RIVERSIDE, CALIF. (Sept. 19, 2:45 p.m. ET) — Custom injection molder AMA Plastics Inc. has boosted efficiency and capabilities with new quarters — a 150,000-square-foot building in Riverside, with wide aisles, automated systems and a 6,000-square-foot area being certified as a clean room.
The 40-year-old company moved, with incentives, in March from its leased, 90,000-square-foot home of 16 years in Corona, Calif., after an 18-month search for available space in Corona, Norco and Riverside and as far away as Nevada and Mexico, CEO Mark Atchison said during a plant visit.
AMA paid $7.1 million for the Riverside plant and 6.6 acres in Hunter Industrial Park, and also has invested about $3 million in infrastructure and improvements, including the expandable 6,000-square-foot area approaching certification as a Class 100,000 clean room for medical work. Ten Toyos operate in that space, which can accommodate 16 presses. At Corona, AMA had a 1,500-square-foot white room.
New equipment at the plant includes a Dell R710 computer system; Novatec vacuum material-conveying equipment; a Thermal Care water-cooling tower; Advantage, AEC and Sterlco chillers; and several overhead cranes.
AMA relocated injection molding presses, tooling equipment, four resin silos and quality-control equipment. The firm operates 78 presses in total, with clamping forces of 35-720 tons. The Toyo brand is on 68, Toshiba on seven large-tonnage presses and Arburg on a two-shot 240-ton multibarrel unit acquired in early 2010. A second Arburg two-shot press should be operational by the end of this year.
“We could go to about 100 presses in our footprint,” Atchison said.
The firm has a Yushin robot on almost every press. Most are hybrid servo-pneumatic units or pneumatic sprue pickers, but 35 percent have full-servo take-out capability. AMA intends to buy only full-servo robots in the future, he said.
In addition to the clean room, AMA uses about 80,000 square feet of its new plant for molding, 50,000 for warehousing, 8,000 for tool maintenance, repair and engineering changes and 6,000 for offices.
AMA bought the building from Atlanta-based Oakmont Industrial Group, which in 2008 constructed it as a high-ceiling distribution-type warehouse. AMA completed purchase arrangements in September.
As constructed, the building had 32 loading dock doors. AMA kept 12 doors, replaced the remainder with windows and used the interior space for production offices, an employee lunchroom and quality control functions using three Mitutoyo coordinate measuring machines — a programmable computer-numerical-control Bright and two manual 321s — and SmartScope FDV and MVP devices.
Bill Carteaux, CEO of the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc. in Washington, called the setup “modern, state-of-the-art and well-conceived.”
“I particularly noticed how well-designed the clean room is and how they had the foresight to leave room for future clean room expansion,” he said.
AMA employs about 150 in permanent positions — average tenure 13 years — and another 150 people in temporary positions. The company had sales of about $50 million for the fiscal year ended Aug. 31, 2010, and projects almost the same for its current fiscal year.
With 24/7 full-service operations, AMA primarily makes consumer products of which one-half have cosmetic finishes; industrial hardware such as pump housings and filters; and noninvasive medical and pharmaceutical components including disposables. Other products include eyewear, hydration packs and audio and automotive speaker components. The move required multiple part recertifications.
East Coast or Midwest customers account for about 12 percent of the business, said AMA President Cheryl Buhler, and jobs being moved to the U.S. from Asia represent at least another 10 percent.
New U.S. customers are establishing West Coast distribution centers often involving large-press plastic products, Buhler said, and the Asia movement reflects freight, distance and raw-material-evaluation issues.
“Sixty percent of our parts are sent across the [Mexican] border for assembly and then shipped back to the [U.S.] states” as finished goods, Atchison said.
In November 2008, CEO Atchison ceded his title of president to Buhler and named Ken Pravitz general manager. Buhler joined AMA in 1999 as vice president of sales and marketing. Pravitz came aboard in 2002 as process engineering manager.
Industry veteran Pravitz infused AMA with his enthusiasm for decoupled molding practices from RJG Inc. The process engineering and training firm certified Pravitz in 2003 as a Master Molder III allowing him to teach the process to AMA engineers and technicians. So far, four process engineers and the third-shift supervisor have achieved Master Molder I status.
AMA acquired several portable RJG eDart data manager systems. “This allows us to view and monitor data using our decoupled molding protocol in real time.” Pravitz said. For the long term, “we are looking into ways to incorporate this data into our IQMS” enterprise-resource-planning system. The Dell system has a virtual server environment that runs an IQMS-based Oracle software system.
AMA made molds in the past, still owns the equipment and, in the toolroom, employs 12 on two shifts. Eight are qualified mold makers. But the firm maintains a 15-year relationship with an unidentified Taiwan-based mold maker with operations in mainland China that fulfills about 80 percent of AMA's mold-building requirements. Domestic toolmakers account for the rest.
In 2010, Riverside County approved $2 million in assistance to the company. AMA received a $1 million 10-year 4 percent loan and $1 million that will be reduced by $200,000 per year during the first five years as long as the firm maintains, and adds to, its employment base. Also, the City of Riverside Public Utilities department authorized a power rate discount — possibly worth $500,000 — for the first two years of AMA operations in the municipality.
SPM Inc. veterans Joe and Jim Atchison, Mark's father and uncle, respectively, established the business in 1971 as MoldTronics Inc. in Anaheim, Calif. The AMA identity was adopted in 1975 when Howard Mullin joined and stands for Atchison-Mullin-Atchison. The business was sold to an employee group led by Mark Atchison in 1993. Joe Atchison died in November 2008 at age 77, and Jim Atchison died in January 2011 at age 75. AMA maintains a vendor relationship with Mullin.
From 1993-2001, AMA operated a Tucson, Ariz., plant that ultimately closed and consolidated in Corona in the wake of the 9-11 attacks and subsequent economic slowdown.
In December 2008, Atchison introduced an employee stock ownership plan enabling regular workers to obtain an equity interest in AMA. The ESOP implementation involves one-third of AMA ownership including the building and is moving through the vesting process now.