By Eric Peterson | Mar 07, 2022
Contract injection molding
Ken Jones started Integrated Molding Solutions (IMS) after working as an engineer for Compaq Computer and later moving to an injection molding company. "He decided he wanted to go out and do his own thing," says Teri, who co-founded the business with her husband in 2003.
When Ken unexpectedly passed away in 2020, Chase, he and Teri's son, took over day-to-day operations. "We've basically had the same core people for all of the years," says Teri.
Electronics remains a focal market, supplying companies like Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE), its largest customer. IMS makes drive blanks for their servers in high volumes.
"We've had internal knowledge on how computer companies like Compaq then HP and HPE work," says Chase. "It's a very good market to be in. One of the philosophies that Ken had was to be one of those places that'll take on the jobs that other people don't want to do. There's plenty of market out there. Taken one by one, it doesn't seem worth it, but once you capture a segment of it, it justifies itself."
On the other end of the spectrum, IMS also targets small, entrepreneur-led startups like The Splatter Shield, a toilet-training device for aim-deficient boys. Chase says IMS can "really help them along with going through the design phase and the tooling and the production, and just kind of helping them every step of the way. I've always liked telling people to come to me with a drawing on a bar napkin and we'll find a way to get it made for them."
The company manufactures at its 30,000-square-foot facility in Houston on a dozen molding machines ranging from 40 to 400 tons. Order volumes vary from thousands of units a year up to about 300,000 units a month. "We have a pretty wide net on capacities that we can do," says Chase.
Value-added processes are another differentiator for IMS, he adds. "Some things need additional processes after molding, so we cater to the needs of the customer. We have assembly fixtures that are manually operated by our operators here, but we also are partnered with pad printers, painters, electron deposition, and solid welding."
He adds, "We try to be as flexible as we can. We're a smaller company, so it makes us a little bit more agile. When we have a project coming up that's a departure from what we usually do, we try to embrace that."
That philosophy extends to product design. "We do a lot of 3D printing and rapid prototyping," says Chase. "Sometimes, customers aren't from the engineering sphere and looking at a CAD model doesn't really get many points across. What we've found is that if we actually make prototypes of the parts during the design phase, it gives them hands-on time with the part to really make sure it will accomplish whatever their application requirements may be. When we revise the design for moldability, we have to make sure it's still going to do the job it was originally set out to do."
IMS has used 3D printing for low-volume production of parts, including a hard-to-replace chair component for a seating supplier. "To bypass the barrier to entry that is tooling, we were able to reverse-engineer and replace these parts for them where they weren't able to get help otherwise."
As of 2022, Teri and Chase are positioning IMS for growth outside the computer industry. "We've been pretty steady with [computer customers] over the years," says Chase. "We've been structuring for growth and one of the key things we want to do is diversify and expand past that."
He adds, "You don't have to be a large corporation to really drive change in this world, especially in the world of manufacturing. The more people you have doing that, the more creative solutions you'll find."
Challenges: "For new projects, the biggest thing is trying to find domestic tooling," says Chase. "Obviously, we have a supply chain issue with our materials, but a lot of our stuff is consistent enough and high-volume enough that we really haven't been hit by that too terribly much."
Opportunities: "Reshoring in general, across all industries," says Chase. "There's a lot of need and desire for production to be moved back stateside. We want to be ahead of the curve on that and show that we can be a cost-effective manufacturer here."
He also points to opportunities using more sustainable materials: "Tech has progressed so quickly these past few years where you have post-recycled consumer materials and bio-resins that are actually becoming more practical to use in an industrial process. We'd like to be on the front of trying to find more sustainable solutions."
Needs: "Getting our name out there and trying to find customers that align with some of our goals on the sustainability side, on the smart manufacturing, on the domestic side," says Chase.