When it comes time to replace machines, processors want to upgrade their manufacturing facilities without using more of their precious production floor.
For most, it's a matter of maximized space utilization. But for LC Industries Inc., it's also a matter of maintained logistics for the 350 visually impaired and blind employees who are part of the 750-person workforce.
Originally named Lions Club Industries for the Blind Inc. after the civic group that founded the nonprofit corporation in 1936, LCI is one of the largest U.S. employers of people who are blind. Based in Durham, N.C., the company has seven manufacturing divisions, including one that produces plastic products ranging from desk accessories to mop parts with an extruder, a 30-year-old blow molding machine and 20 injection molding presses.
Called the Improved B30, the decades-old blow molder makes five-gallon high density polyethylene water jugs for LCI's 35 retail outlets and online store.
Company officials visited NPE2018 in Orlando, Fla., to find a replacement for the old press. They said it was just as important to grab a tape measure as the checkbook in their effort to boost output in a compact space at their plant in Hazelhurst, Miss.
"There are many ways we outfit our facilities for safety," LCI Chief Operating Officer Patrick Lindsey said in a phone interview. "The more we can keep the same footprint for a machine, the better it is. Then we don't have to reconfigure anything, and our employees don't have to learn a new layout of the facility."
LCI found a machine that measures up to its performance and space needs in the Mini Hercules, an 8-pound shot size, single-head system for small industrial applications built by Graham Engineering Corp. in York, Pa. The sale of the machine "came out of the blue," Gina Haines, Graham's vice president and chief marketing officer, told Plastics News.
"They were pulling a tape [measure] on it and talking back to their factory to be positive it would fit in exactly the same footprint. It did, so we were in good shape," Haines said of the machine that measures 15 feet by 11 feet and is 15 feet high.
A couple other considerations gave Graham and its Mini Hercules an edge, Lindsey said, pointing to years of service and support on the B30, which Graham also built, and a faster cycle time that will allow LCI to produce 40 containers an hour.
"Last year we produced about 50,000 5-gallon water cans out of our B30," Lindsey said. "With this one, we should be up to the 75,000-100,000-capability range. We have multiple buyers: No. 1 is the federal Department of Defense. Look on the back of every military Humvee and you see two cans: a 5-gallon fuel can and the 5-gallon water can."
LC also sells the drinking water jugs, which come in olive green or tan color, through military base stores and online for about $24.
"Our can is the heaviest duty can on the market," Lindsey said. "There are YouTube videos of guys jumping up and down on it. Hunters and outdoorsmen use them for all sorts of activities. Some rig them up in a tree, put a spout on them and use them for showers."