OTTO Molds Electronics That Police, Military — Even Astronauts — Rely On
May 20, 2023
Carpentersville, IL — From fulfilling “huge” government orders to very short runs of one to 10 parts, OTTO prides itself on operating in “custom” mode almost all the time to produce vital communications components and electronic switches/controls that military personnel, first responders, heavy equipment operators, and aerospace companies rely on.
OTTO has always taken a unique approach since its founding in 1961 in the basement of company founder Jack Roeser in Park Ridge, IL. Moving to an old forge building in Carpentersville in the 1980s, they began extensive renovations down to every detail, and continue to make significant investments into its facilities throughout today.
In February 2022, the specialty switch maker poured the concrete for a new molding operations floor and moved into the 25,000-square-foot molding shop that Thanksgiving. Under-floor utilities such as water, power, compressed air and exhaust “keep the molding floor clean and pristine,” said Ed Trowbridge, Senior Manager of Manufacturing Operations. OTTO’s campus features not only its Molding operations but its Controls and Communications divisions and an industrial rental area with office spaces. Farther up the road is OTTO’s Tech Center, which handles machining, stamping, and tool and die fabrication.
The company employs 535 — some of whom rent homes from owner Tom Roeser, who purchased and renovated hundreds of houses in Carpentersville and neighboring cities to improve the community and have his workforce nearby. OTTO also developed a Federally accredited apprentice program through The United States Department of Labor, with the Tooling Manufacturers of America (TMA) as the classroom training instruction provider. As of May 2023, they employed 17 apprentices.
Boasting a “job shop mentality,” OTTO typically molds 200 to 300 parts in a given run — but orders can run as high as 1 million parts or more for customers that include the Department of Defense.
“Fast changeovers are key and need to be done in minutes,” Trowbridge stressed. “This applies not only to molding operations but to machining, and assembly as well. We are known for fast deliveries, fast turnarounds and high quality — and not much of what we mold here is standard stuff.”
OTTO produces a wide array of audio components ranging from switches and other parts for headsets to surveillance kits, headphones, military headsets and speaker microphones used by police. OTTO also designs its own products, some of which are sold under the private labels of other well-known brands.
One of OTTO’s most high-profile projects was producing more than 900 switches for NASA’s Orion spacecraft.
”You can’t get more demanding than that,” Trowbridge asserted. “We had to obtain certifications for every detail, every switch, before we could proceed. It was a super challenging project. Some astronauts even came to OTTO and visited the facility — one of them was the ‘Top Gun’ pilot!”
OTTO’s vertical integration allows them to control the manufacturing and assembly of their products. Molding in-house is key to that integration.
Given the sensitive nature of the parts it produces, as well as the high mix/low volume nature of much of its work, OTTO has come to rely heavily on its LS Mtron injection molding machines (IMMs).
OTTO has purchased seven LS Mtron machines to keep up with growth in its business, explained Tony Scianna, Senior Procurement Specialist. Two new LS Mtron machines were the first installed in OTTO’s new molding shop. Those 35-ton all-electric LS Mtron machines have been running since October 2022 and will be joined by five more by fall this year.
“They’ve been running so well that we have already realized significant process improvements,” Scianna stressed. “Our LS Mtron molding machines have been reducing our scrap significantly because they offer far more repeatable performance from part to part and job to job” than the 1980s and 1990s machines they replaced.
Because molding parts from engineering resins is a significant part of OTTO’s repertoire, LS Mtron’s precise and efficient IMMs are indispensable. And speaking of efficiency, OTTO has been operating their IMMs with a limited staff.
“We do a lot of unmanned molding with five people who are responsible for 19 machines over three shifts, so we need to be as efficient as possible,” Scianna explained. “We have many thousands of molds in-house, as well as 10,000 inserts. Some molds we built here, and others we purchased. We even have one tool that makes 26 different parts.”
Quick-change and versatile production is OTTO’s mantra, Trowbridge added. “Special and short runs are where OTTO stands out from our competition.”
Many of its IMMs are uniquely paired with cranes directly over the press.
“We execute over 100 mold changes per week,” Trowbridge said. “That’s not unusual here — we specialize in fast mold changeovers. With our custom cranes, only one person is required to replace molds — and the mold is always over the machine, never the operator, for maximum safety.”
OTTO’s collaboration with LS Mtron extends well beyond the standard vendor-customer relationship. Peter Gardner, President of LS Injection Molding Machine USA, and Jose Villanueva, Sales & Service Engineer at LS Mtron Injection Molding, began working with OTTO more than 20 years ago when they were selling Niigata machines for Daiichi Jitsugyo America (DJA).
When LS Mtron acquired the plastics machinery division of DJA in 2018, Gardner and Villanueva continued to service the Niigatas OTTO purchased decades ago.
“Peter provided the most value with the Niigata machines,” Trowbridge notes. “Jose is the king; he provides the best service imaginable — second to none. Everyone in molding operations at OTTO has Jose’s cell phone number.”
For Villanueva, it’s a mutual admiration society. “OTTO has a great team with very low turnover,” he noted. “Ed has been here 25 years, Tony 23 years; more than a third of their employees have been here over 15 years, and a few people 45 to 50 years.”
Meanwhile, OTTO pays close attention to developing the next-generation manufacturing workforce by employing apprentices after they take three years of classes with TMA. Apprentices then work two years onsite at OTTO, which gives them frequent performance reviews and pay raises to reward and motivate this young workforce.
Company culture “is very important here,” Scianna concluded. “Family values are paramount. Tom, the owner, knows everyone’s name — and usually the spouses’ and kids’ names as well. He cooks burgers at company cookouts. All the managers here have an open-door policy. It’s a team culture all the way. This is one reason Peter and Jose and LS Mtron are a big part of OTTO — they get that and fit right in with their ‘can do’ mentality.”
With a 2023 forecast of $145 million in annual sales and sales representatives around the world, OTTO is counting on its fleet of new LS Mtron IMMs as a vital part of its strategy to continue growing as a global player in custom precision injection molding.
For more information about OTTO and its capabilities, visit www.ottoexcellence.com or call 847-428-7171.
For information about LS Mtron and its injection molding machines, visit www.lsinjectionusa.com or call 470-724-2263.
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