SEATTLE — Freetech Plastics Inc. has invested about $500,000 for another five-axis computer numerically controlled machining center and a facility upgrade.
“The equipment arrived in early August and provides us with new capacity and improvements in throughput and lead times,” said Paul Spaan, sales engineer. Spaan joined Freetech in October after being a Freetech customer for many years.
The Ares model 6018 is the firm's fourth five-axis machining center and, because of its size, increases Freetech's five-axis capacity by about 33 percent. Freetech also operates five three-axis machining centers.
The Ares from CMS SpA of Zogno, Italy, can machine two 7-foot parts simultaneously and is “bigger than anything we ever bought,” said Richard Freeman, CEO and the firm's creative developer of new products.
For the facility upgrade, Freetech converted about 9,000 square feet over six months, bringing the total operational space to 40,000 square feet in two adjacent buildings. One building is used for pressure forming products; the other for molds. It includes a special sprinkler-outfitted area.
“We had some manufacturing constraints — parts keep getting bigger — and we needed capacity to grow,” Freeman said.
“The building had been used for offices, and we opened it up to use for manufacturing and to improve our product flow,” Freeman said. “We doubled the size of our machine and fabrication capabilities for high-end parts.”
Freetech has a history of innovation and began CNC machining parts with advanced equipment in 1982.
“People thought we were advanced with CNC, and it set us apart” in the thermoforming industry, he said. “We have always been lean.” Ongoing efforts draw on employee ideas and the use of Kanban principles of the Toyota Production System.
“Within six months to a year, we should be better organized, leaner and more efficient,” Spaan noted.
Freeman projects 2015 sales in the range of $9 million to $10 million vs. last year's $7.2 million. The firm is certified under ISO 9000-2008 and, since January 2013, under AS 9100 “as Freetech looks at doing more first-class interior aircraft work,” Freeman said.
Freetech, which employs about 40, displayed its capabilities in the design gallery during the Industrial Designers Society of America conference Aug. 19-22 in Seattle. Freeman is chairman of IDSA's Materials and Processes Section.
The Society of Plastics Engineers Thermoforming Division named Freeman as its 2013 Thermoformer of the Year.