Ashley Industrial Molding (AIM) is a leading manufacturer of quality custom molded and painted fiberglass and plastic products and assemblies with manufacturing processes that encompass capabilities in compression molding, reaction injection molding, and thermoforming.
The company, in its current form, came about in 2001 after it traded hands a number of times. First, it was a part of EaglePicher in the 1990’s, which was then sold to Cambridge Industries. Cambridge Industries ended up in bankruptcy and sold the molding group to Meridian Automotive Systems. Meridian however, was not interested in maintaining the business in the agricultural marketplace and it looked as though the Ashley, IN facility would become a distant memory. Then a man by the name of Rod Schoon, seeing the benefit of keeping the business in Indiana, put together a coalition of managers, customers and bankers to create AIM and keep the facility going.
“Back in the 1990s and early 2000s, a number of compression molders went through vigorous acquisitions and were consolidated. Cambridge Industries was a major player in the consolidation of compression molders,” said Roger Pickens, Director of Sales. “Meridian bought out Cambridge to build a company geared toward automotive assemblies and modules. There was a sense of loyalty felt toward the customer base being supplied by the Ashley facility. The thinking was to let Meridian keep the automotive business and stay loyal to existing markets and provide them with a quality compression molder. That’s how we established our culture in 2001.”
While AIM got its start in 2001, the Ashley, Indiana facility had already been in existence since before the 1970’s and had over 30 years of manufacturing experience specializing in compression molded plastic composites. “We have people who have been here for over 25 years focused on taking best practices and translating that into what works efficiently for customers so they get a better product,” notes AIM President and CEO Scott Pflughoeft. The facility gives AIM the opportunity to take the experience of supplying several different marketplaces and incorporating the best practices of each market into everyday operations. Lean manufacturing, Just-In-Time, Kaizen events and continuous improvement are ingrained into the company culture.
In addition to its location in Ashley, IN with 140,000 square feet, Ashley Industrial Molding currently has three other locations: another Indiana manufacturing plant in Kendallville of 100,000 square feet, a manufacturing plant in Oelwein, Iowa measuring 130,000 square feet, and a Sales and Service company established in São Paulo, Brazil. Altogether 450 employees enable the operations of Ashley Industrial Molding to stand out in the marketplace.
Ashley Industrial Molding currently has over 10 compression presses capable of manufacturing product utilizing SMC (Sheet Molding Compound) material. These presses range from 400 to 4,000 tons. The company uses a low VOC-emission, closed-mold process to produce thermoset components, which brings matched die steel molds together under a controlled state. By using a combination of heat and pressure from the hydraulic press, this produces a structurally sound part. This process enables the manufacturing of a high quality, dimensionally consistent parts, with smooth aesthetic surfaces and aerodynamic geometry suitable for painting. When taken private in 2001 AIM was a sheet compression molder, but soon recognized that this capability alone didn’t completely answer their customer needs for part performance in a competitive market. This is why AIM expanded into reaction injection molding. The DCPD material used in this process exhibits the desired characteristics in situations where there is propensity for parts to perform in a hot/wet environment and provides dent resistance for products such as fenders or hoods or bumpers.
The company has utilized this reaction injection molding (RIM) process for many years to make parts for customers. This capability uses low-viscosity liquid processed with RIM equipment and a self-cleaning mixing head. The two-component system is based on extra-high purity material reacting via a ring opening metathesis polymerization. The material is injected into a closed matched metal mold at low pressure and temperatures; with cycle times that are usually around six minutes. This system involves lower mold pressure than normal thermoplastic injection molding and the tooling budget for molds and other production tooling is reduced. Ashley Industrial Molding has teamed up with Telene, a DCPD material supplier, to support the marketplace in finding applications for this material.
AIM expanded from there and added thermoforming processing capabilities to their toolbox to be able to supply parts with unique characteristics and properties. The thermoforming process allows for low volume parts to be produced with minimal tooling investment. This process provides AIM with the ability to work with their customers in the early design stages and if it is determined that certain parts are only going to go on limited units, AIM can stay with the program and provide continuity for the customer.
“At this point in North America”, Scott Pflughoeft adds, “with added capacity utilization, AIM has set its sights on expansion globally and has identified a company called MVC Components in Brazil to provide a combination of molding and paint capabilities. It’s a joint venture we’re targeting to begin in 2014.”
Solutions with Processing Expertise
One such application to benefit from AIM’s expertise was an Oshkosh MWRAP all-terrain vehicle bumper light bar assembly, where a thermoformed part replaced a product of a different material and solved the needs of the supplier.
AIM has enabled other advances for companies as well, utilizing its reaction injection molding capability to produce a part that allows attachment of a trailer skirt that will bend and flex over roads and obstacles such as railroad tracks, which ultimately leads to fuel savings and more efficiencies.
In this way the company helps to drive more value to its customers. “From a sales standpoint, it’s been more important for us to be involved in the early design stages and that allows us to work with customers to better meet their needs,” Pickens says.
“We’ve know that we need to give customers a part that meets their performance expectations and can satisfy their cost structure. So we’ll work with customers to help them take costs out of their total landed costs and help them to grow their business. We’re unique in the industry based upon the process capabilities and the market diversification we can provide, as well as support to our customers.”
AIM is hoping to leverage its Reaction Injection Molding capabilities to support products in the marine industry, direct consumer products, and power products supporting equipment such as home generators and windmills. It has also been working with a company called IDI Inc. on a range of challenges for the fiberglass, sheet molding compound industry, including materials that can provide solutions with molded-in-color, high heat resistance and large panel / low pressure applications.
However, by far, it is the company’s employee base and relationships with customers that have enabled it to become so successful.
“Through our people and relationships we’ve been able to work and build other connections,” says Pflughoeft. “We don’t have any proprietary formula; the people we have and their knowledge has enabled us to move forward.”
Which is what makes the company “Globally Capable and Locally Competitive.”