MARSHALLTOWN, Iowa—Chad Dielschneider warned me that Bruin Manufacturing Co. would be like no injection molder I've ever seen.
In fact, he bet me.
Before we toured the company's main plant in Marshalltown, Dielschneider joked that if I'd ever seen anything like Bruin, he'd quit his job that day.
Within seconds of the start of the tour, I realized he was right. By the time we were finished, I'd completely forgotten about the bet.
So I guess Dielschneider gets to stay on as president and CEO.
What is different about Bruin?
First, it's all about lights-out manufacturing. There were a handful of workers on the day shift during my visit, doing tool changes and maintenance. But otherwise it was difficult to find workers on the plant floor to include in photos. Production continues on nights and weekends, but with no human witnesses.
The parts aren't all simple, either. Some use in-mold assembly, using the motion of the mold to join several components.
Second, the machinery is unique. Many of the injection presses were designed and built in-house. So were all of the tools. That's not an exaggeration; Bruin has a full tool shop with brand-new equipment and seven full-time tool makers.
Even the hot runners are self-manufactured, which is something the company started in the 1960s. And there is ingenious automation, too, much of it also homemade, for handling and packaging finished parts, which makes lights-out manufacturing possible.
Long history, but under the radar
Bruin is headquartered on a quiet, leafy residential street in the county seat of Marshall County, 50 miles northeast of Des Moines.
Few North American injection molders can claim to be 70 years old and on their third generation of family ownership. But that's the story at Bruin. The company started as a machine shop in 1949, then moved into die casting, and first got into plastics in the late 1950s.
By the 1980s, it was solely focused on molding and tool making.
With that long history, you'd think Bruin would be a household name in plastics. Nope. This is a company that's taken a low profile. Until now, it's never been mentioned by Plastics News. Even some other molders in Iowa say they had not heard the name.