When Progressive Components International Corp. launched its business — 22 years to the day before the opening day of NPE2012 — business relations in the plastics industry followed a reliable pattern.
Back then, said Progressive's Glenn Starkey, when a company like Motorola Inc. needed plastics parts for a new product, it would contract with an injection molder located near its suburban Chicago operations.
That injection molder would, in turn, work with a toolmaker somewhere nearby.
Today, parts might come from Mexico with a mold produced in Taiwan and a product assembled in China and eventually sent for sale in the U.S.
“Ironically, the three companies — brand owner, molder and mold maker — had better communications 20 years ago than they do now after the so-called ‘communications revolution,' “ said Starkey, Progressive president and director of engineering and sales.
And after years of watching the various parts of the industry growing apart, Progressive and its business units are creating new links to bring the various levels of the supply chain back together so each one can improve production.
At this year's NPE in Orlando, Progressive and its companies hosted some of their customers to show how those firms use Progressive Components.
Well beyond the show floor, Progressive specialists went on calls with their customers' customers to help explain to them how to get the most out of new technology.
Working together early in the product development process, an expert on AST Technology GmbH's CVe system, for instance, can help explain the benefits of real-time monitoring built into the mold; or Roehr Tool Corp. can talk about a collapsible core technology compared to a standard unscrewing mold, Starkey said.
As the industry recovers from the combined shocks of offshoring mold making to lower-cost regions, and a global economic recession, the plastics business is showing signs of improvement, Starkey said. Those emerging companies are finding that the best way to survive for future challenge is to change the way business is run while also collaborating. Companies that had looked solely toward the least expensive option have found there is more value in investing upfront in design, production and collaboration to have a better end product.
AST Technology, a Progressive business based in Herford, Germany, developed Program Watch to provide the brand owner with information to ensure that a program is on target for production, performance and maintenance.
Installing AST's CVe monitor system in the mold, in tandem with its Spec implementation program and OnDemand software, can seamlessly track production and email a snapshot of the tools to the brand owner.
“It places critical mold data at the [original equipment manufacturer's] fingertips to ensure molding programs are running at optimum levels,” said Philip Par- menter, AST managing director.
Progressive Components also announced other new products at NPE2012:
* Within Progressive's Roehr Tool, the new ProtoBridge tool was designed to help mold makers and OEMs reduce product development costs.
The ProtoBridge is a pre-engineered, four-cavity mold system using Roehr's Dove Tail collapsible cores to develop caps and closures with internal undercuts. The system can be converted from one part design to another, saving time in development. It can also be reused without a dedicated mold base.
The ProtoBridge is available for sale or rent, with two sizes to cover cap and closure part diameters from five-eighths of an inch to 2 inches.
* Progressive Components — the original unit that opened for business 22 years ago — has launched the Z Series of alignment locks. The Z Series is capable of standing up to tool use and abuse, thanks to a combination of geometry, materials and treatments.
“A lab we use for independent testing has what we refer to as the ‘side lock eating machine,'” said Ken Rumore from Progressive's engineering team. Rumore co-authored the patent on the Z Series along with Starkey. “Anything that is thrown at it gets chewed up and spit out. But this series … remains unscathed in the harshest environment that was created.”
* At the same time companies are investing in technology, there are increased requirements for automation and lean manufacturing from the men and women on the floor. Progressive's ToolingDocs business unit maintains a focus on training the workers who keep those tools operating at peak efficiency.
ToolingDocs has training programs for tooling repair workers and toolroom management as well as software to log repairs on tools — so companies do not have to guess at when a tool needs regular maintenance.
“People come to ToolingDocs for training and how they can bring their toolroom up to world-class standards,” Starkey said. “The trend now is moving away from the ‘black magic' craftsman who could fix anything in a jam to more interest in proactive and certified technicians maintaining a fleet of tools just like an airline maintains its fleet of planes.”