A Michigan injection molder and mold maker is combating foreign pricing pressures by reconsidering the way his shops operate.
PTI Engineered Plastics Inc. has developed a coordinated processing system that lets one operator oversee the work on multiple machines - allowing the company to divide the cost for his time between multiple contracts and improve overall efficiency.
``The whole purpose of this is to take a look at what it is that takes people across the border, other than customer demands,'' Mark Rathbone, chief executive officer, said in a May 8 telephone interview. ``If we can take the labor-cost concerns out of the process, then we're not penalized for it.''
PTI launched its ``microcell'' molding system a year ago by connecting its smallest presses - two with 12 tons of clamping force and two with 20 tons - with a small materials-handling system and a conveyor to bring the products of all the machines to one central distribution point.
The business also saves money and time by using its in-house tool shop to make two-cavity molds for the small machines. Rathbone estimates the process can reduce costs as much as 40 percent and cut lead time to full production 50 percent.
``This isn't the panacea for everything, but it can make a difference for some companies,'' he said.
PTI has about 150 employees at Michigan sites near Mount Clemens in Clinton Township - where it is based - and in neighboring Shelby Township, near Utica. It posts about $25 million in annual sales. About 55 percent of the contract molder's business is for the automotive industry, with other work headed toward the medical and consumer-products markets.
The microcell process is ideal for parts weighing 0.33-1.31 ounces, Rathbone said. But since he implemented the project, PTI has looked to bring in more and larger presses.
``When you're running small parts, your cost isn't made up of the material,'' he said. ``It's labor and burden rate.''
At some point he envisions a plant with 32 presses operating cooperatively with minimal labor costs. The company continues to seek ways to reduce complexity to lower costs, he said, such as offering incentives to run specific resin grades on all machines in a cell at one time.
``Our philosophy is not to be the cheapest guy in town, but to have a value we can bring,'' Rathbone said.