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Overmolding Avalanche
By Tony Deligio, / Canon Communications LLC

Pre-Hardened Tool Steel Saves Time and Money
Using NAK 55 standard mold bases allows moldmakers to focus on crucial core and cavity work. Click here for the PDF version (773k PDF)

Overmolding avalanche
By: Tony Deligio
May, 2003

By forging business relationships with nearby companies and proactively introducing overmolding as an aesthetic and structural benefit, an Idaho molder has carved out a successful niche.

With sporting goods OEMs like Smith in its backyard, Tooling Express Inc. (Bellevue, ID) developed designs like the molded-in strap for these goggles to help it win steady business.

Success for many molders lies not in pursuing fanciful visions of what your business could be, but in realistically appreciating what your business inherently is. Lonnie Tustison, tooling manager of Tooling Express Inc. (TEI), has adopted the latter view, and in doing so, accepted his shop’s weaknesses and exploited its strengths to the betterment of TEI’s bottom line.

“It’d be nice to get some gravy, high-volume, never-have-to-do-anything-with-them jobs,?Tustison admits, “but that just hasn’t panned out for us, so we’ve gone more towards the things that other people haven’t been able to do or haven’t been willing to expend the money to try.?lt;/font>

This outlook has increasingly led TEI to multicomponent or overmolding jobs, leaning heavily on the experience of Tustison and his two fellow toolmakers. Geographically isolated in Bellevue, ID, Tustison says TEI, under the leadership of president Owen Downard and his son Evan, has forged relationships with local customers, proactively introducing overmolding‘s aesthetic and functional benefits to win business.

Snow Jobs
A short cross-country ski trip from many of its customers, TEI has capitalized on proximity to Sun Valley’s ski country and worked hard to win the confidence of local sporting goods OEMs like Smith and Scott. TEI actually started as a tool shop supplying molds to a local molder that worked for Scott. Ten years ago when that molding shop went under, Scott said the parts business was TEI’s if it would buy a molding machine, so the company obliged and promptly became a custom molder.


Molding the goggle straps into a clip rather than manually threading them enabled TEI to reduce material scrap and assembly time for clients like Smith and Scott. TEI devised a manual process for strap loading that cut 6 seconds from the quoted cycle time for an automated setup.
The first major project TEI took on for Scott was a two-component ski pole grip. Given only an epoxy model of what Scott was looking for, TEI was forced to reverse engineer the part. Running one press, TEI designed a mold for the PP inner component and a separate tool that held that PP insert to overmold thermoplastic rubber (TPR). Tustison says TEI spent a year “dialing [the mold] in?and performing secondary machining before it produced the parts suitable for Scott.

Its diligent efforts were rewarded, however, and although Scott eventually pulled most of its operations into Europe, that initial program served as a launching point for TEI’s success. The grip remains a source of pride for Tustison and TEI, especially after its production was attempted in Europe with mixed results.

“[Scott] tried to replicate what we did here on the European market,? Tustison says, “and to this day if you line up our grip with the European grip side by side you can tell the difference. It was one of those things where we still step back and say, ‘Yeah, we did it—a couple of toolmakers in the-middle-of-nowhere Idaho were able to pull something off that the big-money guys couldn’t.’”

Soon after, TEI was contacted by a Norwegian company for ski pole grips, and another local OEM, Smith, followed fast behind with various sporting goods components. Tustison says that things (appropriately) “snowballed?from there, and soon the company had seven presses (55 to 375 tons), a CNC EDM, a three-axis machining center, and a CNC lathe. The investments in technology were important, but it was the knowledge gleaned from that first pole grip tool that has proven invaluable for TEI.

A Different Perspective
Of the many lessons Tustison says TEI learned, the most important was to view the cycle in reverse. The key was positioning the PP insert into the second mold and supporting it in a linear and lateral fashion. Tustison says the process TEI adopted defies some common shop knowledge, but that it was critical to the part’s success.


Located in the heart of Idaho’s ski country, TEI used an innovative, overmolded ski pole grip created for a local company to branch into other sporting goods parts. By using multimaterial designs, it was able to enhance product appearance and functionality.
“I’ve seen many times that people will blow a mold open, so they increase the tonnage,?Tustison says. “But then the part won’t fill because they don’t know they’re pinching out the gate or the vent, so they give it more injection pressure to help fill it. They’re actually working the wrong direction even though logic would tell you to do this, do this, and do this. Back up, regroup, and lighten it up. Instead of making the shutoffs harder, make them lighter.?lt;/font>

Tustison says TEI doesn’t have the luxury of doing flow simulations on all of its jobs, but that doesn’t mean it shoots the first parts into a mold with its fingers crossed. For most parts, prototype tools are initially cut from aluminum with only one cavity so there’s room to try different gating scenarios or runner configurations. Including Tustison, TEI has just three full-time toolmakers, but it still managed to crank out 20 molds last year, and that tally is closer to 30 if you count the prototype tools. The company also performs short-shot series and other tests, but through all processes, the quest for knowledge remains paramount.

“We try to do as much homework as we can and ask the right people as intelligent questions as we can,?Tustison says. “Even a flow analysis is nothing more, in a lot of ways, than an educated guess.?lt;/font>

Strap It On
TEI continues to market its knowledge of overmolding, and an aggressive strategy recently won it some new business. Smith is one of the largest goggle manufacturers in the world, and just one of its lines constitutes 6 million pairs annually. TEI had long coveted, and won, some of the smaller components for the goggles, but it realized a new design could provide an excellent opportunity for deeper penetration and actually save Smith money in the end.

In Smith’s initial goggle design, the elastic strap was sewn onto a clip attached to the goggle frame. Working literally from a bar napkin sketch, Tustison and TEI’s president came up with a new design that called for the strap to be molded into the goggle frame. This eliminated the clip as well as the labor to sew it on.

They designed and cut a mold in the evening, shot some crude-looking but fairly representative parts the next morning, and brought the new concept to Smith—just down the road—the same day. Smith was immediately enamored with the aesthetic appeal and durability of the new design.

‘Profit is not going to come around the corner. It’s going to require patience and a lot of late nights.?lt;/font>
“The strength of adhesion between the nylon and the strap material was far greater than the looping and stitching method,?Tustison says. “You can put one of these new clips in a vice, put your feet up on it, grab it with a pair of pliers and rip and tear and tug, and it’s not coming out.?lt;/font>

TEI considered automating the process, and had even purchased a turnkey manufacturing cell centered on a Sumitomo injection molding machine at a trade show, but when the automation package fell through, TEI developed a streamlined, manual-loading process that shoots two goggle straps out of the tool with molded ends in a cycle that’s 6 seconds faster than was quoted with automation.

Understanding Overmolding
TEI still doesn’t have a preponderance of “gravy? jobs that Tustison desires, but things remain busy, including work on goggles with molded-in straps for coalition troops in Iraq and a recently patented integrated slider-clip design for strap adjustments.

For shops tantalized by TEI’s success, Tustison offers advice for adding overmolding to the repertoire. “You’ve got to realize that profit is not going to come around the corner. It’ll take a while. It’s going to require patience and a whole bunch of time on your own: lots of off-the-clock hours, lots of late nights.?lt;/font>

Throughout this learning curve, Tustison says honesty with customers about what jobs you can and can’t handle is the best policy. “It’s vital to be straight up and honest with your customers,?Tustison explains. “The best thing we can do is say, ‘That’s similar to another [job] that we’ve done, and we think we can do it; let’s go try.’”

More than anything, Tustison explains learning the technology takes time, and it’s not a lifeboat to take on molders drowning in other markets. “It was two years before we really made a profit,?Tustison says. “It’s an investment of time, it’s an investment of patience, and it’s not something that if the computer market is in the dumps right now, you’d want to transition your whole company towards overmolding.?lt;br>   
Contact information
Tooling Express Inc., Bellevue, ID
Lonnie Tustison; (208) 788-3242

IMM - May 2003

Copyright?2003 Canon Communications LLC
Reprinted with permission from Contents cannot be reprinted without permission from the publisher. All Rights Reserved.


Click here for a PDF version of this article.

Case Study
Pre-hardened Tool Steel Saves Time and Money
Using NAK 55 standard mold bases allows moldmakers to focus on crucial core and cavity work. 
Sherry L. Baranek
When Tooling Express, Inc. (TEI) ?a Bellevue, ID-based mold shop that specializes in sporting good molds ?branched into the molding part of the business to further define its niche and improve its moldmaking process, it soon faced the challenge of finding a quality tool steel to work with that also would shorten deliveries by reducing machining times and post processes such as heat treating. 

Located right outside of the ski resort area of Sun Valley, ID, this father/son moldmaking/molding shop employs four full-time toolmakers/mold designers. The shop is literally 15 minutes from the ski slopes, and summertime fly-fishing is a 10-minute walk from the shop’s back door. It seems only natural that the company soon found its niche catering to the wide world of sports. With a 10,000-square-foot facility containing six

International Mold Steel's off-the-shelf NAK 55 MUD style bases allowed Tooling Express to get it's customer's products ready on time.

injection molding machines ranging from 55 to 165 tons, TEI also has second operation facilities such as pad printing, ultrasonic welding, and minor assembly and packaging of its customer's products. 

The Overmolding Challenge
According to Vice President Evan Downard,one of the company’s earliest challenges involved building a mold for over molded ski pole grips. “It had only been done once before and our new customer wanted to get very aggressive with the shut-off shapes that would show the secondary color on the grip,?Downard explains. “We quickly realized that the only way to ensure success with the project was to also control the final injection molding process. So, eight months into our endeavor as a moldmaking shop, we also found ourselves as injection molders. Our huge success with this particular over mold job quickly lead to other jobs and helped us realize that this is our niche in the industry.?lt;/font>

The object of overmolding ?or insert molding ?is to place either a metal or plastic item into a mold and close on it. “This is something that most injection molders try to avoid,? Downard explains. “But here we are in our own private Idaho, doing it all day long on purpose.

“A big problem with insert molding is the fact that you are actually closing the mold on pre-molded parts or some other insert material,? Downard continues. “In the past, we have relied heavily on heat treated tool steels to take on the task of pinching off on insert material and still leave shut-off surfaces intact. Taking the problem one step further, there is often a need to do additional machining on mold surfaces to fine-tune the pinch off areas.?lt;/font>

Standard Mold Bases/Inserts Speed Delivery
Downard found the solution he was seeking at International Mold Steel, a Florence, KY-based supplier of pre hardened mold steels and a new line of MUD-style mold inserts. The company’s off-the-shelf NAK 55 MUD style bases were the best fit for TEI’s needs. “Since a large portion of our molds are built in this style base, and the fact that we can more efficiently cut NAK 55 over the other available pre-hardened mold bases, this is what we were looking for,?Downard comments. “The price may be a bit higher, but we quickly make up for that additional cost by having the ability to finish molds earlier due to faster machining and less time spent on any unnecessary heat treating. In addition, we don’t need to post-grind the inserts.?nbsp;

Plus, the quick-change inserts load in and out of a master frame that can be reused over and over again, eliminating the need for each mold to have its own “A?support plate and “B? side ejection box or U-frame. “This obviously offers some cost savings due to fewer materials being needed, but more importantly, it allows the moldmaker to focus on the more highly detailed core and cavity work,?Downard explains. 

The greatest challenge of this type of work, he continues, is that most often there is no real life part geometry to work from. A customer’s only concern is that it works and achieves the desired look when assembled. When components for the final assembly are being made all around the world with no real hard numbers to call law, quite often final “tweaking? is necessary. For this reason, weldability of the mold insert material is crucial, and Downard points out that it can be welded without any evidence of the weld on the part. 

“In our latest endeavor of overmolding plastic attachment points to the ends of goggle straps, the NAK 55 mold bases have really shined,? Downard adds. “Due to the perfect timing on delivery of the mold bases and the ability to machine faster with minimal polishing, we were able to get our customer’s new concept products online in time for them to take actual production parts with them to a recent trade show.?nbsp;

For more information contact Paul Britton of International Mold Steel (Florence, KY) at (859) 342-6000 or visit its website at

Copyright?2001 Communication Technologies, ?001 Communication Technologies, Inc., All Rights Reserved. Reprinted from MoldMaking Technology magazine. Contents cannot be reprinted without permission from the publisher. All Rights Reserved.

Tooling Express, Incorporated
680 South Main Street
Bellevue, Idaho 83313
Tel: 208/788-3242
Fax: 208/788-4602
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