Bringing New Innovations to Injection Mold Manufacturing
StackTeck Systems Inc. is a global leader in stack injection mold manufacturing. The Brampton, Ontario-based business makes injection molds for the caps, closures, thin-wall packaging, technical, and medical markets.
Best known for its stack molds – StackTeck built the world’s first 4-level mold in 1991 – the company’s signature products are molds which have a series of molding faces “stacked” together to create multiple levels. This increases the injection mold’s output, and thereby increases efficiency for StackTeck’s customers as well.
According to StackTeck’s website, the esteemed Canadian company can provide stack molds in 2-, 3- and 4-level configurations based on part designs and volume requirements. Molds can also be converted from 2 to 3 to 4 levels as volumes increase.
Jordan Robertson, Director of Business Development and Marketing at StackTeck Systems, has revealed that by company estimates, 75 percent of the 4-level molds in use worldwide were made by StackTeck. And each one is like a snowflake.
“It is very, very rare that we make even two molds that are the same,” he emphasizes. “Each project has its own characteristics, its own challenges. With mold making, trust is very important, because the customer needs to be able to trust us to take care of their project, to deal with the challenges that can come up in custom engineered projects like these. Honesty and integrity are very important to our business.”
The StackTeck we know today was founded in the late 90s through a merger of two older companies, both in the Toronto area, where StackTeck is presently located: Unique Mould Makers (established in 1969, formerly operated in the city’s east end) and Tradesco Mold Limited (established in 1976, once operational in the west end). In 2001, both businesses moved to StackTeck’s current brand new, state-of-the-art facility.
In 2013, StackTeck was acquired by a Hong Kong investment firm, which has allowed it to make significant investments back into the ever-evolving business. Every year since its acquisition, StackTeck has made a 10 percent investment into new capital equipment, allowing it to deliver more specialty technologies to customers at a higher capacity.
Vince Travaglini, who was appointed CEO in June 2018 but has been with StackTeck since 1993, has told Plastics in Packaging that he has witnessed major changes in the injection mold industry through the transformation of it from “an art to an engineering science… High-tech machinery (five-axis high-speed mills) can now do things never possible in the past. Everything is data-driven now,” he told the magazine in an article released in August 2018.
95 percent of StackTeck’s business is packaging, and since most of that comes from thin-wall packaging or specialty closure applications, StackTeck is always searching for ways to shake up the industry with innovation. For example, going beyond traditional thin-wall packaging where the barrier of L/T plastic flow length to wall thickness ratio was held at 300, StackTeck can now go up to 500; ultra-lightweight containers can even resemble a stand-up pouch if required.
Ultra-lightweight container molds make use of StackTeck’s patented TRIM™ (Thin Recess Injection Molding) technology. Using this technology results in part weight savings between 20 and 40 percent while maintaining tamper evident container rims and top load compression strength. Many existing molds can easily be converted to TRIM™ just by replacing the cores.
TRIM™ technology can be implemented with or without in-mold labelling (IML), which uses a robot to melt a company’s product label or logo to adhere to the plastic article. StackTeck’s first IML pilot cell, set up in 2005, has supported many of the earliest large volume IML projects in North America. The pilot cell can be used to help companies with product launches by providing simulations of how production systems will run. As the company website states, “over the course of the three pilot cells built to date, StackTeck has worked jointly with ABB, CBW Automation, Husky, Machines Pages, and Netstal, as well as other leading IML automation providers who sometimes provide mandrels and magazines for specific projects.” IML plastics samples made by StackTeck molds and designed with StackTeck input have even won IMDA (In-Mold Decorating Association) industry awards.
The lean manufacturer, which continually invests in new technology, strives to debut something new in the industry every year. This year at the National Plastics Exposition in Orlando, Florida (NPE2018), the world’s leading plastics tradeshow, StackTeck debuted four running molds for different packaging applications. Each one of those molds featured new technology that had not been seen before. These included a high-cavitation stack mold for containers featuring StackTeck’s first bottom TRIM™ design, StackTeck’s first TRIM 1×4 IML cup mold featuring the MuCell process (micro cellular molding), StackTeck’s first anvil lid injection compression mold, and its first servo-driven IMC (in-mold closing) flip top cap mold.
“We are increasingly at the leading edge of a new trend of using servo motors in our molds to make faster, more accurate movements in certain specialty molds, especially in the area of caps and closures,” says Robertson. “For example, flip top shampoo caps, where your lowest cost part is going to come from a mold that not only makes the flip top but also closes it in the mold with a driven action. We pioneered that by using a servo motor to do the closing function.”
This isn’t the first time that StackTeck has showcased impressive innovations at NPE, and it won’t be the last. The company’s KoolTrack™ heat simulation software was launched at NPE2015. The technology allows StackTeck to achieve the optimal 3D cooling channel geometry for any plastics part. Conformal cooling reduces the cycle time of many applications and avoids irregular cooling patterns.
“We’ve been using different approaches to conformal cooling of simpler parts for several years…” said Vince Travaglini in a press release, “…and we typically find cycle time savings in the range of 10 to 15 percent for sub-10 second cycle times. As cooling simulation techniques become more effective, we can generate optimal cooling channel geometry at the design stage of the project for increasingly complex plastic parts. Conventional designs used drilled lines or multiple parts that would fit together with o-rings to seal the cooling channels, then we started bonding parts together using a variety of processes. Today, based on experience with over 100 molds, we have fine-tuned our approach, and we can rely on an established proprietary bonding process that is as strong as the steel material itself. In the end, it’s as if we removed the constraints of conventional machining and added artistic freedom to apply cooling wherever it’s needed inside a single block of steel.”
“There are a range of different technologies that we are constantly working on to trying to speed up the productivity of the injection molding system,” Robertson states. “When we put the molten plastic in to the mold, something that is really critical is for us to have a design that sucks the heat out of the plastic as fast as possible, so we are looking at advanced materials to do that.”
As StackTeck grows and advances its technology, the management looks to hire technology-oriented individuals who are up for a challenge. Robertson acknowledges that finding those experienced in the specific technologies that StackTeck utilizes isn’t always possible – sometimes the technology is something the StackTeck team is developing themselves – but the company has a training program to prepare its staff for the unique situations that can arise.
“We look for people who are looking for a hardworking environment, who are looking for challenges. It is in the nature of our business to take on problem solving, to consider what the demands of the customer are. It’s not that we are making the same thing over and over again; we are making different things for different customers with different expectations, so people need to come to work ready to roll up their sleeves and tackle the work,” he says.
We can expect to see further developments from StackTeck at NPE2021 or at other future tradeshows. The manufacturer is always looking for ways to create solutions for the injection molding industry that are both robust and efficient, the best the market has to offer.