SALINE, MICH. — What started out as a routine machine repair job developed into a whole new business for Epco Machinery LLC — moving an entire plastics factory.
Epco Machinery LLC coordinated the move of Jac Products Inc.'s plastics operations — all 40 injection presses, four extruders, 21 robots and other auxiliary equipment — into a new, 178,000-square-foot plant in Saline that supplies parts for Jac's automotive roof racks. Epco also installed eight new Milacron presses — seven all-electric machines and an Autojector vertical-clamp press — that were shipped directly to the plant.
Epco, with 110 employees in Fremont, Ohio, is best known for its expertise in plastics equipment remanufacturing.
But for the Jac Products move, the company morphed into "Epco Van Lines," coordinating with local riggers and electricians.
"That's not too bad moving a few machines, but moving a whole plant at once is difficult," said Ernie Babon, director of corporate industrial engineering for Jac Products. He was project manager for the construction and move.
Jac Products pumps out more than 63 million plastic parts a year for the roof racks and other trim parts. At its former complex in Ann Arbor, Mich., Jac was forced to shuttle parts among three buildings, even back and forth across the street.
Epco acted as general contractor for the three-month move. The company was responsible for disconnecting and moving each machine out of Jac's former operations in Ann Arbor. At the new building, Epco hooked up the machines and got everything running. Epco dedicated eight employees — full-time — to the Jac project.
Along the way, each machine got a dose of Epco's preventive maintenance.
Although the move from Ann Arbor to Saline covered just a few miles, it posed a major challenge.
Automotive customers aren't going to stop an assembly line while a supplier irons out production. Jac did build up some inventory in advance, but the goal was to remain as close as possible to full production during the move. That meant Jac and Epco had to schedule carefully when each machine would be moved.
Jac Products showed off its gleaming new factory at a Feb. 23-24 open house. The plant features a central materials-loading system that can pull resin from any one of 12 silos to any of the 33 hoppers, then on through seven miles of piping to any machine.
Epco President Steve Schroeder hopes the moving business can evolve into a major activity for Epco.
"We are currently quoting about five more projects similar to this, in various sizes," he said.
The company already gets a lot of refurbishing business when presses on the way from plant to plant make a stop in Fremont, he said.
Epco actually backed into the moving job for Jac.
About 18 months earlier, Jac sought out Epco for its more traditional machinery fix-up expertise.
"They had a vertical press that was down and they needed this press desperately," said Brian Binder, Epco's contract service manager.
Epco rebuilt the linkage. That was followed by a second press repair job.
At one point, someone at Jac Products mentioned the company was building a new plant. After some informal discussions, Epco made a proposal.
Originally, Jac officials were going to handle the move themselves. That would have required hiring and synchronizing work among a rigger and several other contractors.
Babon said Jac "wanted one source, one contact," for the project.
Epco did individualized maintenance for each machine, installed molds, mounted robots and other auxiliary equipment, hooked up electric power and extended piping for water and air to the machines.
Epco got to work in early October, as soon as the new building was ready for occupancy. Epco scarcely had unbolted its first press when Jac learned its landlord had sold one of the three buildings in Ann Arbor — the one with all the molding machines. Jac had to be out of the site by January, Babon said.
On Jan. 8, Epco was done, and Jac Products was in full production in Saline.