Made in Michiana: South Bend Modern Molding

By: Frank Waugh Email
By: Frank Waugh Email

The Michiana area has been home to all sorts of manufacturing over the years. Some products like Hummers are known world wide while others go largely unnoticed.

In Thursday’s Made in Michiana, NewsCenter 16 introduces us to one of those lesser know companies that is churning out vital products that are used the world over.

Don Zimmerman, Vice-President, explains how many products there is rubber in, “Basically everything you can imagine that is a consumer product that has multiple components involved probably has rubber of some sort.”

There is a good chance that came from, South Bend Modern Molding. For seventy years, this company has been cranking out rubber products from it's home in Mishawaka.

Zimmerman explains the different products he can make in the facility, “With in our factory we do so many diverse products, most of our customers are within the fortune 500 companies, so our products are virtually anything you can find on the consumer shelves.”

Before it gets to the shelf, it starts off here, in sheets of rubber that lack a certain spring.

Zimmerman explains the first step in getting the rubber ready, “As you stretch that it isn't going to spring back to shape.”

That is soon changed with a trip through the roller mill, where some of the most experienced workers in the plant oversee an important chemical reaction.

Zimmerman explains the next step of the process, “Then adding the final cure package, this is basically the catalyst that makes the rubber formulation work. That will give you the properties that are similar to what you see with a rubber band, when you stretch a rubber band it snaps back into shape.”

In the process heat builds up in the rubber. It must then be cooled on the floor before moving on to the extruder, a device that resembles an over grown pasta maker. By hand, workers place these small pieces of rubber into the various molds.

Zimmerman explains the begging of the molding process, “Now this is the beginning of the molding process, he is going to index that mold back in, the mold is going to close back up, we are going to take that to a certain pressure run it at a certain temperature based on the polymer that we are running, this particular part will be a twenty minute cure time before those parts will come out of the process.”

The parts are then cut into strips, before being pressed out using a machine, called a "die cutter".

Zimmerman explains the finished product, “This particular part is a body mount for the Econoline Van, so we will take this part as is, it goes into a container here at the press, that box will go directly to our customer who ships it to Ford and Ford assembles it on their production line.”

Some presses on the line mold rubber to metal parts, like this one that makes pieces for office chairs. Others make use of a recycled material.

Zimmerman explains some of the other uses for rubber parts he sells, “So this has been ground up from both truck and passenger car tires down to a certain particle size based on the type of product we are going to be producing.”

Another press creates rubber pads that are used when mounting solar panels to roof tops. A similar process is used to create everything from walls that act as sound barriers for highways, to large blocks that can protect soldiers in war zones, to landscaping products.

Zimmerman explains another product they make, “Another product is called the EcoBorder it is made out of one hundred percent recycled tires, sold at Home Depot and Lowes the beauty of the product is that it is very flexible. So it can contour to your yard. You don't have to reestablish your garden you can put this directly around.”

While the EcoBorder is packaged for retail sale right here in the factory, most products are inspected by hand and shipped out the door.

Since the parts are made for other companies, chances are you won't know that it was made, right here in Michiana.

Zimmerman explains the only place you ever see their name is on their boxes, “This is basically the only time we get to market, when we ship our boxes to our customers we have our logo on there, other than that it is strictly we need to give them a conforming product and based on our performance they give us more business.”

Currently South Bend Modern Molding employs about 100 people and they are growing. Don says they will likely be expanding employment by 50 percent over the next six months.

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