Sterling Heights, Mich. — Mold trials have been a successful niche for Plastic Molding Development Inc. for 33 years.
The company brings in injection molds from around the world and tests them in its bright, modern factory in Sterling Heights, near Detroit. The company has 10 presses, ranging from 170- 3,300 tons of clamping force, and 25 skilled employees, most with years of molding expertise.
All the major automakers are PMD customers, and many Tier 1 suppliers, too.
Through the decades, President Gary Kitts has seen some major changes in the automotive tooling and molding sectors. Today, more tooling is made in China, for example, and more molding is done in places like Mexico and South Carolina. Although he's quick to point out that there's still plenty of mold making in the United States and Canada, too.
Lately he's been seeing another change, too: a growing interest in Industry 4.0.
"The quality of the process is quite amazing," Kitts said. He estimated that 40-50 percent of his customers are implementing, or already using, Industry 4.0 technology. "It is real," he said.
Kitts sees a few advantages to Industry 4.0. First, it helps automotive molders and OEMs achieve ever-higher standards for quality.
Just as important, Kitts said it helps companies keep machines running in an era when far-flung supply chains and a shortage of qualified workers can put a strain on injection molders.
"They can troubleshoot and diagnose a machine from a different location. If they can't fix it through the web, they can order parts and send a repair person. It cuts the downtime in half. That's a huge advantage," Kitts said in an interview at the company's headquarters.
To help stay on top of the latest Industry 4.0 technology, PMD recently added four complete work cells, including injection presses, from Wittmann Battenfeld. Two were installed last year, and two more earlier this year: a MacroPower 450XL with 506 tons of clamping force and a SmartPower 350, a 393-tonner.