While bringing new technology into molding companies can improve a firm's sales outlook, improved operations on the shop floor and in the front office also can pay off.
New surveys of plastics processors conducted by Plante & Moran LLP and the Michigan Manufacturing Training Center show that the most profitable companies also are those with a highly trained, steady and flexible work force capable of meeting customer challenges, and a sales unit that understands the full cost of production.
It is easy to see some of the benefits, said Daniel Luria, vice president of strategy and measurement for Plymouth, Mich.-based MMTC. Reducing defect rates, for instance, means less time spent to produce the same component twice.
Improving mold-changeover time increases the amount of time each press is in use, so the same number of presses can turn out more parts and molders can respond more quickly to customer demands.
The median number of hours to set up a press with 300-1,499 tons of force in the MMTC study was 21/2 hours last year - the same as in 2000, Luria said. The best-performing firms, however, started with a considerably shorter one hour of setup time in 2000 and improved to 36 minutes last year.
Plante & Moran found similar differences between the best and worst performers in its survey, with times ranging from 51/2 hours for changeovers on a press with capacity in excess of 1,500 tons to a low of 21/2 hours.
World-class molders can do even better, coming in with changeovers of less than an hour, said Jeff Mengel, a partner with Plante & Moran in Auburn Hills, Mich.
Tracking those hours - along with the cost of other nonproduction maintenance - also gives businesses a better idea of the true cost of making parts, meaning those operations are less likely to take on work that ends up costing them in the long run, he said.
``It seems like a long trip, getting from here to where you want to be,'' Luria said. ``But there are opportunities based on even incremental improvements.''