2 May 2016

Understanding customers’ needs guides Cornerstone Composites

Made in Milwaukee

Cornerstone Composites Inc.
900 E. Vienna St., Milwaukee
Industry: Composite molding
Employees: 75

Cornerstone Composites Inc. president Boyd Miller puts his faith in his product.

He says that every year a Milwaukee School of Engineering plastics class comes for a tour. Miller picks out a student and offers to buy him a steak dinner if he can break one of the company’s composite pieces. Try as they might, Miller has never had to pay up.

Miller knows his products won’t be a perfect fit for every situation and likely won’t be the cheapest either, but it’s those customers looking for an alternative to plastic or metal that he’s interested in.

“We’re trying to really help people change what they’re offering their market,” Miller said.

Cornerstone does that by combining engineering services with precision molding of composite materials.

The company dates back to the 1940s when German immigrants Erich Dickten and Alfred Masch formed the Dickten & Masch tool company. They eventually sold the business to longtime employee Duane Kreske in the 1980s, when it became known as Wisconsin Thermoset Molding.

“I bought it in 2008 and the sales promptly dropped in half in 2009 because of the economic conditions,” Miller said. “We struggled up the curve and recovered.”

In 2015, Wisconsin Thermoset merged with Rose Polymer Composite to create Cornerstone Composites, which is based in a 35,000-square-foot facility at 900 E. Vienna St. in Milwaukee. Cornerstone also has a 7,500-square-foot facility on Silver Spring Drive and a 10,000-square-foot warehouse.

The company’s finished products are designed to work well in situations where components need to be high-strength or withstand high-heat or high-dielectric applications.

Cornerstone runs 30 presses, one of which still uses a tool built in 1942 by Allis Chalmers.

The process does have its downsides. Unlike metal or plastic, which can be melted or ground up for reuse, it is a one-way process for the composites Cornerstone uses. Similar to a two-part epoxy glue found at the hardware store, Cornerstone uses temperature and pressure to activate a chemical process that changes the material into something completely new. Because the material can’t be reused, Cornerstone has to keep an eye on how much scrap is generated, aiming for just 1 percent.

The thermoset process used by Cornerstone comes with higher material and labor costs than thermoplastics. As a result, there aren’t a lot of firms in the industry.

“They’re unique, special applications,” Miller said

Sometimes, people come to Cornerstone looking for something soft or flexible produced at high-volume and low-cost.

“It’s not us and it’s not what the product is,” Miller said.

And Cornerstone doesn’t compete on cost alone.

“We don’t want to come across as the lowest cost supplier in the world because that’s not us; that’s not what we’re doing,” Miller said.

Instead, Cornerstone offers engineering services, which can be tricky because customers don’t always know what is possible with the composite materials. The goal becomes understanding what a customer is after, said Andy Stroh, vice president. Some want to reduce the product’s weight ; others are looking for improved strength; and some want a combination of those two.

The company serves end markets including commercial construction, oil and gas, mass transit and food service. Products include manhole covers that are lighter yet durable; a product that centers oil and gas pipes in a hole but slides better than steel against rock; and a wall tie that improves building efficiency.

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24 November 2015

Wisconsin Thermoset Molding acquires AcroReels, changes name


Milwaukee-based Wisconsin Thermoset Molding Inc. has acquired AcroReels, a division of Eden Prairie, Minn.-based Atek Companies LLC that manufactures reels for the recording industry.

Wisconsin Thermoset Molding and Rose Polymer employees after the recent merger of the companies.

WTM, which acquired Milwaukee-based Rose Polymer Composites LLC in January, has changed its name to reflect the recent changes. Its companies are now included under the corporate umbrella brand Cornerstone Composites Inc., based at 900 E. Vienna St. in Milwaukee.

Both WTM and Rose Polymer are contract molding companies, with WTM focusing on electrical/power transmission and commercial construction and Rose Polymer specializing in oil/gas and mass transit.

WTM previously molded the hubs for reels made at AcroReels, and now has acquired the name, rights to manufacture the whole reel, and some equipment and tooling for an undisclosed price. The hubs continue to be made in-house, while the flange manufacturing has been locally outsourced, said Andy Stroh, WTM’s vice president.

WTM and Rose Polymer will maintain their separate locations under the new umbrella, which focuses on providing tailored, high-performance composite material engineered to replace metal and thermoplastic parts for original equipment manufacturers.

“Industry 4.0 and the technologies that support it like 3-D printing, automation and the Internet of Things, are changing the way OEMs make parts,” Stroh said. “To remain competitive, they are looking for ways to increase productivity, improve performance and reduce production costs. We can support OEMs from a material standpoint by working with them to develop custom formulations that are stronger than metals or thermoplastics, corrosion resistant and potentially lighter weight.”

Wisconsin Thermoset and Rose Polymer’s combined capabilities have allowed them to offer concept, prototyping, testing, tooling and production services. The companies have upgraded equipment that includes 32 advanced compression, transfer and injection molding presses, as well as extruders, preheaters and preformers. Four shifts run the two manufacturing locations.

Rose Polymer’s square footage is approximately 7,500, with another 10,000 square feet of leased space nearby. WTM is roughly 38,000 to 40,000 square feet.

Stroh said in January that the combined revenues exceed $10 million, and he expects the companies together to grow at 5 percent to 10 percent a year. WTM and Rose Polymer have about 40 employees each.

“Our combined capabilities make us especially suited to help industrial and commercial OEMs that use a large amount of metal parts, structural and mechanical components or produce parts that will be exposed to harsh chemicals or temperature extremes,” Stroh said. “AcroReels designs high precision reels for the medical industry. One of our customers was exiting the business so we purchased the line because we felt the proprietary product was a fit with our custom molding business. It’s a niche technology we’ll be able to continue to provide to that market segment.”

17 November 2015

Cornerstone Composites finds work supplying audiophiles


Cornerstone Composites Inc.Cornerstone Composites Inc. has found a niche producing phenolic molded hubs for reel-to-reel institutional and commercial recording tapes.

Recently formed thermoset specialist Cornerstone Composites Inc. has entered the legacy business of reel-to-reel tape components.

Cornerstone, created by the merger of Wisconsin Thermoset Molding Inc. and Rose Polymer Composites LLC, bought the goodwill and technology of AcroReels and is molding components for a storage medium that persists in the era of digitization.

The AcroReels acquisition in April launched Cornerstone into molding phenolic resin into hubs used in commercial and institutional tape deck reels. Like proponents of vinyl records, some commercial tape deck users are sticking with the technology when everything around them is converting to compact discs and other electronic storage systems. They might like the different “feel” of analog magnetic tape and the ease of editing through tape splicing.

“We like the reel hub business because it is highly engineered,” explained Andy Stroh, Cornerstone vice president, in a phone interview. The company now molds precise hubs that fit stamped aluminum flanges to make reels to hold PET recording tape about 1 to 2 inches wide. Such tapes are still used in high-end audio recording studios, to record movies and to store data for governments that don’t want to transcribe all their historical data to a new medium such as compact discs.

Cornerstone Composites Inc.High-voltage device components are molded from thermosets by Cornerstone.

Stroh said his firm’s market has few players since it is a legacy niche. Cornerstone molds phenolic hubs for commercial reels that compete with all-metal reels in a market of some thousands of reels annually. The plastic/metal reels do not compete with low-end technology reels used in the tiny market for consumer applications such as quarter-inch magnetic tape.

Stroh said the phenolic hubs need to be dimensionally stable to meet magnetic tape recording specifications. Producing hubs by chopping a thermoplastic tube doesn’t give the high quality recording hardware that engineers demand.

Cornerstone is promoting thermoset molding as a valuable tool for OEMs looking for more effective ways to make components. Stroh said it ranks with 3-D printing and automation in the thrust to replace metal parts with plastic ones based on plastics’ lighter weight, corrosion resistance and productivity. High-voltage devices are another kind of tough, engineered product Cornerstone focuses on.

“We look for applications beyond the reach of thermoplastics,” Stroh stressed.

Cornerstone was born after the two Milwaukee thermoset molders merged in January. The new business runs 32 presses with clamping forces up to 600 tons for compression molding, injection molding and resin transfer/compression molding.

4 November 2015

Wisconsin Thermoset Molding and Rose Polymer Composites to be renamed Cornerstone Composites

The acquisition and introduction of new corporate name cement alliance between the two Milwaukee manufacturers.

Business, Compression Moulding, Injection

Since pooling their talents in January, Wisconsin Thermoset Molding Inc. and Rose Polymer Composites LLC have taken aggressive steps that include acquisition of Milwaukee-based AcroReels in April, ISO 9001 certification and the roll out of a new corporate name Cornerstone Composites Inc. The custom composite molders along with AcroReel will operate under the umbrella brand Cornerstone Composites to provide original equipment manufacturers with tailored, high performance composite material engineered to replace metal and thermoplastic parts.

Under Cornerstone Composites the two companies have enhanced their capability to tailor components from concept, prototyping and testing to tooling and production methods. Equipment upgrades include 32 advanced compression, transfer and injection molding presses supported by extruders, preheaters and preformers. Four shifts operate between the two manufacturing locations which can produce parts from ¼-in. to 30 in. wide.

WTM and Rose Polymer will continue to maintain their separate locations with WTM acting as the central contact for customers for both locations as well as AcroReel.

About Us

Cornerstone Composites takes your custom-molded parts to the next level of performance with our higher-strength formulations, precision molding and CNC machining. We partner with nimble, innovative OEMS who want more out of their custom parts.