Laser Tool, Inc. • P.O. Box 728 • 17763 State Hwy 198 • Saegertown, PA 16433 • 814-763-2032 • FAX: 814-763-2521 •

Laser Tool & Plastics

"Hot runners that keep on running"

By: Carl Kirkland
Injection Molding Magazine, February 2005

Laser Tool is one of a tough bunch of Northwest Pennsylvania moldmakers that learned how to beat the offshore challenge. Custom hot runner tools that run marathons of cycles is only one of its weapons.

A customer came in and told us he wanted a quote on replacement cavities for a 32-cavity mold we had built in 2000. We asked him, 'Why? Is the one we built for you wearing out?' He said, 'No, it's already run for 6 million cycles and is running fine. We just don't want to wait until it breaks to get new ones.'"

Ask Kevin Smith, who's in customer service and sales at Laser Tool Inc. (Saegertown, PA), what sets its Laser Heat brand of hot runner systems apart from all the rest, and he'll tell you stories like that one.

Laser Tool builds systems for long-haul runs with materials like heavily filled ETPs—systems unlike any others. That's because they're all custom, according to Smith.

"If you've got, say, an eight-cavity tool and go to one of the bigger hot runner systems suppliers, they'll say, 'Here, use this and design your mold around it.' We work in the other direction. We start with the part, and lay the manifold out to fit the part. In fact, the only things we don't make around here are heaters. And we've helped our heater supplier design special coil heaters that are now available as off-the-shelf items for our customers."

Tough Stuff

In addition to building complete molds for up to about 350-ton presses, Laser Tool can supply systems built to specification, or complete hot halves. The 40-cavity system shown above, left, is internally balanced, but is not restricted to the traditional cavity layouts. All manifolds are in 420 stainless steel for wear and corrosion resistance, and dead spots are removed by gun drilling and extrude honing.

Its flexible heater rods are compressed into the contoured channels required by aluminum heat-transfer retainer plates. They're user replaceable if a terminal breaks off. System drop tubes feature copper alloy tips for maximum heat transfer, which are plated for wear resistance. Rather than using screw-in designs, the drops are designed to float while the mold reaches operating temperature.

The wear-resistant carbide tips used are replaceable. Carbide has twice the heat transfer properties of steel. Laser Tool's heater coils and titanium sealing rings also are replaceable. "Our custom-designed and-built manifolds cost about half of what you'll pay for one from the bigger suppliers," Smith says. "A complete drop assembly can cost as little as $350."

Well Equipped

Laser Tool considers tool samplings on high-cavity systems to be a short production run, which fits nicely with product development and sampling out of its 17,000-sq-ft molding facility. It has seven molding machines, 88 to 250 tons, from Boy and Toshiba.

Its engineering department is equipped with several workstations running the latest software from SDRC, Autodesk, UGS, and ShopCAM, and there are DNC connections to its impressive stock of CNC machinery.

For example, it has eight mills, including two Mori Seiki CNC machining centers, a high-speed Makino S56, and a Daewoo V65 for custom mold bases; four lathes, including two CNC Okuma LB-15 turning centers; CNC RAM and wire EDM machines, including two CNC LeBlond Makino EDNC 43s; and 12 grinders, including four Okamotos.

Laser Tool also has polishing, sawing, and a well-equipped inspection center full of equipment calibrated to MIL-STD-45662A. For other manufacturing operations, it has friends.


As with most of the other Northwestern Pennsylvania tool and die shops, Smith says Tom Hilburn, Laser Tool's founder and owner, started the company when the Talon Zipper factory closed in the late 1970s. That's a story in and of itself. The first mass production of zippers, an American invention, was in Meadville, PA in 1917 at a company that came to be known as Talon. Talon was the leading zipper manufacturer until the late 1970s.

Ever wonder why so many zippers have "YKK" on them? YKK stands for Yoshida Kogyo Kabushikikaisha, a Japanese company now called YKK Co. YKK flooded the market with low-cost zippers and put Talon out of business, which is the same strategy used by the Chinese in today's tooling market, says Smith.

"When it closed, some 300 Northwestern PA toolmakers supplying Talon started their own shops—injection molding shops, die stampers, heat treaters, platers, moldmakers. In fact, my brother was one of the last to go through Talon's journeyman apprenticeship program." The ties that bound those Northwestern PA folks in the tool and die business still hold. Smith says Laser Tool is an active member of The Source, a successful regional marketing cooperative of the Northwestern Pennsylvania chapter of the National Tooling & Machining Assn. "When we're given a challenge, we can call up, say, a heat treater, or a plater in the area to help us solve it."

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