Oxnard, Calif. — The new owners at aerospace connector specialist Rakar Inc. of Oxnard are making plans to upgrade molding and machining equipment and enhance connectivity.
"We want to create Rakar into an intelligent company in which cyber-physical systems monitor the factory processes," said Theresa Padilla, CEO, president and owner since June 9, and a Rakar employee since 1980.
"The physical systems become the Internet of Things, communicating and cooperating both with each other and with our team and clients in real time," she said.
Her son, Diego Padilla, serves as Rakar executive vice president and chief communications and strategy officer.
"We focus on transfer and compression molding of thermoset plastics, and we are exploring more thermoplastics and more automation," he said.
Currently, about 65 percent of Rakar's volume involves thermoset resins with the remainder in thermoplastics.
Contingent on meeting sales targets and client feedback, "our intention is to evaluate, price and cost-out in 2018 for purchase and implementation in 2019," he said. "We will be buying a mix of new and refurbished equipment" including thermoplastic injection molding presses, electrical discharge machines and computer numerical control units.
The CEO said: "Our primary objectives are to be faster, more flexible and more efficient at producing higher-quality goods at reduced costs."
ISO registrar IAPMO Research and Testing of Ontario, Calif., is scheduled to audit Rakar in April for the ISO aerospace 9100D standard. ISO Ready of Concord, Calif., assisted Rakar in preparation for the audit.
Accreditation would position the company to become a Tier 1 supplier. Currently, Rakar operates as a Tier 2 subcontractor.
"Our hope is to be considered for contracts that would help bring the Rakar protocol, our proprietary processes for excellence, to a wider market," Theresa Padilla said.
Rakar was certified in March 2016 under ISO 9001:2008, is working toward qualifying under ISO 9001:2015 and is applying for certification as a minority- and woman-owned business.
"Through our partnerships with ITT Cannon, Smiths Interconnect, Eaton, Delphi, TE Connectivity, Lavi Systems, Amphenol and others, we supply to end-use customers," Diego Padilla said. Those OEMs include Boeing Co., NASA and the U.S. Department of Defense.
Products include auxiliary power unit components for Boeing's 777 and 787 commercial aircraft, connectors for Boeing's F/A-18E and F/A-18F Super Hornet fighters and connectors for the International Space Station.
Tight-tolerance production of the connectors and insulators often requires overmolding on precious metals for engineered high-precision components.
Aerospace and defense accounted for about 90 percent of Rakar's 2017 sales of $2.4 million. Medical is another market with 5 percent. Consumer and other applications account for the remainder.
Beginning on Feb. 23, Rakar retained the services of Lean Six Sigma methodology consultant Carlos Conejo of Multicultural Associates of Thousand Oaks, Calif. Conejo, who holds the rank of Six Sigma Master Black Belt, is training the Rakar executive, production, engineering and quality teams.
In addition, Rakar is developing a one-click manufacturing application.
The aim is to allow engineers, buyers, managers and inventors to upload drawings, make a prototype, develop a mold with first-article-inspection report and enter into production using one-button, real-time feedback through push alerts and notifications.
The application "will provide transparency and better planning in the manufacturing processes," he said.
Rakar employs 32 and operates 17 transfer compression molding machines and 25 injection molding presses.
The equipment came from a wide range of suppliers including JRD Bipel Ltd. of Aldridge, England; Cincinnati Milacron Inc. of Cincinnati; New Britain Machine Co. of New Britain, Conn.; PHI of City of Industry, Calif.; Commercial Iron Works of Los Angeles; Toyo Machinery & Metal Co. Ltd. of Akashi, Japan; and F.J. Stokes Machine Co. of Philadelphia.
"Our presses were made before planned obsolescence became a practice," Diego Padilla said.
Rakar is an acronym from the first names of military veterans and machinery-savvy partners Ray LaPorte and Karl Bishoff, who started the business in 1951.
Early work involved making a transfer mold for a potentiometer, an injection molding machine for a cup and vacuum pump device and customized molds — and then related connectors and insulators — for space program suppliers.
Bishoff sold his share of the company to LaPorte due to a major illness, but he remained involved with Rakar until his death in 1982.
Amazingly, Rakar continues to operate three LaPorte-built molding machines from the 1950s.
"Ray LaPorte was an exceptional machinist," Theresa Padilla said.
LaPorte retired in 1985 and sold the business to son-in-law Walter J. Pittman, who started as Rakar production manager in 1965 and became president in 1983.
Pittman and his team moved the business to its current home, a 28,000-square-foot leased facility in Oxnard, in 1987.
A third-generation family member, Daniel Pittman, serves as Rakar director of global development. The son of Walter Pittman and grandson of Ray LaPorte is based in Lengerich, Germany, and interacts regularly with Rakar clients in Europe and on the U.S. East Coast.