Parkway Products is a global leader in custom molding technologies, supplying components and assemblies to global leaders across most industries. Barbara Kram reports.
Parkway began operations in 1946 as a single facility operation in Cincinnati, Ohio, offering custom production support components to local industry. Parkway evolved into a multi-facility operation in 1986, opening a facility in Erlanger, Ken., dedicated to the production of aviation and military components. A period of acquisitions in the beginning in the mid 1990s broadened Parkway’s geographic and market bases. Acquisitions in Seneca, S.C.; Loveland, Colo.; Lee’s Summit, Mo., and Atlanta, Ga. expanded Parkway’s portfolio from two to six plants, and paved inroads into the electronics, transportation and building & construction markets. During this same period of time, Parkway started production in two Saltillo, Mexico facilities, one dedicated to aerospace components, with the other positioned to serve diverse markets.
In 2006, the company had a management buyout of its founding family. Prior to the buyout, the business consisted of a collection of autonomous facilities. However, today Parkway has shaped itself into three distinct business units, each with a focused matrix of technologies, oriented to serve specific markets.
“Instead of a collection of various plants and technologies, we are now focused on harnessing the broad base of technologies that Parkway collectively offers, and targeting specific industries,” says Joe Klunk, president & CEO. Parkway’s Aerospace & Defense business, comprised of facilities in Saltillo, Mexico and Erlanger, provides engine components, aerostructures, weapons systems components and specialty assembly to commercial and military aerospace providers. Parkway’s Enterprise Molded Products business group provides a single source for organizations seeking high performance polymer, engineering and commodity thermoplastic, thermoset or thixomolded magnesium molded components and assemblies with facilities located in Seneca, Atlanta, Loveland, and Saltillo. Parkway’s Specialty Products group focuses on the development and production of custom polyurethane and elastomeric parts.
NEW HEIGHTS IN AEROSPACE AND DEFENSE
Parkway’s Aerospace & Defense group has been on the leading edge in the development and production of molded aerospace components since the 1960s. With focus within the industry shifting to weight reduction, polymer-based composite materials have come to the forefront. “Components traditionally sourced from stamped metals are transitioning to composites,” says Nick Bitter, vice president of aerospace, defense and specialty products. “Composites offer a significant opportunity for weight reduction, while maintaining strength and durability.” Parkway has recently expanded its Saltillo aerospace facility, opening a second facility dedicated strictly to composite aerostructures. Parkway’s Aerospace & Defense production capabilities include hand-lay up, vacuum bag processing, autoclave processing and resin transfer molded composites; high performance injection and compression molding; custom elastomeric molding and clean room assembly.
SHAPING THE ENTERPRISE
Parkway’s Enterprise Molded Products group was created to provide OEMs with the opportunity to source multiple production technologies from a single vendor. “Our breadth of industries and production technologies is our strength,” says Al Ridilla, vice president of the EMP group. “Our broad base of industries provides stability, while multiple production technologies provide a strategic advantage to the OEM or contract manufacturer, allowing entire programs to be single-sourced.”
Parkway’s EMP group is a noted supplier of high performance plastic products, notably in Torlon® and PEEK™. Parkway EMP’s Atlanta, facility is dedicated to processing these high performance materials, used in high-stress, high-heat applications. “These are not what the average consumer thinks of in terms of ‘plastic’,” says Wray McKenzie, Parkway’s principle engineer for high performance plastics. “These materials are used in very intense environments, where they are exposed to friction, heat or fluids. They are used frequently in heavy truck transmissions, industrial air compressors or in specialized bushings and bearings.” The properties of PEEK™ have also seen use in the medical industry, due to its high strength and the ability to be sterilized. Parkway EMP’s second unique technology is housed in Loveland. The application known as magnesium Thixomolding® combines the properties of die casting with the principles of thermoplastic injection molding. “This is the synergy between plastic and metal, offering the ease of processing of a standard thermoplastic with the strength and stiffness advantages of magnesium,” notes Ridilla. The process is very similar to plastic injection molding except using magnesium alloy. In thixomolding, magnesium chips are dropped into the machine via a hopper and that falls into a barrel. A reciprocating screw moves the material closer to the mold as it’s heated. The magnesium is heated to a semi-solid or “thixotropic” state. The metal is then injected into the open cavity of the mold. Thixomolding is a patent held by a third party and licensed to Parkway Products along with only a handful of other North American companies.
The process has many benefits. “Parts are formed into a net shape, so less secondary machining is required as opposed to casting” says Bryan Owens, Parkway’s Loveland, plant manager. “If a manufacturer has been sourcing several stamped or cast components and fusing them together by welding or adhesives to create one complex unit, the abilities of ‘thixo’ enable a more complex design than a casting process. So multiple parts can be consolidated into one.” Due to the properties of magnesium, shielded electronic housings are able to be produced without any plating, allowing for a smoother process. In addition the process takes much less energy than magnesium die casting and emits no harmful gases with no slag leftover.
The third technology offered by Parkway EMP is a throwback to the early days of plastics, but has recently come back to relevance. Thermoset polymers were some of the earliest plastic compounds to reach production. “Many people have experienced thermosets through the compound known as ‘Bakelite,’” says Parkway’s principle engineer for thermoset materials, Tom Marcincavage. Due to its high strength and low cost, thermoset molding has experienced a revival in the recent decades.
Parkway has combined its 40 years of thermoset molding experience with its thermoplastics production in one of Mexico’s largest, most comprehensive molding facilities. Parkway EMP’s Saltillo plant houses a thermoplastic injection molding operation, injection, compression and transfer molding of thermosets, along with value-added assembly operations under one 110,000-square-foot roof. “It’s the complete package. Few companies house multiple technologies plus assembly in once facility, let alone on this scale,” says Ridilla.
SPECIALTY SOLUTIONS, SPECIALTY PRODUCTS
Parkway’s third business unit, based in Cincinnati, Ohio, is one of North America’s premier urethane molding operations. “Urethane is a unique material,” says Bitter. “It is able to be formulated to specific designs, and is outstanding in high impact applications.” Parkway’s Cincinnati operation offers custom molded urethane solutions, as well as product and material design assistance. Urethane is used in high wear, high impact industrial applications, such as wear pads, rollers and testing seals. Parkway’s Cincinnati operation is also well versed in the design and manufacturing of material handling trays. Specially designed trays, in thermoplastic, thermoset or polyurethane materials, are engineered specifically for individual applications, such as component assembly or infactory transport. The use of specialty materials, such as a custom formulated urethane, can help reduce the wear on these trays, allowing for less-frequent replacement.
Such knowledge of products and technologies have enabled Parkway to build a unique operation, able to withstand the pressures and challenges of the global marketplace.