Rodgers Engineering Corporation is a leading international provider of thermoset polyester compounds and precision custom molding. Offering numerous benefits over thermoplastics, thermoset polyesters are used in a vast array of everyday products. April Terreri examines the possibilities.
First, there were thermo-sets. Then came Rodgers Engineering Corporation (REC) of Addison, Ill., which rose to international renown in just 30 years. This single-source ISO 9001-certified company specializes in thermoset polyesters, which it formulates in its own R&D laboratories. REC not only formulates the compounds, but it also manufactures the tooling necessary for the molding process. “Unlike most of our competitors, we have capabilities in three key areas,” says Raymond O’Gara, vice president, referring to REC’s skill in tooling design and construction, custom molding by injection, injection/compression and compression and transfer methods. “We also offer a full range of finishing capabilities.”
It is impossible to list the extraordinary number of applications using REC thermoset polyesters, but they are found in just about everything, including the kitchen (and bathroom) sink. They are used in appliances, outdoor lighting, solenoid caps, headlamp housings, under-the-hood motor brush holders and valve covers, insulators and electrical contactors. REC supplies to worldwide manufacturers in industries including automotive (particularly under-the-hood applications), power distribution, appliance and small fractional horsepower motors.
Thermoset polyesters are preferred for the benefits they bring to applications, including low cost, ease of processing (resulting in less tool wear for applications requiring faster molding cycles), mechanical and electrical strength, and design latitude resulting in high aesthetic detail. REC’s thermoset polyesters are well known in the industry for their distinctive low-to-nil shrinkage, allowing extremely close tolerances whether the application utilizes injection, injection/compression, compression or transfer processing methods.
“We employ rigid processing disciplines in the production of our thermoset polyester compounds to ensure batch-to-batch consistent superior quality, which has come to symbolize Rodgers Engineering,” says O’Gara. Customers worldwide have come to expect only the best from REC because of its commitment to continually advance its technology. This commitment is evident in REC’s state-of-the-art research-and-development labs, where engineers develop the advanced formulation and compounding technologies that provide the best molding compounds for any application.
“Our thermoset polyesters offer design engineers viable design alternatives to other more popular materials,” says O’Gara. “Most products using our materials are parts that are engineered and functional in nature – in other words, these parts do something. They are not just labor-saving devices, which is the case with many thermoplastic parts.” REC formulates compounds precisely for the performance characteristics of the part.
REC knows the problems that can arise when you are running a 24/7-operation where batch-to-batch consistency day in and day out is absolutely essential. “Typically, the first shift has all the horsepower there to handle any potential problems,” says O’Gara. “So the second and third shifts rely even more on our batch-to-batch consistency. We understand this as a matter of our own molding operation and we build in consistency, which is born out of our knowledge of tooling and molding. We like to think of ourselves as an extension of our customers’ own technical departments.”
REC personnel are busy developing new methods and materials for both high-heat and thin-wall applications. Other new R&D projects include work on conductive applications for heat dissipation and material technology for the application of fuel cells. “We are also working quite aggressively with our European partner, Mezolit-Fibron, to launch our new technology for direct metalization applications that require vacuum metalizing, which will eliminate the labor and expense of base coating,” says O’Gara.
The Full Nine Innings
There is nothing more encouraging to a potential customer than a company with employees who live and breathe their work, and do so with the degree of enthusiasm found at REC. “We are willing to partner and integrate our resources with successful world-class companies in order to achieve the goal of satisfying our customers’ customers,” says O’Gara. “We work hand in hand with our customers from the first inning right through the ninth, helping with the design concept through the evolution of prototyping to the production phase.”
REC personnel have devoted their lives to the thermoset polyester industry. “So at the end of the day, we provide the best overall value to our customers,” continues O’Gara. One key achievement for REC came from an under-the-hood application. “We convinced our customer’s engineering group to consider the cost-savings possibilities of polyester displacing an engineering-grade, expensive, high-heat phenolic material,” he explains. The customer was reluctant to begin a project like this since there were no polyester materials they were aware of that would meet the heat deflection temperatures, and they were not willing to go through the R&D, testing and validation processes REC requires.
“However, we were able to convince them based on our explanation of how we would design and construct the tooling and how we would participate in the prototyping expense,” explains O’Gara. “We succeeded in not only bringing a different molding process to the table, but a more efficient molding process that would add years of life to the tooling.” In fact, the abrasive nature of the engineering-grade phenolic necessitated tooling replacement every three to four years, while REC’s proposal increased the life of the tooling to up to 15 years. This project took REC about 17 months to complete.
“In successfully displacing the phenolic material, we were able to eliminate the need for three molds, and now they only need one injection mold for their heavy volumes upwards of 4 million pieces.” REC saved the company about $600,000 per year, and the company is now enjoying its seventh year of cost savings. “This is what our technology can do,” says O’Gara. “The material we developed for them wasn’t something that we picked off the shelf.” REC was able to develop this application only through understanding exactly what the customer’s needs were and applying those needs to REC technical prowess. “We bring the whole package to the table.”
Commitment to the Industry Shows
With today’s business configurations changing minute to minute, companies like Rodgers Engineering quickly take center stage. “Some companies today are being bought and sold on the basis of investment only,” says O’Gara. REC is solely owned by company president Frank Rodgers who, along with his brother Jack, started the company in 1969. Unfortunately, Jack was lost in an aviation accident in 1995.
“Some of our competitors are being purchased by investment groups by people who have not cut their teeth in this industry,” continues O’Gara. “These investors are not in the business for the long haul or for their customers’ benefit. We are committed to the plastics industry and we are enthusiastic and excited about what we do here.”
REC is quite ready to take on the world’s needs for thermoset polyesters. Rodgers Engineering has manufacturing facilities in Shenzhen, China, and has an exclusive technological exchange partnership with the leading European supplier of thermosets, Mezolit-Fibron.
REC’s impressive customer base bears testimony to the company’s commitment to excellence. The company, with 300 employees in 120,000 square feet of facilities, equips its personnel with motivation, training and product knowledge to serve customers at optimum levels. “We don’t have layers of management here,” says O’Gara. “We manage our company in a very spirited way.” This could be the reason that REC is able to keep its employees.
Dedicated to Product Consistency
Always committed to technological advancement, REC recently formed a subsidiary company called Reactive Solutions, which specializes in specialty-blended resins and gel coats. “Resin technology is key to our technical advancements,” says O’Gara.
REC has the capabilities to rebuild molding machines in-house. About 90 percent of the equipment it needs for its molding compound operations is also fabricated in-house. “So our equipment setup is unique to our processing and this, again, is part of our commitment to providing consistency all of the time,” says O’Gara.
“We recognize that our success is due to the confidence and loyalty our customers have in us,” says O’Gara. That customer loyalty flourishes within REC’s understanding of its customers needs. When a company like Ford, with its commitment to excellence, keeps coming back to REC, nothing more needs to be said about REC’s superior quality. “In the automotive industry, where high volumes are the norm, the product has to be on the floor on time and it has to work. No excuses are tolerated. That mentality is very strong here and that’s why we are such a dependable supplier,” concludes O’Gara.