Sam Pierson, president of AGA-PGT Inc. wanted to expand capacity without adding employees.
But he realized that, with conventional hydraulic injection molding, he could not reach his goal of a ``lights-out'' molding plant.
``We had tried untended operation with hydraulic injection molding machines in the past, but not succeeded,'' Pierson said. ``This is not to say that hydraulic machines can't make good parts, because we do it every day — it just takes three times the labor and conscientious preventive maintenance to keep the machines in top condition.''
But the firm achieved near lights-out conditions at its Vernon, Conn., molding plant by using new computer numerically controlled, servo-driven electric injection presses, plus impressive automated material and parts-handling systems.
The plant opened in late 1994 with two Cincinnati Milacron Roboshot presses. The company now has a total of eight machines — five 55-ton and three 110-ton models — and will add six more by the end of August.
The presses operate around the clock, but have only one day shift of four operators. The other two shifts are unstaffed, and operators take turns checking the production on weekends.
According to Pierson, the 13,400-square-foot plant was created purely for production capacity, and it only runs jobs that have been proven thoroughly at the home plant in Manchester, Conn.
``We paid a premium for these machines, but a cheaper machine is no bargain if it can't do the job,'' Pierson said.
He estimated it cost $100,000-$150,000 to equip and automate each station.
``When we designed this operation, we were careful to apply automation only where we thought there would be an immediate and strong benefit,'' said John Stone, Vernon plant manager.
According to Stone, the facility was designed to support the 14 machines. The company is looking into expanding the facility for more machines.
The employee-owned company, which has resin consumption of about 750,000 pounds per year of predominately engineered nylons and acetals, formed in 1988 with the combination of ABA Tool & Die and Plastics Gearing Technology.
The headquarters in Manchester has 26 hydraulic molding machines and five Roboshot machines. It also houses the computer-aided-design and manufacturing department and mold-making facility.
ABA-PGT designs plastic gears, makes precision molds, and does custom molding for appliances, tools, toys, instruments, auto parts and office machines. With the extra machines, the company has started producing more products including gears for computer printers.
The company has about 100 employees and plans to add at least three more. It reported 1996 annual sales of $13 million and Pierson estimates 20 percent growth for this year.
``It's a matter of keeping up with demands,'' Pierson said.