Plastikos Inc. has picked up a molding job from a big medical device company for a component used in tube-feeding systems for people that cannot eat enough food, known as enteral nutrition.
The part uses some customized automation equipment — part of a $500,000 investment Plastikos has made over the last year in automation and robotic centers throughout its factory in Erie, Pa.
Connectors are the main business for the custom injection molder. But Plastikos has been diversifying into medical. This June, the company opened a 17,000-square-foot expansion that includes Class 10,000 clean rooms for molding, assembly and packaging.
The enteral feeding job is not being made in that new addition, but rather in a smaller clean room fed by three Arburg injection presses. The parts go through a sealed conveyor into the room.
The finished component is a rigid substrate material that is later overmolded with flexible thermoplastic polyurethane. The PU material acts as a sealant when the device is not in use, according to Plastikos. The company did not identify the medical customer.
Plastikos officials said the operation is highly automated. An outside automation house helped Plastikos design a customized device to load the substrate into the second multi-cavity tool and unload the finished parts, said Dan Snyder, technical sales engineer who handles medical business.
The mold is equipped with cavity pressure transducers, which are integrated into the robotic work center — allowing automatic sorting of parts from individual mold cavities, and scrapping any bad parts.
Rob Cooney, Plastikos' manufacturing manager, said linking all the equipment together was a key.
“The real challenge was ensuring all elements of the supply chain were communicating effectively with one another, Cooney said. “We needed to make sure that the robot would fit within the space limitations of the molding machine and complete all phases of loading, unloading and the detection sequence.”
“This new automated manufacturing cell should open the door to other exciting opportunities,” Cooney said.
Cooney said the company is looking to expand automation into areas outside of direct molding, such as packaging, inspection and the handing of raw materials and finished products.
For the big cleanroom addition, Plastikos in late summer added two Arburg injection molding machines, with clamping forces of 88 tons and 220 tons. Snyder said the new clean room area now has five Arburg presses, including the two new ones.
Plastikos' sister company in Erie, Micro Mold Inc., makes molds.
Plastikos President Philip Katen said medical customers say they want molders who can take on advanced manufacturing and assembly work. “Our clean room assembly area within our brand new medical expansion will likely be dedicated towards a range of secondary operations, such as ultrasonic welding, custom labeling and other value-added operations,” he said.