Miniature Tool & Die is helping to mold the micro market

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Jan. 20, 2003 — Miniature Tool & Die Inc. has come a long way from its beginnings 32 years ago, when founder Richard Tully had his wife hold a flashlight in the basement of their Worcester, Mass., home so he could clearly see the electrical connectors he was making.

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Today, the company is run by two of his children, a brother-and-sister team of plastics engineers. They run a small manufacturing plant in Charlton, Mass., with 11 employees and say business is strong. But they do have the same problem their father encountered: clearly seeing the ultrasmall components they make.

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“We bought two new microscopes 18 months ago to see what we’re doing,” quipped Donna Bibber, head of marketing for the company, “and already they’re outdated for us.”

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What Miniature Tool does is manufacture some of the smallest plastic components available today. When Bibber and her brother, Dennis Tully, took over the business from their father in 1998, they began dabbling in micromolds almost immediately. Now they say business is booming, from 10 percent of total sales in 2001 to at least 30 percent of sales in 2002. Bibber expects that figure to hit 60 percent or more within another two years.

Tully and Bibber would not disclose revenues, but the pair did say they plan to add a second and third shift as business continues to grow. They also hope to retool their plant for more micromolding — and eventually nanomolding, once the proper techniques are perfected.

The smallest component Miniature Tool makes is a single-cavity container for a medical device. It has a total length of 1.3 millimeters, and a volume of only .00012 grams. Other components have dimensions or thicknesses down to a few dozen microns.

So far, almost all of Miniature Tool’s demand for micromolded components comes from the medical industry, which craves plastic parts because they cause no ill effects inside the human body. Boston Scientific Corp. is one of its several dozen customers; Millipore Corp. is another. One customer, which Bibber would not name, uses Miniature Tool’s parts to develop a device implanted into the eyeball.

Tully said that one of the largest challenges in micromolding is simply the lack of proven methods to do it; at the moment, the industry has no standard tooling or processes to cast plastic parts so small and finely designed.

Miniature Tool employees use a variety of die-casting machines to make their metal casts; hot plastic is then squirted into the cast to make the components themselves. The company also makes its own tooling to handle parts and micromolds, because nobody sells standard equipment Miniature Tool could use.

“We’re developing our methods as we go,” Bibber said.

Industry experts say Miniature Tool is not alone. Carol Barry, a plastics engineering professor at the University of Massachusetts Lowell who sometimes hires Miniature Tool for various projects, said it is one of many small shops in the plastics industry plumbing new levels of smallness.

“It’s cutting edge,” Barry said. “They’re doing it by trial and error, mostly… All the rules that exist normally for moldings don’t apply anymore.”

Barry gave the example of casting a plastic component one-thousandth of an inch thick. At that dimension, plastic cools extremely quickly, so liquid plastic must be shot into the mold much faster, and at higher pressure. But higher pressure and speed could distort the shape of the metal cast, so micromolding procedures must compensate for that. How to do that, Barry said, is the trial-and-error part.

Tully agreed that every project has what he half-jokingly calls “areas of impossibility.” Sometimes his staff figures out ways to create the component; other times, he admits, he and the client revise their plans. Tully also said half the battle is just explaining to a customer what sorts of micromolds are possible.

One competitive threat Tully said Miniature Tool faces every day: competitors, who make nearly microsize components but keep prices in step with the more affordable macrosize scale. It keeps profit pressure on Tully and Bibber, despite strong demand.

“It’s still fairly competitive,” Tully said. “We’re competing with nonmicro people in a world they don’t understand.”


Company file: Miniature Tool & Die Inc.
(last updated Jan. 20, 2003)

Miniature Tool & Die Inc.

90 Worcester Road
Charlton, Mass., 01507

MTD was founded by Richard J. Tully Sr. 32 years ago in the basement of his Charlton, Mass., home. For the past three years, the firm has been housed in a 16,500-square-foot facility and run by two of Tully’s children, Dennis and Donna. Sales doubled from 2000 to 2001, largely driven by growth in micromolding.

Plastics engineering


Small tech-related products and services
The company uses techniques such as EDM (electrical discharge machining) and extremely powerful mounted microscopes to create micromolds for plastic components. These components are used in industries ranging from medical devices to telecom, in applications such as minimally invasive surgery, lab equipment, consumer electronics and fiber optics-based communications. MTD’s components can be as small as several dozen microns, and the company hopes someday to venture into nanomolding. Tully is also keeping an eye on advances in microfluidics, which could prove to be a lucrative niche for his company.


  • Richard J. Tully Sr.: chief executive officer
  • Dennis P. Tully: vice president, engineering
  • Donna Bibber: vice president, sales and marketing
  • Selected strategic partners and customers
    The company is working with Moldflow Corp. to develop flow-analysis software for use in micromolding. A portion of the research is being completed at the University of Massachusetts Lowell. Key clients include:

  • Boston Scientific Corp.
  • Smith & Nephew Endoscopy
  • Corning Inc.
  • Millipore
  • Barriers to market
    Several technologies exist for developing ultrasmall molds, and not all competitors can offer across-the-board capabilities. As different methodologies struggle to become the industry standard and compete for efficiency, effectiveness and small size, they are influenced by the fact that ever-stronger microscopes are needed to allow manufacturers a way to accurately observe the micromolding process.


  • Fraunhofer USA
  • Micromold Inc.
  • Mimotec SA
  • Murray Inc.
  • Sansyu Precision
  • ThinXXS Microtechnology
  • Why they’re in small tech
    “We see it as a growth area. … It made sense as a good target for us,” said CEO Richard Tully. “We need to be specialized if we don’t want to see our work go overseas.”

    What keeps them up at night
    “That could be almost anything,” said Tully. “For me, it’s the technical challenges of how to do a job.”

    Relevant patent
    Edge locating device


  • URL:
  • Phone: 508-248-0111
  • Fax: 508-248-0777
  • — Research by Gretchen McNeely


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