In the 1980s, ‘Castool Precision Turning and Honing’ was a very small division of the Exco Technologies group of companies. At that time, Castool specialized in turning hardened tool steels, and made containers, liners and stems for aluminum extruders. All production was strictly to the customer’s drawings and specifications. It had no proprietary products. It was simply another small job shop.
Today, Castool Tooling Systems is recognized as one of the leading tooling and equipment suppliers to light metal extruders and die casters. It is a respected player in the global market. Castool was the first supplier in its field to qualify for ISO 9000, and again, the first to meet stringent requirements of QS9000. How did a small job shop evolve into a world-class supplier in a relatively short period of time?
Brief History of a Die Shop
Castool’s origins begin with Harry Robbins, a toolmaker who specialized in making high quality dies for aluminum extruders, first in his basement, then garage, for Corman Engineering for several years, assisted by his wife Audrey. In 1952, he opened his own shop in Toronto, called the Extrusion Machine Corporation, a small company with a big name, since there were only 7 employees. By the early 1970s, Harry’s two eldest sons were involved. Extrusion Machine Co was split into two entities: Exco (extrusion dies) and Exco Engineering (die cast molds). In the early 1980s, Castool was broken off as another separate entity and in 1986, the third son, Paul Robbins took over the sales, marketing and product development.
Castool was soon making custom tooling for anyone who was prepared to pay for precision work with short lead times and dependable deliveries. At that time, Castool was not specialized but with the relationship to Exco and Exco Engineering – now recognized industry leaders in extrusion and die casting – Castool had a close association with these two industries, and the company realized that no single supplier provided a comprehensive range of support tooling for either.
Originally, Castool management decided to concentrate on the support tooling required by extruders and die casters, but the spotlight soon focused on R & D. The predominant attitude then was that there was no reason why the company couldn’t either develop or obtain the rights to the very best tooling products available. At the time – according to Paul Robbins, who became General Manager in 2002 – this appeared to be rather presumptuous for a company of its size, but the small team embraced the challenge.
Realizing that loose dummy blocks would eventually become a thing of the past, the first major project tackled by Castool was to analyze the features of all the fixed dummy blocks then available, and develop a better one. Meanwhile, a small engineering design company in Switzerland called Allper, had apparently patented a unique die cast plunger tip that was getting outstanding results. Castool soon obtained the exclusive rights to manufacture and market it in North and South America.
Around the same time, the company name changed to Castool Precision Tooling, and put its newly patented two-piece expanding dummy block on the market. It was soon adopted by several major U.S, extruders. These two products – the fixed dummy block and the Allper plunger tip – really established Castool as a significant presence in the light metal extrusion and die casting industries. (In 2010, Castool purchased Allper, and today the Allper products are marketed and sold globally by Castool.)
Castool’s single most important contribution is likely its introduction of the System Approach to production. Maximum productivity can only be achieved when all components of the process are operating at, or close to, optimum efficiency. “Anything that can be measured can be improved,” says Robbins. “It is in this field that knowledge-based companies such as Castool excel, and pioneer innovative technology that benefits the industries they serve.”
Today, Exco Technologies Limited, Castool’s parent corporation, is a multinational group of 17 companies with more 6,600 employees. It is a major technology provider serving the extrusion, die casting and automotive industries in the global market. Castool is now known as Castool Tooling Systems and employs 168 employees at its two locations in Canada and Thailand.
Castool has a strong vision of future development. The company has completed its line of products for both extruders and die casters, coinciding with a market that is expanding at a greater rate than ever before. The automotive industry wants to use light metal alloys wherever it can reduce the weight of its vehicles. And thus, reduce fuel consumption.
Through acquisitions and mergers, the market is also consolidating. Customers are becoming fewer in number, but larger in size. Taking their lead form the automotive industry, they are also reducing their number of suppliers in an effort to reduce costs due to scale, but also to benefit from the synergy that results from a closer relationship between supplier and customer. This trend benefits Castool because it has a much broader range of products to offer than any other supplier in the two industries it serves, and can provide undivided responsibility for complete process systems. Castool also promotes a close association with its customers by offering technical assistance that is not limited to only its own products.