DÜSSELDORF, GERMANY — Twenty years ago, Progressive Components International Corp. (Hall 1/E36) introduced its first mechanical mold counter, allowing molders to see exactly how many cycles each mold went through.
With its new CVe Live monitoring system, Progressive is now making it possible to track that data and much more information remotely, in real time.
"Our vision has been that a program manager in Detroit, for example, could be sipping his coffee at his desk on Monday morning, and he can look at his fleet of tools running in different countries and know exactly what's going on," said Progressive President Glenn Starkey during an interview at K 2013 in Düsseldorf.
The monitor is just part of Progressive's intent to close the gaps in communication taking place in an industry that has gone global.
When Progressive first opened, the bulk of the plastics industry was local. A brand owner typically was based in the same region as his molder and his toolmaker — sometimes they were all in the same city. Now each business may be on a different continent. That makes it harder to stay in touch and get day-to-day, or even hour-by-hour, production information, Starkey said.
Even as Progressive's mechanical mold counter became an industry standard, the company has continued to push for ways to get more information out of the mold during production and get it to the people who need it more quickly.
Today's CVe monitor can report cycle time and the number of cycles. An embedded flash drive allows the mold maker to install all vital information such as mold design and maintenance requirements, directly on the mold for easy access. The monitor also fits into the same space as a mechanical counter, making it easy to retrofit into older molds.
And with the addition of real-time monitoring, mold owners can see production details that are updated every minute, so they know that molders are following the operating guidelines that both firms agreed upon in the production contract, while molders can also assure their customers that everything is on pace.
"It's all about transparency for an [original equipment manufacturer] to know what his fleet is doing and that the maintenance that is agreed upon is taking place," he said. "If FedEx didn't have the mindset of tracking everything, there would be a lot of trucks on the side of the road with their hoods up."
The mold-making industry has its roots in craftsmanship, where each individual tool was a unique piece of production, relying on one person to oversee nearly its entire manufacturing. But that outlook is not a sustainable business model anymore.
The best toolmakers, Starkey said, embrace both the skill set of the craftsman and the reliability of automation and computerized design and manufacturing. To compete, they must work with their customers to create more capable molds and institute ways to ensure they continue to meet required guidelines.
"What we're working on, what our passion is, between the four companies [of Progressive], is to drive the advancements, to shift this paradigm faster," Starkey said. "Those that embrace change are the ones that are evolving faster than those with the old mentality."
In addition to the advancements within CVe, Progressive is expanding its services.
Its ToolingDocs group, which operates training programs for mold maintenance, has started offering certification training in Mexico, Canada and Europe.
"Having just completed some training in Ireland, we're seeing the need in this region for comprehensive mold-maintenance training programs that will advance companies' capacities for maintaining their fleet of tools," said Randy Winton, ToolingDocs global assessment manager.
The company recently completed a training session in Toluca, Mexico, and plans to have another in the area in 2014.
Progressive's Roehr Tool Corp. also recently expanded into Europe, hiring Carlos Saboga as its European technical sales manager. He will be based in Marinha Grande, Portugal.