If you are unsure whether it is worth the money to invest in new equipment to automate your molding operations, consider this: upgrading your shop floor can help convince your customers to send business your way.
``When potential customers see [our automation], they see us as more than just another injection molder,'' said Jim Brogden, president and chief executive officer of custom molder Master Industries Inc. of Piqua, Ohio.
Investing in new equipment, robotics and manufacturing systems is not cheap, but it can pay off in the long run, said participants in a panel discussion on productivity improvements May 24 at Plastics Encounter in Indianapolis.
Master Industries has developed a team of automation experts by tapping employees who understand how the company molds parts and who can visualize ways to improve the production, he said.
The technology allows the company to keep a handle on operational costs by letting machines do more. That may not interest a customer seeking only the lowest cost per part, but it does draw those companies that want to integrate something beyond the raw components.
``If they want more in terms of industrial design and product design that uses injection molding, they see a sense of value,'' Brogden said.
E.D. Bullard Co., a Cynthiana, Ky., molder of safety products, invested $5 million to upgrade its operations, shifting from hand assembly to automation.
The firm retrained workers with a pledge made five years ago that no regular, full-time employee would be laid off because of the automation investment, said Robert Collett, human resources director.
Employees went along with the changes, he said, and the company now has an updated manufacturing floor that has seen capacity climb more than 25 percent.
Robots and other automation systems that handle routine jobs free employees to do what they can do best, said Robert Elliot automation manager for Tasus Corp.
That means the Bloomington, Ind., auto supplier can put more effort into ensuring bad parts do not make it out the door, Elliot said, and that keeps customers happy.
``I prefer to have the operator responsible for inspecting the final part, not just manufacturing,'' he said.