How It’s Made: SKB Drum Cases

Rotational molding is employed for custom and short to medium-run products. The mold with resin inside is bolted in place so it can be rotated bi-axially. As the resin melts it coats the inside of the mold.Once it's done the mold is opened.The final part is pulled from the mold.And, it look like this.Large containers can store resin for feeding it to machines.The resin can be in various forms, like powder (tip of the hat to Home Depot for the bucket).Or plastic granules. Injection molds can be enormous, weighing up to 30,000 pounds.These heavyweight injection molds require storage space.This machine sits below while molds are maneuvered into position from above. Materials are squeezed through openings into the mold. Then they are compressed under tremendous pressure.Case handles and hinges are molded separately.Military-style cases stacked for shipment.Dye pellets are added to color the parts. Bright colors usually connote safety equipment.SKB is continually moving a lot of goods. Every square inch of property was devoted to items ready for shipment.A man, a plan, a case. Jerry Andreas was working on a new heavy-duty snare case (not pictured) the day we visited.SKB started building guitar cases in the '70s. Today they build for music, photo, pro audio, medical, sports, and military transport applications.

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Behind The ScenesDave Sanderson and Steve Kottman, the founders of SKB Cases, opened for business in 1977. They started out making guitar cases in a garage in Anaheim. Today they are a world leader in making instrument cases of all types. But the company is also much more than that.

SKB manufactures molded transport cases using three different types of manufacturing processes: vacuum, rotational, or injection molding. Though music is where they started a large part of their business today is in applications for pro audio, lighting, sports, military, industrial, and medicine. They make watertight cases large enough to house a server rack—useful if you’re providing relief in flooded areas—and small enough for a single camera lens. They make military cases tough enough to airdrop into war zones, and, of course, rugged road cases for bass drums, cymbals, hardware, and more.

SKB snare drum case

14″ X 6.5″ snare case. SKB makes snare cases from 4″ deep on up, plus many odd sizes.

I took time recently to visit with Jerry Andreas, the Vice-President of Music and Pro AV. Jerry’s a drummer with great experience in the music products industry. He’s been at SKB for 11 years and prior to that he spent nearly two decades with Yamaha. On the day I visited he was looking at a final design for a new heavy-duty snare case.

SKB inhabits several buildings in a wooded industrial park in Orange, California. Pulling into the parking lot the size of the operation is a little deceptive. Bland tiltup exteriors give way to buildings with offices up front and acres of production space in the rear. In addition there is enormous storage behind the buildings with cases stacked high on pallets for shipment.

Rotational molding, also called rotomolding is a process in which powder is put into a hollow mold. The mold is rotated along two axes in an oven so that the resin melts and coats the inside. Once it cools, you open it up to remove the product inside, which could be a tool, case, prototype or other application. Jerry says rotational molding is great for low-run custom work and for pieces that won’t work easily for high-run injection molding.

Injection molding can be used to make extremely strong and durable objects and many of their music cases are made this way. The process involves injecting plastic (or molten metal) into a mold. Molds are shaped like the end product and typically made of steel, aluminum or ceramic. Once the material is injected the molds are squeezed under high pressure, up to tens of thousands of pounds per square inch in some cases.

The Prototype Is Not Too Late
When I visited right before NAMM the offices were a flurry of last-minute activity to get new products and prototypes ready for the show. I recalled that the first time I visited the company, many years before, Dave Sanderson said in jest, “The prototype is not late until the NAMM show starts.” Even though they’d been working on their NAMM display and products for six months, Murphy’s Law, and the drive for product perfection ensure that there are always last-minute things to finish up.

—Phil Hood

Write And Win
This week’s accessory giveaway is for SuperSticks. They are the brainchild of James Lento at New York Percussion. They are made in small batches and all feature his unique tip, which provides articulation, particularly on cymbals, that he says can’t be done with any other stick. I’m giving away two pairs for one lucky person to try. Just comment below.

Win a pair of Super Sticks