Custom injection molder AMA Plastics Inc. of Riverside, Calif., has added solar power, an automation department and substantial warehouse upgrades.
In an energy investment during 2015, AMA installed a 1.2-megawatt solar power system that became operational Jan. 1. So far, the array appears to be reducing power costs by 10 to 15 percent as well as gaining tax advantages, said CEO Mark Atchison.
The 3,576 solar panels cover the entire roof of the 150,000-square-foot AMA facility.
In September 2015, AMA formed the automation department, now employing five, to establish six-axis-driven robotic cells for part handling and assembly solutions.
“We have deployed eight robotic cells and are on track to deploy another 10,” Atchison said. “The main reason is to control quality” along with driving year-to-year productivity improvements and labor reductions. AMA has seen a 9 percent improvement in annual productivity.
Movable from job to job, the cells from Fanuc Corp., Epson Robots and Universal Robots A/S represent AMA's effort to achieve the next level of cost management for its operations.
In addition, AMA operates about 80 end-of-arm robots on most of its injection molding machines from Toyo, Toshiba and Arburg.
In the storage investment, “we did a major warehouse project to retain our current footprint and double the density,” Atchison said. All existing racking was removed.
AMA collaborated with the local dealership of a materials handling equipment company for an upgrade of the warehouse layout, by adding a double-deep racking system and four high-lift fork trucks.
As required, AMA can “reshore” work for new and existing customers. That may involve moving AMA-created tools back from China and building new tools in the U.S.
“We've had good things happen,” said Michael Engler, who joined AMA in January 2014.
Engler was appointed president on Jan. 1, succeeding Cheryl Buhler, who retired after 17 years with AMA and continues to maintain some AMA customer relationships.
Jim Hanke joined AMA as the vice president of operations in May 2015, and David Fortezzo was brought on board as business development manager in May 2016.
AMA began using software from IQMS Inc. of Paso Robles, Calif., in 2005 and employs the IQMS enterprise-resource-planning modules for manufacturing, inventory, production and sales functions.
In early 2014 at AMA's request, IQMS began performing annual evaluation assessment audits. Scores have achieved year-over-year improvements.
“The ongoing improvements allow us to manage the work flow better” and have resulted in “significant transactional savings,” Engler said.
In addition to the audits, AMA retains the services of an IQMS coach, Gregg Rabinowitz, who evaluates AMA's progress every six weeks.
In an advance for employees' internal use with a computer tablet or smartphone, AMA utilizes a routinely upgraded comprehensive software application. The app allows for tracking molds and samples, the scientific molding process information for each mold, the lifecycle of new or transferred molds and multiple other data points.
In 2013, AMA developed an app, initially as a search tool for part numbers.
Updated and revised versions of the app allow for monitoring the daily and global status of a project at any point within the product life cycle from validation through production.
AMA has always had the information, but the efficient app saves time for employees in the process, quality, program management, tooling and production functions.
AMA marked its 45th anniversary as a business in June.
Mark's father, Joe, and uncle, Jim Atchison — both veterans of SPM Inc. — established the business in 1971 as MoldTronics Inc. in Anaheim, Calif. The AMA identity was adopted in 1975 when Howard Mullin joined and stands for Atchison-Mullin-Atchison. Joe Atchison died in November 2008 at age 77, and Jim Atchison died in January 2011 at age 75. AMA maintains a vendor relationship with Mullin.
Mark Atchison led an employee group in buying the business in 1993, and he established an employee stock ownership plan in December 2008. The ESOP enables each staff member to obtain an equity interest in the business. AMA has about 500 permanent and temporary employees. Atchison retains 50.1 percent of the ownership.
After many years of leasing space in Corona, Calif., AMA purchased a commercial building on 6.6 acres 20 miles away in Riverside, invested in extensive infrastructure, technical improvements and new equipment and relocated operations in March 2011.
At that time, the medical market accounted for less than 8 percent of the business. Now, medical is 25 percent with that work being done mostly in a Class 8 clean room.
The highest volume at 48 percent involves consumer products. AMA has seen growth in its military and automotive markets.
AMA with sales of an estimated $60 million was 111th in the most recent Plastics News ranking of injection molders.