GERMANTOWN, WIS. — Custom injection molder Plastic Components Inc. is doubling the space at its “lights-out” molding facility in Germantown.
The innovative plant has 10 presses that run 24-hours, seven days a week with very little human intervention. Except for occasional mold changes and maintenance, typically one employee visits the plant each day for about 30 minutes to load resin and ship finished goods.
The plant literally runs with the lights out nearly all the time.
“We're going to push this model. It's been very successful the last five years,” said Ryan Duffey, PCI's vice president.
PCI opened the plant, which is just down the road from its headquarters factory, in 2011. At the time, it had four all-electric Toyo presses, each with 55 tons of clamping force.
Now the plant has 10 identical Toyos. And while the existing 15,000-square-foot space still has room for 10 more machines, Duffey and his father — owner and President Tom Duffey — decided to expand it now so it will have room for up to 40 presses.
With the expansion, the plant will be just shy of 40,000 square feet. PCI expects construction to be completed by the end of the year.
PCI is spending $1.85 million on the building, not including any new equipment.
In the past few months PCI has added two full molding cells, an investment of about $1 million. And within the next five months, the lights-out plant will add two or three additional Toyos.
PCI's headquarters plant is more like a typical custom molder — heavy on automation, staffed by process engineers, quality auditors and material handlers, with a traditional layout. But that facility is completely full, there's no room for new equipment. So PCI is depending on lights-out molding for its next phase of growth.
PCI expects to post sales of about $25 million or $26 million this year, and $30 million next year.
“Our goal in the next two to three years is to expand this [lights-out plant] to its fullest effective potential,” Tom Duffey said. “At full capacity, we can get to $40 million in annual sales.”
Lights-out molding isn't appropriate for every job. Ryan Duffey said it works best for orders that need to run at high volumes, about 2,000 hours per year or more.
“Those are the parts that are in our sweet spot,” Tom Duffey said.
Ryan Duffey said customers are enthusiastic about the concept.
“Customers want to do business with suppliers who are pushing the envelope, investing in technology. They want to be part of that,” Ryan Duffey said.
PCI opened its doors to the molding community on Aug. 6 for a plant tour sponsored by the Indianapolis-based Manufacturers Association for Plastics Processors (MAPP). While a tour of the lights-out factory was a highlight, Tom Duffey made sure to put the entire project in context, and explain how PCI got to the point where it can do so much automated production.
PCI relies heavily on RJG's eDart process control technology to run its presses without frequent human intervention, but Tom Duffey said the company owes just as much credit to its employees as to the technology.
“RJG was the final piece of that puzzle,” he said. A key is the company's mix of “wily veterans” and “young guns” who have an “of course we can do that” attitude, Tom Duffey said.
Duffey specifically credited another innovative new business for the growth that's helping to fill the new lights-out facility: the Engineering Resource Center, a project that started in 2012 to build prototype molds for PCI.
The center now is a separate business — owned by Ryan Duffey — that makes molds for PCI and for other injection molders, both captive and custom.
ERC started when PCI's customers said they needed more engineering support — not a typical offering for a high-volume, close tolerance specialist like PCI.
Tom Duffey said some of the projects that ERC helped get off the ground are now reaching volume levels that will lend themselves to lights-out molding.
“This is an approach that works perfectly,” Tom Duffey said.
ERC has helped PCI recruit new customers and give them a “good first experience” with the molder.
ERC is expanding, now, too. Within a few weeks, it will add a 55-ton Toyo press that it will use for new mold tryouts.
“We want to have the ability to do everything under one roof, and not rely on PCI for press time,” Ryan Duffey said.