WHITTIER, Calif.—Santa Fe Rubber Products Inc.'s emphasis on high-end technology has led the company to expand its manufacturing capabilities again.
It is moving into the ultra high molecular weight (UHMW) plastic molding sector to give it a greater presence in the oil and energy, medical and automotive markets, for starters, according to Mike Peterman, vice president and general manager of the Whittier-based company.
Santa Fe Rubber co-molds UHMW plastic to rubber to steel, which is an extremely technical process, said Bill Krames, president and CEO of the business. The plastic and rubber also can be co-molded to other metal or materials, including an elastomer mix.
He said the economy creates many challenges for small manufacturers such as Santa Fe Rubber, and the company continuously looks for ways to enhance its capabilities to make the firm more competitive in the marketplace.
“Plastic to rubber to metal bonding is one additional arrow in our quiver,” Krames said. “At the onset of the project, we were approached by an existing customer with a concept in mind, which it was confident would significantly extend the life of an oil well specialty part we were providing to the business.
“We took on the project, and after many hours of research and development and significant sweat equity, we were successful in mastering the process. When the improved product was introduced to the marketplace, it was a phenomenal success, and the demand was incredibly good.”
Krames and Peterman said the new process can be applied to other dynamic applications where severe wear conditions exist. While the oil and energy sector is the first to use its new process, the company has its eyes on the medical, automotive and other markets with its latest offering, Peterman said.
Formed in 1966 as a manufacturer of molded rubber products for several Southern California defense industry companies, Santa Fe Rubber was able to adapt its existing molding capability to the new process with several modifications unique to co-molding plastic to rubber, Krames said.
It has been a somewhat expensive addition, he admitted, but not as expensive as it could have been. Additional space at Santa Fe Rubber's 32,000-sq.-ft. plant in Whittier was not needed because it had unused space available at the facility that will accommodate the new process.
“We were also able to convert existing hydraulic presses to the co-molding process and did not have to make additional capital investment in machinery and equipment,” Krames said. “Of course, converting the presses was costly, but nothing compared to having to purchase additional equipment.”
Financial details on the conversion were not released.
Peterman said that rubber to metal and plastic has become a primary focus of the company. “Santa Fe Rubber is always looking for ways to improve its methods of production to keep pace with customer needs and strives for global industrial leadership recognition as a top performing supplier.”
It's apparent in today's competitive market, he said, “we must continue to develop ways to create value that separates us from our competition.”
In addition to UHMW molding, Santa Fe Rubber custom manufactures rubber products for numerous industries—from seals used in gaskets for car radiators to components in the toys of children.
Krames and Peterman said the firm's molding capacity has increased better than 600 percent since the company was formed. The firm handles all rubber molding methods: transfer, mandrel, injection and compression.