In October 2004 Kiley Mold Company celebrated its 10th anniversary as the exclusive manufacturer of FMCA coach plates.
By Linda Lee Walden and Lynn Laymon, F245876
No matter where we travel, FMCA family motorhomes are instantly recognizable to members and nonmembers alike by our “goose eggs” “” the white-on-black, oval-shaped plaques displayed prominently on our motor coaches.
Each pair of plaques bears a unique member number. That means more than 350,000 of them have been turned out since Family Motor Coach Association was founded in 1963. In addition, thousands of mini towed vehicle eggs, national officer crescents, chapter attachment plates, and accessories have been made over the years as the extensive family of FMCA coach products has grown and evolved.
For the past decade FMCA coach plaques and accessories have originated from the machine shop of the Kiley family in Fayetteville, Ohio, barely 30 miles from FMCA’s Cincinnati headquarters. Before the Kileys began making them, however, the FMCA symbol went through several prior versions.
Although the origin of the oval design is unclear, the first 10,000 FMCA members received cast-aluminum goose eggs engraved with their unique member number. National officer, national director, and alternate national director crescents were designed to fit above the goose egg, with individual chapter attachment plates below.
In 1973, due to the high cost of materials, new members (F10001 through F44000) began receiving vinyl decal goose eggs rather than plaques; however, the aluminum version was still available by special order. Nine years later FMCA decided to switch back to plaques “” this time to an injection-molded acrylic version. In 1994 the need to replace the original injection mold “” at considerable cost to FMCA “” prompted the search for a new supplier. Enter FMCA members Dennis and Virginia Kiley, F26789.
The Kileys joined FMCA in 1977 and were active participants in rallies and conventions. Dennis had worked in the machining industry most of his life and started his own business, Kiley Mold Company, in 1971, making steel molds for injected plastic parts. His sons, Denny and Jerry, soon joined him. After submitting a bid to produce FMCA coach plaques and a variety of accessories at substantial cost savings to FMCA, Kiley Mold was awarded the contract. Production of the new polycarbonate goose eggs began in October 1994 with family membership number F185627.
A majority of the savings was due to the use of economical and streamlined production methods. We recently visited Kiley Mold to document that process. The facility is located in a concrete-block building just steps from the family home in rural southwestern Ohio. Like the business, the Kileys have built the structure in stages.
To our uninitiated eyes, the manufacturing area seemed like a hodgepodge of strangely shaped and vaguely threatening machinery. But after a brief tour and understandable, nontechnical explanations provided by all three Kiley men, the purpose of most of the equipment, as well as the trio’s combined decades of production knowledge, became apparent.
The elder Kiley led us through the production process from mold creation to shipping. On the high side of 70 years old, he now leaves the manufacturing part of the job to his sons. Sadly, Virginia, who also worked in the business and was known by many FMCA members who visited the company’s booth at international conventions and area rallies, passed away in 2003.
Tooling The Molds
The first step in manufacturing FMCA identification plaques and accessories is creating the molds for the plastic injection molding machine. The process begins with several steel base plates; those used for the goose eggs are 1 inch to 2 inches thick and 18 inches square. Hardened steel inserts are tooled to form the goose egg shape and “FAMILY MOTOR COACH ASSOC.” lettering.
Since each family and commercial membership has a unique member number that is molded into the goose egg, steel molds also are needed for each of the six digits in the numbers. This amounts to a total of 60 number molds tooled into individual steel blocks.
The Kileys also have crafted steel molds for the national officer, national director, and alternate national director crescents, and close to 450 chapter officer (current and past) and member attachment plates. Then there are the molds for towed vehicle plates with individual member numbers, and FMCA logo key tags and hitch receiver covers, plus various mounting brackets. Since all of these molds were created at no cost to FMCA, they remain the property of Kiley Mold and are maintained or replaced as needed.
Molding The Plates
Plastic injection molding involves shooting molten material under tremendous pressure through a tiny opening into a steel mold. That explanation, of course, is greatly simplified.
Although Kiley Mold originally subcontracted the molding process, the company bought its own injection molding machine in 2000. “It allows us to maintain control of the material and molding process so we can turn out a consistent product,” Dennis said.
When all the pieces of the goose egg mold are assembled, it weighs approximately 1,000 pounds. It is hoisted into the molding machine in a vertical position via crane and secured under many tons of clamping pressure.
The material, a polycarbonate plastic, begins the process as tiny black granules. They are loaded into a hopper on the molding machine, which extracts moisture from the beads. Once the injection process is initiated, a precisely measured amount of the granules passes through a barrel heated to 550 degrees Fahrenheit. The polycarbonate melts to a viscous consistency and is injected into the mold at a pressure of 9,000 pounds per square inch, instantly filling the steel mold and forming the egg shape, lettering, and numbers.
In addition to the tremendous operating pressures involved, we were impressed by the speed of the molding process. From the time the cycle is initiated by the operator, the mold closes, reopens, and expels a still hot, but solid, plaque in approximately 40 seconds. The process is slightly slower in a mass production run, since the member numbers in the mold have to be advanced by one after each pair. “It takes me an additional five seconds to change a number in the mold,” son Denny estimated.
Plaques emerge from molding completely black in color, but otherwise in almost finished form. A quick pass through a milling machine shaves off the sprue (small point) that remains on the back of the plate from the injection nozzle.
Since the polycarbonate itself is black, the plates don’t require painting and are highly resistant to fading. The next step is to add the white highlights to the raised letters and numbers. This is done by hot stamping, a process widely used in the plastics industry, because it creates a very effective, long-lasting bond between the pigment and the base material.
Once again, pressure and heat are involved. The hot-stamping machine is fitted with a roll of film impregnated with white pigment. Plaques are inserted into the machine one at a time. The stamp presses the film and the plaque together under five tons of pressure for three seconds at a temperature of 350 degrees, causing the white pigment to permeate the black polycarbonate. The process is repeated a second time to ensure superior coverage.
Finally, for extra protection against ultraviolet rays, the plaques are sprayed by hand with an automotive clear-coat lacquer.
Once the goose eggs are checked for quality, each pair is inserted into a clear plastic sleeve. All the products Kiley Mold makes for FMCA carry an unconditional lifetime guarantee against defects in material and workmanship.
Dennis Kiley handles distribution. “We supply FMCA with approximately 16,000 pairs of numbered coach plaques a year,” he said. However, FMCA doesn’t wait until a new member signs up to have their unique plaque created. The association orders the numbered goose eggs in batches; Kiley processes the order; and the boxed plaques are delivered to FMCA headquarters. A ready stock of consecutively numbered plates is always available for shipment to new members.
In addition to the orders from FMCA for member goose eggs, and national officer and director plaques, Kiley Mold also does considerable direct-order production for individual FMCA members and chapters. Lost plaques and longtime members with lower-numbered plates or decals that are in need of replacement create a steady flow of custom orders. Many chapters encourage their members to purchase attachment plates to make other RVers aware of their chapter affiliation. Turnaround time for these special orders is usually one to four weeks, depending on the production schedule for the machines.
All FMCA items can be ordered directly from Kiley Mold by mailing the form found in each issue of Family Motor Coaching magazine (see page 203 in this issue) or via telephone, fax, or from the company’s Web site. Kiley Mold also operates a vendor booth at the FMCA international conventions and a number of area rallies. Logo items and attachment brackets are kept in stock and usually can be mailed within two days of receipt of the order.
October 2004 marked the 10-year anniversary of the successful business association between Kiley Mold and FMCA. The senior Kiley said that what he loves most about the relationship is talking with fellow FMCA members. “It’s all about providing service to FMCA and its members.”
Kiley Mold Company, 4200 Anderson State Road, Fayetteville, OH 45118; (513) 875-3223, fax: (513) 875-3391; www.kileymold.com