Precise Technology Inc. is focusing on speed to boost its long-term prospects in the mold-making business.
For its newest facility in the Chicago suburb of Buffalo Grove - a site once home to injection molder Courtesy Corp. - North Versailles, Pa.-based Precise set aside part of the mold production site to meet a specific business demand: helping get products to market faster.
``All of our customers kept telling us they needed to mold faster, they needed the tooling faster, they needed everything faster,'' said Gary Abraham, vice president of mold manufacturing for Precise, in an interview at the Buffalo Grove facility.
In response, the firm developed FasTrack, a group with a need for speed.
``We've got all this technology, all this engineering with the idea being to get the job done in the best time,'' Abraham said.
The changing mold-building business is prompting players like Precise to seek out angles that will give them a business edge. Every company must find ways to compete if it wants to do well in the long run, said Matt Coffey, president of the Fort Washington, Md.-based National Tooling & Machining Association.
``It's all being driven by the customers, what their preferences are, what they want,'' he said. ``Of course you've got to pay attention to your processes at the same time, so you don't forget what's important.''
FasTrack is more than just a marketing angle, Abraham said.
The company has set aside about 15 percent of its floor space in Buffalo Grove for the project. Equipment is designated in that area only for the revved-up production. Twelve skilled mold makers are assigned solely to the program in shifts operating around the clock.
``There are 24 hours a day, and we're going to use 24 hours a day, not 10,'' Abraham said.
The company has invested in updated software to boost design and increase automation capacity, according to David Rentsch, plant manager of mold manufacturing. Precise installed a Mikron high-speed machining center that would allow the operation to bypass some electric discharge machining and polishing.
Robotic pallet changes allow the group to process three to four times as much work as they used to process in the same time frame.
Employees selected for FasTrack are not necessarily the fastest at any particular element of production or on any one machine, he said. Instead the company looked for people who were flexible enough to work on multiple stages at any point in the process.
``It's all about keeping the mold moving from job to job,'' Abraham said.
Precise now quotes on molds using FasTrack that can offer a 20 percent improvement in delivery time, with no drop in quality, he said. Rentsch said the crew delivered one tool in 14 working days.
``If you say you're going to focus on delivery, then you've got to have the ability to back that up,'' Abraham said.
As the team has built its experience during the year since the program launched, it also has steadily improved its speed, Rentsch added.
``You can fine-tune the procedures to move things through even faster,'' he said.
And while speed is the point of FasTrack, the company also can reduce the sheer number of expensive work hours on each tool by the mere fact that it is moving through the pipeline faster.
``We can't compete with China's labor rates, but we can focus on delivery time, and that does reduce labor costs,'' Rentsch said.
The bulk of the tool work has been for customers in the medical, packaging and consumer industries areas. The team has built molds for prototypes, as well as tools intended for anything from limited runs to long-term use, Rentsch said.
The process is working so well, Precise plans to change its mold manufacturing facility in Pittsburgh into a FasTrack setup based on the Buffalo Grove model, even as the company continues introducing customers to the concept.
In May, the company hosted visits from 40 customers to give them a chance to see what Precise could do.
``In a time where much of the industry is concentrating on China, Precise has invested here in the U.S., in facilities, technology and its people,'' said spokesman Bob Schiavone.