A not-for-profit New York firm offers precision manufacturing, assembly, and injection molding to customers while giving clients a working life.
By Mark Langlois
Coarc Manufacturing is a contract plastic injection molder that’s unusual in more ways than one. First, it hits tolerances down to five-thousandths of an inch working in a variety of thermoplastics; second, it’s a non-profit. The company was founded in 1965 by the parents of people with disabilities, who wanted their children to enjoy life in a setting where they could do meaningful work, get the services they need, and earn a paycheck.
“We provide a service for our clients,” said Tom Van Tassel, manufacturing engineer at Coarc. Coarc calls the workers with disabilities its clients. The OEMs who buy the parts they make are customers. “We teach them vocational skills with the goal of putting them out into the economy.” When Coarc achieves its goal and a well-trained employee lands a job outside of Coarc, the accomplishment is its own reward. “They’re so happy,” Van Tassel said. “They’re ecstatic.”
Coarc Manufacturing (www.coarcmfg.com) specializes in plastic injection molding services with the addition of product assembly, packaging, and shipping. In addition to clients, Coarc Manufacturing hires workers from the community to round out its workforce. This work may include product development, mold sourcing, and the use of specialty resins, skills Coarc specialized in since 1965. Coarc Manufacturing prides itself on its workmanship, reliability, pricing, and on-time performance.
Fan Hands Heard Around the World
Coarc bid one job and didn’t hear back for three years.
What happened was the customer, Fan Hands, gave the job to another injection molder, but Fan Hands wasn’t happy with the price or the materials. The competitor made the injection molded parts out of a 40 percent talc-filled polypropylene. Fan Hands thought it was too expensive, so it re-approached Coarc, and Van Tassel said Coarc made some changes.
“We made it quite a bit cheaper,” Van Tassel said. “We switched it to ABS. It was easier to mold and easier to color.”
Fan Hands are a product sold at sports venues. They are a pair of gloves a fan wears during a game. Each palm and the fingers have pieces of ABS plastic attached so the gloves produce a loud clapping sound when the fan claps them together. In addition to injection molding the components, Coarc now assembles the gloves. Teams order the gloves and plastics in their team colors, giving each stadium a distinctive look.
The problem with talc, Van Tassel said, is that it’s white. It’s hard to color it. Team colors vary across the rainbow, and, working in ABS plastic, the company has produced the gloves in 30 colors. It recently attached blue palms to silver gloves for the Dallas Cowboys.
“We’re big into tools that nobody wants to deal with. We make them run and we make them run right,” Van Tassel said. An example of that arose when Coarc manufactured a medical device that was 50 percent glass-filled nylon. The product had to pass a break test without fail. The glass gave the part the required strength. The problem is 50 percent glass-filled nylon destroys plastic injection molding dies.
“Even in small glass loads, glass is hard on tools,” Van Tassel said. It forced Coarc to carefully and continually monitor the die components to make sure they weren’t wearing out and making out-of-spec parts. “We proved we could set up a process and run the stuff.”
Breathing New Life into an Old Die
Another example of Coarc working with tools someone else rejected comes from a Coarc customer who sells novelty items, including little, plastic treasure chests, plastic organizers, and other small plastic items. Most of the customer’s work is done by a firm in Israel. Van Tassel said sometimes the Israeli firm discontinues a part that Coarc’s customer still wants to sell, so the customer buys the Israeli die and gives it to Coarc.
“Our problem is they discontinued the part. The molds are all rusted. It looks like they just throw them aside. All the moveable parts are shot,” Van Tassel said. Van Tassel said that means his team goes over the die part by part and brings them back into use, which is easier said than done. “He gets us to run it.”
Coarc Manufacturing (Coarcmfg.com) is a not-for-profit subsidiary of Coarc, an advocate for people with disabilities in Columbia County, New York, since 1965. Its goal is to expand abilities one person at a time. It won the best non-profit/community agency award for 2015 and 2016 from the Columbia County Chamber of Commerce. Its gift shop, Tradewinds, was named the county’s best gift shop. The agency serves more than 500 people with disabilities.
Van Tassel said that quality parts arise from Coarc’s existing ISO 9001:2008 certification and the ISO 9001:2015 certification scheduled to commence in February 2018. As important is Van Tassel’s knowing Coarc’s clients. The company’s commitment to quality dates back to the company’s founding as a contract manufacturer in 1965. Van Tassel is in charge of meeting the new 2015 standard in February 2018, and he said the firm’s customers demand the highest quality and documentation to ensure Coarc produces accurate, consistent, and timely parts.
With those standards in hand, Van Tassel said knowing the clients allows Coarc to create a fixture or a jig to help the client make the part to quality requirements.
“You just have to know what their ability is and adapt the process to their ability,” Van Tassel said. One counter-intuitive outcome of that is the worker with the disability is a better, more precise, and harder worker than someone hired from the outside.
In one case, Coarc designed a simple work tray for a bagging job. The client had to load 10 items into the bag for shipping, so Coarc designed the tray with an image on it of each of the 10 items. When all 10 items were sitting on top of their image on the tray, the client knew the bag was ready to fill.
“Once we get our people there, once they’re dialed in and properly adapted to whatever it is they do, their repeatability is ridiculously good. Better than the employees. Better than me,” Van Tassel admitted. “Not all of our people love all the jobs they do, but when they do, they won’t stop. They’ll mow you down. Do not get in front of them.”
Van Tassel enjoys finding the right job for the right worker.
The human mission isn’t enough to win an OEM’s job, Van Tassel said. Coarc’s mission gets some companies to offer them work, but quality work and a competitive price closes the deal.
“It sets us apart from every other injection molding company. When we tell them what we do, all of the sudden they’re interested,” Van Tassel said. Coarc’s mission is “To expand abilities, one person at a time, so individuals experiencing disabilities can achieve their individual goals.”
In many cases, an OEM making a decision may see two similar companies who both turn out a quality product at a good price.
“When people look at where their dollars are going, if your dollars are going to buy someone another Mercedes or they’re going to help a person have a quality of life, which way are you going to go if the price is very close?” asked Penny Rodden, head of sales and business development with Coarc. The firm was without a sales person for five or six years, and Coarc brought Rodden on to help grow the business. “Very few people say we want to use you no matter what. Some people say if the price is right, we’d prefer to use you,” Rodden said.
Keeping Toner in the Toner Bottle
Some of the trickiest parts that Coarc manufactures today are lids and slides for use on toner bottles in copiers. When attached and ready for use, the bottle is inserted into the copier and the slide is designed to open automatically at the exact right spot so that the used toner flows into the bottle without spilling.
The customer provides a foam pad and foam O-rings that are assembled with the cap and slide that Coarc injection molds, making it a four-piece assembly.
The part presents numerous challenges. First, a fixture was needed to set the pad in exactly the right spot. Coarc created a second fixture to make sure each cap and slide had one O-ring, not two or zero.
“We started having issues with double O-rings and no O-ring,” Van Tassel said. “We had to come [up] with a fool-proof way to tell you right away if there is no O-ring, one O-ring, or two.”
A third challenge was putting the O-ring in the right space where it sealed the jar, but didn’t compress too much or sit too loose, once the top was screwed in place. Solving that issue involved lining up the jar’s threads in an exact position. If the lid was too tight, the O-ring would compress and fail, leaking toner. If the lid was too loose, toner leaks.
“We had to take their design, start molding parts, and see where we were. We had to move the thread start just a few degrees,” Van Tassel said. “We had to check the compression. We spent a month or two dialing that in after we had the tool built for them.
“The toner flows better than water. If it can get out, it will,” Van Tassel said. Everyone who ever reached into a copier knows that because they withdrew a dirty hand.
Getting the threads exactly right took weeks and finally months because three adjustments had to be made to the die to move the end of the threads a single degree. Once Coarc nailed it, the customer redesigned the bottle, so Coarc had to dial it in again.