116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — Cavities are an issue at Roger Klouda’s business. He’s not a dentist.
“We never know from one day to the next what we’re going to be doing,” Klouda said. “It’s a challenging business.”
For MSI Mold Builders, cavities mean the voids in a plastic part, just one of the complications that must be designed into the mold that will make the part. The result — molds that are often huge, heavy steel-and-aluminum pieces that also are intricate and delicate.
Created in a 55,000-square-foot plant opened in 1990, MSI’s molds have over 50 years become critical to the automotive, power sport, agriculture, lawn and garden, medical equipment, heavy truck, material handling, recreational vehicle, construction and office furniture industries.
“When we sell a mold, we’re normally selling it to the guy who makes the plastic parts,” Klouda, MSI’s president, said one morning this past week.
“We’re not selling it to Toro or John Deere. They don’t want to make the mold, and most people who make the parts don’t make the mold.”
One recent morning found parts for office chairs, personal watercraft and air conditioners at MSI, all test runs of new molds. There also was a big, heavy duct that would be buried under a parking lot to handle rain runoff.
Klouda’s parents, Edwin and Char Les Klouda, launched the company in 1971, 24 years after Edwin Klouda left Collins Radio to start New Era Industries, a tool-and-die maker, in southwest Cedar Rapids.
“The late ’60s were a tough time for them,” Klouda said. “The tool-and-die makers didn’t want to do mold work.”
Edwin Klouda found a Clinton manufacturer of plastic plumbing parts that wanted a local supplier for its molds.
“So he started a shop to do mold work, and it grew,” said Klouda. “We just started branching out.
“At the time, most mold manufacturers were located next to customers. Chicago had hundreds of mold shops. Being in Iowa, we didn’t have many molders, so we had to go out and sell. We went all over the country selling.”
Cost and communication were selling points.
“We were a little bit lower in cost, because of our location,” Klouda said. “We weren’t competing with other mold makers for people. The other thing we did was, we communicated very well.”
That’s critical in developing a new mold. Along with incorporating the desired details and surface textures of a part, designers must allow for the channels and recesses to inject and expel varied plastic materials.
Molds often include water lines to cool them during the molding process. Almost all plastics shrink as they cool, so designers must allow for that, too.
To keep customers abreast of the development process, Klouda introduced a communication innovation a few years after joining his parents’ company in 1978.
“What we called video progress reports,” he said. “I would take a video camera and a clip-on mic and get a picture of the mold, showing exactly where the progress was.
When you take a video progress report, it’s tough to tell someone something’s done when it’s not. It made us more realistic in our abilities. We had a tendency to be more accurate in our deliveries and be faster.”
Video updates remain a routine, delivered these days online instead of via an overnight-expressed VHS cassette.
Klouda estimates 75 percent of plastic lattice fencing produced in North America came out of an MSI mold, but the company’s noted in the industry for its big projects.
One recent job called for a 206,000-pound tool, shipped aboard seven semi-trailer trucks.
“Our niche happens to be larger molds,” said Steve Hoeger, MSI’s chief operating officer. “We’re in a unique position in that we’re competitive in large molds, 750 tons and up.
“We had to pick a general area that we’re really good at, and focus on that. It’s being able to use these big machines with the precision we need.”
Owner: Roger Klouda
Address: 12300 Sixth St. SW, Cedar Rapids
Phone: (319) 848-7001
That takes training, most often through Kirkwood Community College’s programs in computer numerical control, better known as CNC. Numerical control is the automated control of machining tools by computer.
“All of our employees are highly skilled,” Hoeger said.
“We work very closely with Kirkwood. We pay for their schooling and we give them a job while they’re going to school, then we hire them.”
Much the same development and design goes on at MSI’s Greenville, S.C., plant, opened in 2001. About a third of the company’s employees — usually about 100 total — work out of that facility, located to serve East Coast customers.
“Shipping a 200,000-pound mold is not something to take lightly,” Klouda said.
The production process usually includes a test run of a new mold, with the result sent to the customer for final inspection.
Project managers work closely with customers to stay abreast of planned new products and alterations.
“Even if we were to build the same mold for an identical part, I can almost guarantee you the mold’s going to be different the second time,” Klouda said. “You learn enough on the first one to make the second one better.”
Especially complex molds can take 3,500 work-hours to develop.
“Basically two guys for an entire year, but we have more guys,” Klouda said. “There are lots of pieces on lots of machines, and hopefully they all go together in the end.”
Considered an essential business in the packaging, material handling and medical industries, MSI has seen little permanent effect from the pandemic beyond some supply-chain issues.
Edwin Klouda died in 1999, Char Les in 2020. Klouda’s son Kyle Klouda is the third generation in the family-owned business, giving his dad a chance to reflect on the changes he experienced.
“We went from drawing boards to computers,” Klouda recalled.
“China became a bigger competitor,” Hoeger said. “They weren’t too great at first, but they got better. China’s a very big force in the industry.”
End users might be surprised at the effort that goes into a common product.
“It’s complex,” said Hoeger. “But you see the part, and you wouldn’t think it would be that complex.”
“You look at the part and say, ‘What a big, dumb part,’” Klouda said. “But in order to make it and mold it … .”
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