Information - exactly what you should measure and how not to get buried in numbers - was the main focus of the Society of Plastics Engineers' injection molding conference, held Oct. 11-12 in Cleveland.
Several speakers hammered home one key point: Molders must monitor mold-cavity pressure and temperature, then feed the data back to the injection molding machine. The 50 attendees at the conference also heard a lot about Six Sigma and lean manufacturing.
Rodney Groleau said success today is about more than new presses and new resins. ``Understand data. Understand how to use statistics to better run your business,'' said Groleau, founder and chairman of RJG Inc. of Traverse City, Mich.
His firm promotes measuring and analyzing information about plastic inside each mold. That way, a mold can be moved to factories in any location around the world.
Groleau's keynote speech was called ``Survive and Thrive in the New Global Economy.'' He encouraged molding officials to go to the K show this month in Germany and to visit China. ``Get out of your daily life and move,'' he said.
He noted that quite a few big U.S. molders have closed or been absorbed into other companies. But the answer is to think in new ways, not to run and hide, he said.
China, Groleau said, is not content with commodity molding. The country's plastics industry is automating. ``They want to leapfrog that and they want to be the best,'' he said.
``China's out to capture this industry. They make no bones about it,'' Groleau said. ``And our government has no strategy for protecting us.''
He listed several actions U.S. molders can take. One is to develop a business model that honestly evaluates their core competencies. ``You can't kid yourself here. If you don't have one, you're in trouble,'' Groleau said.
Peter Lipp, national sales manager for Krauss-Maffei Corp.'s injection press division, advised molders to reduce parts of the process that are hard to control, by adding robots and closed-loop control. Then use inline control and monitoring.
``To be competitive in the market today and fight these [overseas] suppliers, we have to be low-cost and high-quality,'' said Lipp, who is chairman of SPE's Injection Molding Division.
Krauss-Maffei is based in Florence, Ky.
Implementing Six Sigma and cavity-pressure monitoring will reduce manufacturing costs, said Brendan Cahill, engineering consultant with Plastics Technology Group of Arlington, Va.
``You need to make sure that you create a data-driven decision-making process,'' Cahill said.
Cahill conducts continuous-improvement projects at client factories. They include designing an experiments stage, cavity-pressure monitoring, even interviewing employees. He pushes better collection of information. But he cautioned that today's technology can flood users in Excel spreadsheets.
``Make sure you avoid data saturation,'' Cahill said.
Cahill also advocates employee training. Plant-floor workers understand problems better than management, in many cases. ``Once they see you're doing [continuous improvement] and it's working, it's like a drug and they just want more and more and more,'' he said.
Priamus System Technologies LLC's vision is to create a single control system that marries mold-cavity pressure and temperature, said Susan Montgomery, president of the Brunswick, Ohio-based unit of the Swiss company. ``That's what we're working toward,'' she said.
Cavity pressure is still the most important factor to optimize the molding process, Montgomery said. But temperature control is important for the fine details of a plastic part, she added.
At K 2004, Priamus will introduce a real-time, Ethernet-based process-monitoring system, run by a signal conditioning unit called eDAQ that controls things like injection valves and sequential valve gates.
Delphi Corp. is analyzing the Priamus Fill system for balancing hot runners in its new molding plant in Vienna Township, near Warren, Ohio. The part is a tiny, thin strap that gets even thinner at the end.
The part is hard to fill, said Charles Mansfield, supervisor of injection molding technology at Delphi Package Electric in Warren. Delphi put temperature sensors right at the thin end and ran tests. The company has concluded the system could be valuable for high-cavity molds, although the technology by itself is ``not a silver bullet,'' Mansfield said.
In his presentation, Mansfield outlined how Delphi set up integrated mold manufacturing. ``We like to tie all the peripheral equipment into the machine control,'' he said, because that allows the injection press to react to variables quickly. Delphi uses its own custom hardware and software.
Mansfield described how Delphi has error-proofed the process at two plants, in Vienna Township and a 3-year old plant in nearby Cortland, Ohio. Technicians run the design of experiments on every single mold, then download the result - dubbed ``the golden recipe'' - into the machine. The machine cannot operate unless the recipe is adhered to, which stops employees from tinkering with the setup.
Delphi also carefully controls myriad materials through bar coding.
As a result, Mansfield said, quality is way up and customer complaints are way down.