Richland company adds new manufacturing plant, robotic automation

Plastic Injection Molding expansion allows for improved capacity, speed

A north Richland company is poised for growth with the addition of a new 28,000-square-foot manufacturing plant in the back of its existing building that includes a 4,000-square-foot mezzanine.

Plastic Injection Molding Inc. manufactures filter body parts for agricultural irrigation, special parts for medical diagnostic equipment, and snap-on dials for optical sporting equipment like rangefinders at 2695 Battelle Blvd.

The 23-year-old company also can manufacture whimsical things, like the colored plastic rings kids reach for while riding on the Gesa Carousel of Dreams. (The company donated the rings to the Kennewick nonprofit.)

Plastic Injection Molding’s roster of clients includes Cadwell Labs, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Battelle Memorial Institute, Fluor Hanford and Leupold & Stevens, among others.

Owner Ken Williams said that nearly 30 percent of the company’s jobs are local, with the rest from the Northwest region and beyond.

“When we started the company, it was just (my wife) Sharon and I,” Williams said. “Now we are 15 people, and we keep adding equipment and auxiliary machines. We’ve outgrown the building we’re in.”

Plastic Injection Molding currently has nine injection molding machines and one in storage — the biggest being a 230-ton Van Dorn molding machine.

The plant also can handle secondary operations such as tooling, welding, assembly and packaging.

The $3.1 million expansion project will allow the company to add a 400-ton plastic injection machine, which means new capabilities to manufacture bigger plastic parts.

 “We’re limited to building parts that are 12-by-12 inches and weigh a little over 20 ounces,” Williams said.

The company also will have additional space for more tooling machines to build more of its own molds.

Currently, Plastic Injection Molding creates 25 percent of its own molds in-house and are at 80 percent capacity for a single shift. Williams said he hopes to have enough equipment for an extended single shift, running from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day.

“We do lose out of most jobs from speed of building or getting the job to market. We lose them because they may need the parts in two weeks instead of eight,” he said. “We want to grow our capabilities and be more efficient.”

The ultimate goal is to make molds faster, he said. The computer numerical control machines would be running in parallel, significantly decreasing the time it takes to get plastic parts into production.

The plant also needs a bigger space for another reason: robots.

“We’ll have more space between machines and add robots to add automation,” Williams said. “Workers will be able to focus on more value-added tasks other than just pulling parts from machines.”

He hopes to add one this year and four to five more in 2020.

The robots are custom made for injection molding and can pull parts out of the machine without setting them on the conveyor. They also can sort and identify reject parts and perform basic quality control.

“That’ll mean we can run machines longer. We’re adding capacity without adding more people, trying to get rid of repetitive tasks and remain competitive,” Williams said.

The Williams family founded the company in 1996 with the help of Ken’s grandfather, John Recter, founder of Western Sintering Co. in Richland. Ken’s father was a material scientist who worked on material research for Hanford and later went on to start Kiona Vineyards.

“I grew up around and seeing what manufacturing was,” Williams said.

He was working in information technology support for manufacturing companies in Seattle when he took the leap to start his own manufacturing company with the support of his grandfather.

“Grandpa Rector was interested in building a plastic company,” Williams said. “He said he had five good years left in him — he was 79 at the time — and the time and money and needed a project, so we formed a corporation and we moved back to Richland, bought 20 acres from the city, and built Plastic Injection Molding from the ground up.”

Williams said it wasn’t easy at the beginning.

 “For a time, we had no sales and lost a ton of money, but we slowly built our customer base and eventually paid off all our debts,” Williams said. Williams said he expects to receive the city’s occupancy permit in the next three months and that’s when they’ll start moving machines over to the new building.

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