Amros Industries Inc. is manufacturing an adjustable bathtub protector used by construction crews to protect a new tub during installation in what President Gregory Shteyngarts thinks could be the largest part made by in-line thermoforming.
Amros officials say the tub protector is an example of the Cleveland thermoformer's ability to make challenging, value-added thin-gauge parts. Amros forms it from 20-mil sheet made from recycled low density polyethylene. The finished part measures 46 inches wide by 60 inches long.
The bathtub protector, designed as a single-use product for construction workers, is highly engineered, with a bellows-type design so it can be extended downward to fit tubs of different depths.
Shteyngarts said the draw of the part as it comes out of the machine is 4 inches. But its fluted design means the protector can be expanded to nearly 18 inches deep, so it can fit any size of mass-produced bathtubs. It's a complex part. It's a deep draw for this size of a part, he said.
The customer is plumbing products supplier Oatey Co., located in Cleveland, just a mile or so away from Amros' plant.
A series of molded-in dimples and ribs provide additional protection against dropped tools, which can damage a bathtub during installation. That's a costly problem because the contractor has to replace a damaged tub.
Amros designed and built the mold for the new Oatey multisize tub protector, which replaces an earlier rigid one that was made in several sizes to fit each size of tub. Now the wholesalers and retailers that are Oatey's customers only need to carry one stock-keeping unit of protector, giving them a savings, too, said Dennis Nagy, Oatey product manager. The protectors nest together well, so they don't take up a lot of space at the store.
At the end of the day, there's a lot of value here, Nagy said.
For Amros, the bathtub protector is an important part of its ongoing diversification. Amros serves a variety of markets, including construction and plumbing, medical/pharmaceutical, automotive and retail packaging. The retail side is still important, but for a small thermoformer with one plant, the movement of many consumer products to China means less work.
We are trying to get as much as possible of the industrial stuff, instead of just the retail products, Shteyngarts said.
According to Plastics News' thermoformers ranking, Amros employs 23, running 22 thermoforming machines 15 of them Drypolls. The company generated $4.6 million of sales for the fiscal year ended March 31, 2010.
Shteyngarts and operations Vice President Angie Helcbergier outlined Amros' strategy in a recent interview at the 65,000-square-foot Cleveland plant.
They gave an update on efforts to commercialize Amros' real-time production monitoring and control system. Shteyngarts recently received a patent for the data-management system for manufacturing. Next, he wants to retain programmers to update the computer language, with the goal of marketing the system for thermoforming, injection molding and other factory processes.
Shteyngarts, a self-described computer freak, developed the computerized production system in 2003. Before this, it was all on paper, he recalled. We had three or four people spending maybe a full day on Monday, on this. Helcbergier can do it now in about five minutes a day.
This includes inventory and production control, including scheduling and prioritizing jobs, figuring out which machine to run a part on, deciding how many employees are needed and when to buy more material.
Using past experience with a job, the computer program recommends the best machine and gives setup parameters. The real-time system updates production in all machines, color-coded to flag any jobs that will miss the due date. It automatically lengthens or shortens the time for completing a production run if the machine is running slower or faster than normal.
Every cycle it changes, he said. If the machine stops running for more than 15 minutes, the monitoring system blinks, and the system forces you to input what caused the problem. Was it a machine problem? A problem with the mold?
So for each job, you know how long the machine was down and what was the reason, Shteyngarts said. You are getting a history of the stoppages. You are getting tons of information.
The software calculates the financial impact of a project. It constantly updates whether the company is making money, or losing it.
Helcbergier said a quick glance at the computer screen tells her how much material is in stock, and whether she has to order more. The system also helps Amros quickly put together quotes.
Shteyngarts used to do all the quoting in his head. So finally we decided, let's put everything in the computer, all in one program, he said.
Drypoll machines are no longer being produced. But Shteyngarts, a mechanical engineer, loves the in-line formers, which he said are well-made and work well with Amros-designed automation. The company upgrades the controls.
People know who to call when one of the machines comes up for sale. Greg is known as the Drypoll King, Helcbergier quipped.