ANSONIA, CONN. - Spectrum Plastics Molding Resources Inc., which specializes in reel-to-reel and insert molding of precision electronic and medical parts, plans to double its space by building a factory next year in Ansonia. Construction is slated to begin next spring at the new Fountain Lake Industrial Park. ``We expect to be the first tenant in there,'' said Thomas Sloss, vice president of sales and operations.
Ansonia-based Spectrum currently runs 37 injection molding machines with clamping forces of 28-170 tons, most of them Arburgs, in a 27,000-square-foot building. The new factory will measure about 50,000-60,000 square feet. Although officials have not made a final decision on the number of machines that will be added, Sloss said the new plant will exploit Spectrum's use of manufacturing cells.
``We're pretty maxed out for space right now,'' Sloss said Aug. 9 during an interview in Ansonia. ``Keep in mind this is a company that has averaged about 25 percent a year growth over the last 12 years and in order to maintain that, more space is definitely needed.''
The firm opened a Tuscon, Ariz., engineering office in 1995. Fiscal year sales ended Oct. 31, 1995, were $11.5 million.
Manufacturing cells organize employees and machines into small groups that handle all aspects of production and quality. Companies like cells because they reduce parts handling and enable work teams to discover problems right away. In traditional mass production, one step can form thousands of parts, which then are shipped to the next stage.
At Spectrum, each cell has three employees: a technician, a quality inspector and an operator. Each person has a specific job. For example, the operator handles bar coding and packaging. Spectrum's organizational chart is a circle, with management set up to support the teams. Production workers become involved intimately with customers. They also are cross-trained on the other positions. In addition, the company supports local educational programs.
``They don't have to ask questions because they know the answers,'' Sloss said.
Spectrum was one of the pioneers in work cells in the plastics industry, adopting the concept seven years ago. Meanwhile, customers for its specialized molding demand confidentiality.
The new plant will meet both needs using an efficient layout, with several manufacturing bays that can be segregated.
``We will set up cells that are somewhat related to specific customers so that we might be able to isolate competitive-type customers so it would be in a blocked-off area, so customer A will be in this location, customer B will be in another location,'' Sloss said.
Plans also call for a Class 100,000 clean room.
Spectrum officials are careful not to disclose customers. A recent tour of the Ansonia factory shows why. Very few custom molders do reel-to-reel molding, a precise, automated process.
Spectrum has organized vertical-clamp Arburg presses in one room for its reel-to-reel molding. Also known as strip-feed molding, the process feeds a continuous strip of substrate, made of metal or Mylar, through the mold. After injection molding, the substrate is rolled up onto a reel at the other end of the machine, ready for shipment. If a customer requires it, Spectrum can cut and package the strips.
Plastic is molded on the plated metal substrates, which are used on circuit boards and other electronic applications. Magnifying cameras are perched above each line to check tiny metal tines before molding. If a defect is detected, the system can be set to alert an operator or to run the bad area through the machine without molding.
Robots remove runners. A system from Novatec dries and conveys resin from a bank of hoppers to any machine on the floor.
More traditional insert molding, with some shuttle-table machines, is done in another room.
The company employs seven full-time mold makers to build about one-third of its molds. Nearly all molds are designed in-house.
While metal strips are an integral part of the finished product, Mylar substrates are used to orient parts. Parts are popped off during assembly.
One customer asked Spectrum to supply parts on plastic strips because it wants to stop using traditional bowl feeders.
Spectrum officials also disclosed they have developed a third option - injection molding of parts, plastic only, in a continuous strip. Production has begun on one job in which the tiny parts themselves form the strip, linked together and wound on a reel.
``There's no connector. That is continuous product, over and over and over again,'' Sloss said. Spectrum has set up production on a horizontal-clamp injection press equipped with a robot, but officials declined to provide any other details.
Another option could be leaving a small connector that links each part, like an umbilical cord.
Demand for reel-to-reel molding is growing because electronic manufacturing has become more automated, even in countries like Singapore and Malaysia where companies have gone for low-wage production.
One Spectrum part goes to a factory in Malaysia that makes light-emitting diodes.
``They're doing extremely fine, high-speed assembly and tests in a parts-per-million type of factory. In other words, they can just have a few defective parts per million, and the goal is perfect quality,'' said Edward Flaherty, Spectrum's vice president of manufacturing, who lived in the region while working for another company from 1984-87. He returned more recently for Spectrum.
``I've seen nothing but massive change in Singapore. Ten years ago, they were where Malaysia is today, and they're gaining quickly in both countries,'' according to Flaherty.
China is the next electronics frontier, he said. ``That will be the next low-cost area for manufacturing.''