Building upon its longtime strategy of improving speed-to-market times, GW Plastics Inc. expanded and upgraded its Process Development and Training Center in Royalton, Vt., to develop and debug entire manufacturing cells.
The Bethel, Vt.-based contract manufacturer opened the center in 1998 to test new molds and develop production processes in a dedicated facility rather than a production facility, which interrupts plant operations and causes backlogs.
Twenty years later, the privately held company has invested nearly another $1 million in two new hybrid electric injection molding machines that will be equipped with six-axis integrated robots for part removal as well as a classroom training area for interactive scientific molding.
Company officials said the center can now fully service GW engineering departments in the development and qualification phases for entire manufacturing cells made up of machines, molds and automation. The finished cells are then delivered to GW production facilities as completely automated systems.
When new molds arrive, technicians simply duplicate the work of the Royalton center rather than develop a process from scratch. This reduces downtime for production machines and that increases speed to market.
Founded in 1955, GW Plastics manufactures complex thermoplastic and silicone components and assemblies for customers in the health care, automotive, consumer and industrial markets.
In addition to the two Vermont sites, GW Plastics has production facilities in San Antonio; Tuscon, Ariz.; Sligo, Ireland; Dongguan, China; and Querétaro, Mexico. All produce some health care products.
With annual sales of $165.5 million, up from $153.2 million the previous year, GW Plastics ranks 57th among injection molders in North America, according to Plastics News' latest ranking.
The business is one of only eight companies in the world to be certified as a mold tryout facility by RJG Inc., which is based in Traverse City, Mich. The processor earned the distinction in 2012 after meeting equipment and training requirements based on systematic and scientific principles that enable molds to perform at the highest level possible. The training involves analyzing in-mold data — pressures, flow rates, balance and cooling rates — for problem solving instead of trial and error.
Within 24 hours of completion, new molds are sent to the development center, where the company has regularly invested in electric molding machines and press-side and secondary automation for developing production processes for them. Many processes include automation with high-speed robots picking parts out of molds or handling secondary operations like pad printing, assembly, laser marking and component testing.
The center's two new injection molding machines have hydraulic tie-barless clamping systems and are outfitted with pneumatic and hydraulic valve gate controls, three hydraulic core pulls and 16 zone integrated hot runner controls.
Over the last two decades, GW Plastics says it has invested about $5 million into the facility and helped leading medical device and automotive OEMs expedite programs for advanced surgical instruments, safety restraint systems and fuel systems.
The ability to qualify new programs in a nonproduction environment using dedicated equipment sets GW Plastics apart from other injection molders and allows customers to cut weeks or months off product launch schedules, according to the company.
The center also serves as an incubation site for new technologies, including the company's affiliate, GW Silicones, which started there and then moved to its own dedicated facility on the Royalton campus.
In addition, the center acts as the company's educational hub. GW Plastics offers RJG injection molding courses for employees and customers, including workshops on injection molding essentials, systematic molding and decoupled molding. The classes also allow collaboration and troubleshooting of new and existing programs.
GW Plastics conducts Master Molder certification training internally for employees. All process engineers carry industry certifications at the center, which employs three Master Molders and a certified molding engineer from the American Injection Molding Institute.
Every GW Plastics production facility also has at least one RJG-certified Master Molder on staff to act as a liaison between the Royalton center and the production facility. When a manufacturing plant receives a new mold and process documentation, the Master Molders duplicate the process in their own facility and equipment.