Q&A with Tim Hardwick

District Sales and Product Manager


Please give us a brief overview of Thermotech and your background with the company.
Thermotech is a high-end custom injection molding manufacturer. We do approximately $75 million in sales a year. Our business is 55-percent automotive, and the rest is small engine, consumer, commercial, and industrial parts. We have ISO/TS 16949:2009-certified plants in Minnesota and three plants in Mexico.

I’ve been with Thermotech for 17 years. I began as a mechanical engineer and moved into sales and marketing.

What products, services, and capabilities does Thermotech offer?
At Thermotech, we specialize in parts that are technically challenging. We focus on complex insert molding and products that involve custom automation and secondary work. We do under-the-hood parts and not a lot of shoot-and-ship parts. Generally, we work on anything that has specific requirements and demands dimensional-tolerance challenges. We target that type of business. We offer in-house design assistance for gears and in-house fabrication of automation systems, as well as sophisticated testing and assembly operations. We focus on high-volume production needs in the U.S. and Mexico.

What products do you offer that are specific to the gear industry?
We do a lot of gears for the small-engine and automotive markets with gearing for a range of applications, from throttle body assemblies, to steering angle sensors, to tilt and telescope steering — anything involved in the car that uses a gear system. Over-molding of metal shafts and stamped inserts that are part of the final gear design are a big part of our business. We can do gear designs, evaluations of customers’ designs, tool development, and molding.

Tell us how you worked with a customer to solve an issue with their product.
We had an automotive customer who had a gear train system with five gears in it for a steering angle sensor, and they approached us to mold and assist them with the design. Their design issue was to reduce all backlash and still have a very quiet gear system. We solved that issue by using an effective gear design process based on the gear parameters, precise operating conditions, and desired performance. We were able to optimize the plastic tooth design in order to eliminate the backlash and have a system that met the customer’s noise requirements.

What was the customer’s response?
The customer was extremely happy. They are making millions of those parts a year right now, so it has been a successful program. And there have been no complaints from the industry for noise or backlash issues. The design was successfully launched into production.

What are advantages of working with Thermotech?
Primarily, we are a high-tech molder, but we are also able to offer low-cost labor with our Mexico options. We optimize the latest automation technologies and meet the needs of our customers to address the ongoing cost pressures for molding and assembly.

Did Thermotech attend AGMA’s 2015 Gear Expo this past October?
Yes, we did. There were a few booths at the expo that were representing the plastic gear industry, and Thermotech was one of them. We have attended the last three or four expos. This year’s show was well-attended, and while it was more focused on metal gearing without a big presence of plastic gearing, we ended up with a few leads that we hope will be beneficial.

Are there new developments or growth opportunities in store for Thermotech in the future?
We have new ownership. Our parent organization, A.P. Plasman, purchased us in May, and they are drastically expanding our presence in Mexico. We’ve signed a lease on a building that is 300,000 square feet in Queretaro. This is in the same industrial park as our current 50,000-square-foot factory.

We are always adding automation to our gear programs to help mold inserts and do other over-molding around the gear systems that we produce. I anticipate that we will keep growing our automotive gear business, and our small-engine business continues to be very strong.

We are also moving on to higher-temperature materials in some of the gears that we are doing now, so I think the applications for plastics is expanding too.

MORE INFORMATION  www.thermotech.com