DALTON, Mass.—Sinicon Plastics Inc. is growing through acquisition and positioning itself for new work by participating in the startup of a regional innovation hub.
Founded in 1968, the injection molder of thermoplastics and silicones began producing tool housings and bearing races for industrial uses before expanding into other industrial parts and components for military, aerospace and medical customers.
Silicone-related production accounts for 15 percent of sales, which is up from 10 percent in 2016, and the division is poised for more growth, President David Allen said.
About a month ago, Sinicon acquired Advance Machine & Tool Inc., a business in neighboring Pittsfield, Mass., that does metal and plastic machining. The 13 employees will be retained.
"I knew that our customers had a need for machined metal and plastic parts, and we had a pretty high confidence level [that] some of this other company's customers might need plastic parts, and both of those are already proving true. " Allen said. "With this acquisition, we can now machine metal and plastic parts in production quantities. Some of these parts may need to be overmolded with silicone, which may lead to more silicone work."
In addition, in the next few months, the nearby Berkshire Innovation Center, a $13.8 million development center, will ramp up to support economic growth, jobs and private investment for small- to medium-sized companies in the region. Sinicon Plastics is among the businesses that have signed a membership agreement with the center, which will have 20,000 square feet of training facilities, biotech wet space, clean rooms, and equipment for precision measurement, reverse engineering and rapid prototyping with 3D printing capabilities in plastics, polyjet technology and metals.
"It's a unique center. Its main function is not to attract new businesses but to help businesses that are already here," Allen said. "Liquid silicone rubber doesn't factor into it in a specific way yet, but there will be 3D printers and it may at some point."
Allen bought Sinicon from the founding owner, Tony Sinico, in 1989 and added LSR capabilities in 2000.
"There weren't a lot of people doing it," Allen said. "Sinicon's history is about highly engineered resins, and I had been molding PEEK so we were used to hot molds. It seemed a natural progression."
Sinicon's first silicone work involved baby bottle nipples. The company then branched out into the military market, producing a component for night vision goggles, followed by the aerospace, medical device and health care markets.
Annual sales could reach $9 million for 2019, Allen said, following the recent acquisition, which brought the Sinicon workforce to 65 employees.
When Allen bought Sinicon, the company had eight employees filling mostly industrial orders out of an old 5,000-square-foot textile mill. He relocated the business to a 10,000-square-foot facility in Pittsfield in 1992 and became one of the first ISO 9001 certified companies of its size, with just about 10 employees at the time.
To begin molding LSR in the late 1990s, Allen worked a deal with Krauss-Maffei Corp. to try one of their machines, which he eventually bought. Sinicon's first job came through GE Silicones, the silicone business started by General Electric Co., which was sold in 2006 and now is called Momentive Performance Materials Inc. A GE Silicones customer needed help with a mold for baby bottle nipples, and Sinicon solved the problem.
Then, the owner of a similar New York business retired. Allen said Sinicon picked up a lot of work in a variety of small markets. He also had a sales representative who opened the military market to Sinicon following a business matchmaking session.
"Our big break came when we started doing some military work. My sales rep got to them during one of those events like speed dating," Allen said. "We didn't go into this in a normal way, which would be a lot of medical. We do medical now, but it wasn't our introduction."
For the military, Sinicon molds silicone eye cups for night vision systems.
"We do a lot in that area," Allen said.
Sinicon now has four silicone machines up to 80 tons. Three of the machines are from Krauss-Maffei, including the one purchased in 2000, which is still running. In all, Sinicon has 21 presses with 15 from KM.
"Whether it's molding PEEK connectors or Ultem component parts at 700° or a silicone diaphragm with a wall thickness of .013 inches, Krauss-Maffei machines can handle the job," Allen said.
Strong overseas shipments
Sinicon molds a varitey of silicone materials from 0-80 durometer. About half the LSR-related work is medical and Allen said a good deal of that involves running stainless steel, fiber-filled polycarbonate for medical device applications.
Silicone menstrual cups also are in high demand, Allen said. The bell-shaped products can hold up to 30 milliliters of fluid, which is equivalent to three super tampons. Menstrual cups are convenient for women in countries where feminine hygiene products aren't widely distributed, and they have environmental benefits for women wanting to reduce waste. The average woman uses about 9,600 tampons in her lifetime, while menstrual cups can be used over and over if correctly cleaned.
"The younger generation know all about them," Allen said. "They are popular in Europe and Third World countries and there seems to be a growing U.S. market."
About half of the products and components manufactured by Sinicon "across the board" are shipped out of the country, Allen said.
"That's pretty amazing for a company our size," he added.
In addition to manufacturing, Sinicon offers in-house tooling. Allen purchased RM Bell Engineering to pick up the capability in 2005. Four years later, he relocated all operations to the company's current 35,000-sq.-ft. facility in Dalton.