By taking a focused approach, using automation wisely and employing an efficient plant layout, molders can win in the tough global marketplace, according to speakers at a Husky Injection Molding Systems Ltd. open house April 13.
Jack Avery, manager of operational assets at GE Plastics in Pittsfield, Mass., warned processors not to try to be all things to all customers. Instead, they should focus on areas of expertise, he said.
``We all have to pick the battles we want to play in, and know where we want to go, where we want to compete,'' he said.
Avery said molders should be open to partnerships or joint ventures with other companies.
``That's a good way to get into a new market, into a new country, a lot quicker with a lot less potential for failure,'' he said.
Avery ran down a list of major changes affecting industry, such as the dot-com bust, recession, terrorism and globalization. High energy costs are pushing resin prices higher just as processors start to recover.
Avery also outlined technologies molders can use to add value, such as coinjection molding, multimaterial molding, insert molding, low-pressure molding and micromolding. Europe is the leading region for multimaterial molding, also known as overmolding, with a 65 percent share of the world total. North America trails at just 10 percent, but the process is growing here.
Molders have to set up their plants efficiently, said Mike Gould, vice president of Husky's Factory Planning Group. Instead of simply running the machines nonstop, the goal should be tying production directly to demand. ``Everything you make you want to sell, and sell as fast as you can,'' he said.
Operations are speeding up, and Gould said standardization of equipment is important. In auto molding, he said, the benchmark is less than 10 minutes to change a mold on a large-tonnage press.
Processors also should take advantage of technology already on their presses. For example, Gould said some Husky press owners keep the on-board statistical process control package turned off.
``It's awareness, training and discipline to do it again and again and again,'' he said. ``And that's where the Japanese are very strong in manufacturing. They have the discipline.''
Most people think automation means simply a robot, but James Rodrigues, team leader for application engineering in Husky's Automated Systems Group, reviewed several different types of technology. One unidentified Husky customer uses a Swing-Chute mounted on the machine, to remove parts with hinged lids, like wipe boxes, and mechanically close the lids before they are dropped down to a parts-handling system. The customer, which competed against foreign manufacturers, was able to lower labor costs and improve quality.
Other examples include a lid to a baby food jar that integrates plastic and metal parts, produced on an automated work cell, and the use of Husky's Index PET preform machine to mold thick-wall cosmetic jars.
Paul Gelardi, who represents German robot maker Hekuma GmbH, said customers want molders to link upstream and downstream work with the molding machine, adding steps like product filling and surface finishing.
Without automation, molders could not do in-mold labeling, link several molding presses into a single work cell or integrate in-line operations, said Gelardi, president of Hekuma's U.S. agent, E Media of Kennebunk, Maine.
Husky, based in Bolton, Ontario, said 130 people attended the open house for its Westford technical center.