Journal

Monday, February 7, 2011, 3:30 am

Looking at every detail for innovation

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    96-employee injection molding pioneer Parmatech leads industry

    Bob Lopes, Parmatech project engineer, uses CAD to ready products for manufacturing.

    PETALUMA – Companies are being told from the president on down that they have to innovate, but that is not news to Parmatech Corporation.

    At 96 employees, Parmatech pioneered metal-injection molding, but continual innovation has allowed it to battle a wave of competitors and lead the industry.

    Parmatech’s automated molding machine and work center

    “We never stop looking at the process and thinking how to improve it, even in its smallest details,” said Brian McBride, Parmatech’s general manager.

    It was during the 1970s that Parmatech engineers combined the new plastic injection molding technology with the furnace process for forming metal parts from powder.

    Joel Martinez operates the Parmatech furnace

    The combination represented a significant advance for the powder metal industry, which was and is still using techniques such as casting and compaction to create two-dimensional shapes such as gears.

    During the 1980s, Parmatech patented its process, which turned out smaller, denser, three-dimensional shapes.

    Laura Vasquez, production operator, with a Parmatech automated rivet assembly work cell

    “Those patents have run their course,” said Mr. McBride. “There are about 80 metal injection molding companies now, mostly OEMs. We’re still one of only six or seven custom makers of metal and porcelain parts from the injection method.”

    Parmatech has managed to stay at the very top of its peers. It has won seven Grand Prize awards from the Metal Powder Industry Federation, five Awards of Distinction and two Awards of Achievement.

    “They were one of the original innovators and patent holders in the industry,” said Jim Dale, vice president of the Metal Powder Injection Federation.

    “They keep on improving how they mold and what they mold, and expanding their product lines.”

    Parmatech was not only the pioneer in metal powder injection, it has extended the range of the industry by integrating the technology with others, said Mr. Dale.

    The company’s customer list includes the biggest names in the high tech, medical diagnostics and device, aerospace and telecommunications industries.

    According to Parmatech Sales Manager DJ Lauck, the company supplies Agilent Technologies, Johnson & Johnson, Conmed Corporation, DuPont, Textron and Smith & Wesson, among other Fortune 100 clients.

    “We’re weathering the downturn fairly well, mainly because the medical industry is still strong,” he said.

    Parmatech makes internal parts for laparoscopic (minimally invasive) surgery, surgical jaws and other devices.

    “We continue to reformulate alloys on a regular basis,” said Mr. McBride. “In the early stages there were only a handful of alloys. Now we have much better materials to work with.”

    Another recent innovation involved the setting of objects in the furnace: a minor tweak that resulted in a better product, he said.

    Currently Parmatech is working on a feature to streamline the production of new parts, a time-consuming, complex process that involves working closely with client engineers.

    Product designers will be able to jump-start the process of manufacturing by entering specifications directly on the Parmatech website, a first for the metal injection industry.

    The company is also moving quickly into robotics and automation, as are many metal shops. Parmatech has developed a two-armed robotic system by adapting a one-armed system.

    “One arm picks up the part and hands it to the second arm, which places it,” he said. “The system replaces manual labor, making it less prone to error, and it frees up workers for other processes.

    The company recently opened a branch in East Providence, R.I, where it acquired the metal injection molding business of Morgan Advanced Ceramics.

    “We’ll use that base to serve out East Coast customers,” said Mr. McBride.

    He figured out that each employee has an average of six to seven years with the company.

    Once training is complete, people tend to stay with the company, said Mr. Lauck.

    “Where employees show aptitude and continue to learn, there’s a certain progression from production operator to planner, to machine inspector, to lab assistant and on to technician level. Morale is good,” he said.

    Parmatech is part of the family of ATW Companies. Its revenues range between $12 million and $16 million, or about 15 percent of a $100 million market for molded metal products in the U.S.

    For more information visit www.parmatech.com.

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