Plastics Pipeline

Achieving Zero Defects and 100% Delivery

Posted by Brenda Eubank on Tue. August 2, 2016

Zero_Defects.jpgZero Defects and 100% delivery. Sounds great, right? Two goals to which every business should aspire. But are they achievable goals? And how do you get there?

In his article, “The Quest for Zero Defects,” in Quality Digest Magazine, Mike Richman wrote this about defects:

“Defects. They’re the bane of our existence ... After all, if manufacturing and service processes were immaculate in their natural states, there wouldn’t be much call for ISO standards, Black Belts, metrology equipment, Baldrige awards or statistical process control. That being said, the quest for zero defects can still be considered quality’s Holy Grail. In all industries, defects cost money, waste time and frustrate managers. In some (think pharmaceuticals or medical devices), production errors can cost lives. Everyone can agree that reducing defects is good for business, whatever your business may be.”

So, we’re all in agreement that defects are bad and should be eliminated. But, how does a business achieve zero defects? MindTools.com offered some tips in its article, “Zero Defects: Getting It Right First Time.”

  • Management must commit to zero defects
  • Zero defects require a proactive approach – if you wait for flaws to emerge you are too late
  • Create quality improvement teams
  • Monitor your progress
  • Measure your quality efforts

Team 1 Plastics, a plastic injection molding company for the automotive industry, has implemented these tips in its pursuit of zero defects. According to Craig Carrel, President, “Zero defects is just like it says – ZERO defects. It is perfection. Since zero is a very tough number to achieve in plastics injection molding at our size – running millions of parts each month – our focus is on continuous improvement to move forward towards zero defects. This means developing robust processes during the development process and launch of each part and finding root causes when we do encounter rejects.”

Carrel explained that Team 1’s proactive approach is to prevent defects at the planning stage, believing that this is the best way to eliminate defects. “Inspection cannot lead to zero defects,” Carrel said. “You need to develop processes and systems that do not make a bad part.” Team 1 Plastics has “… spent a tremendous amount of time and money in developing a robust launch process. This is a multi-function team that works together to identify problems early on and works to eliminate them before the parts go into production.”

The launch team isn’t the only one involved at Team 1 Plastics in achieving zero defects. “Everyone is responsible for quality, and our internal quality team has to play an active role in helping us solve problems with everyone at Team 1. Our quality team and metrology lab play a key role in monitoring our quality and giving us feedback on our progress. A corrective action team, made up of team members from the molding, quality, and engineering departments, identifies the major rejects and focuses our resources on finding root causes and eliminating reoccurrences.”

Carrel said that the corrective action team focuses on the “Dirty Dozen” – the top 12 rejects over the last one-to-three months. “These rejects have top priority. We have several examples of our team finding root cause for the rejects and completely eliminating them from the Dirty Dozen list.”

According to Richman, achieving Zero Defects is also about repeatability. He wrote, “Performing tasks right the first time only works if you can do them right the next time, too … A process cannot succeed enterprise wide if it can’t be repeated time and time again, exactly the same way on each and every occasion.”

Team 1 Plastics agrees. Carrel said that a key to zero defects is to “… develop repeatable processes. Also, conformance to standards is critical.” That is one reason why being certified to ISO/TS 16949:2009 standard is so important to Team 1. “TS 16949 helps us develop systems and processes that are repeatable. It also focuses on understanding customer requirements and making sure our systems and processes are meeting them,” Carrel said. In addition, “Automation has helped us move towards zero defects by making our processes more repeatable and consistent. It also allows us to utilize our human talent more on set-up, packaging, trouble shooting, and problem solving.”

Another tool that Team 1 Plastics utilizes to ensure that its processes are consistent is to invest in training of its team members. Focused on continuous improvement in this area, the company recently added a new position, Training Coordinator. Carrel said, “Danielle Sheldon, our new training coordinator, is currently developing an enhanced on-board training program for all our new team members as well as a very detailed training for all new production and assembly assistants. Once completed, she will work on detailed training for other key positions.”

Do these tips work? For Team 1 Plastics, the answer is “Yes!” Carrel said that since 2009, Team 1 has seen a "fivefold decrease in its rejects reports/million $ sales and reoccurrence reject reports/million $ sales even though it has seen a threefold increase in its sales over that same time period.”

Similar to zero defects, Carrel said that “100% delivery is perfection and is a very tough goal to hit consistently. And, similar to zero defects, Team 1 Plastics is constantly working towards 100% delivery. In a similar manner, utilizing continuous improvement activities and repeatable processes moves us forward towards the goal.”

Carrel said, “A key to 100% delivery is seamless communication with all parties; externally with customers and suppliers and internally with our teams and team members. Team 1 needs to understand customer orders today, and in the future, so we can plan and have the resources available when needed to execute and have them delivered on time. In addition, we must have the flexibility to respond quickly to changing customer orders. It is critical to meeting their needs and being a strategic supplier they can count on.”

Giles Johnston agrees with Carrel’s statement. In his e-book, “You’re Late!! 7 Common Mistakes that Destroy on Time Delivery Performance … That You Can Easily Avoid,” he listed the final mistake as “Poor Inter-Team Communication.” He wrote, “Even a small team cannot rely upon telepathy. The routines we have discussed along with the various points in the process … need to be managed. Communication binds all … together.”

Topics: Team 1 Plastics, Craig Carrel, quality, reliable, ISO/TS Certification, automation, continuous improvement, communication

4 Keys to Improving New Product Launch

Posted by Brenda Eubank on Tue. July 12, 2016

Most people would agree that the long-term success of any project is rooted in the management of the launch. If you do not put in the effort upfront in the planning, development, and launch of a new product, the product will, most likely, not be profitable. This is true whether your company is in retail, service, or manufacturing.

Mold_Design.jpgSo, what are some keys to improving your new product launch? Dave Seedorf, Engineering Manager for Team 1 Plastics, a plastic injection molding company for the automotive industry, recently shared four keys to a successful new product launch.

Not surprising, the first key is communication. Seedorf said that he has learned over the years that it is imperative to build great relationships with the customer’s designers and program managers. “It makes communication much easier, and they usually respond much quicker to my questions.”

Communication begins with the Request for Quote (RFQ) process -- the first step in Team 1’s new product launch. Seedorf said that in reviewing the customer’s RFQ data and requirements, “… it is critical to ensure that we are on the same page with the customer’s requests, eliminating assumptions.”

Of course, communicating with the customer is not enough. There needs to be communication among all the stakeholders. For example, Team 1 Plastics establishes an in-house New Product Launch Team to keep the information flowing to its Team Members. The Launch team, which meets regularly, is made up of representatives of several departments: Engineering, Production, Customer Service, Estimator, and Scheduling. Team 1 has found that utilizing a New Product Launch Team has helped them ensure that the timing of projects is met. It also provides a forum to discuss potential problems or road blocks and to develop solutions.

Cheaper is Not Better is the second key to improving the new product launch. Seedorf said that “searching for cheaper suppliers usually costs more in the long run.”

For a plastic injection molding company, the quality of a produced part is dependent on a quality mold. Seedorf shared that once when shopping for a mold supplier, Team 1 Plastics chose to use a supplier that had a cheaper upfront mold cost. However, when the launch process began the dimensional mold tuning stage, the charge by the supplier for standard dimensional adjustments to the mold exceeded expectations, causing the cost of the mold to be much greater than budgeted.

Don’t Over Source Your Supplier. You may be using the best quality and affordable supplier in your industry. But, if the work you give them exceeds their capacity, your new product launch could be in jeopardy.

Unfortunately, Team 1 Plastics learned this lesson the hard way. Seedorf shared the story of when the company had asked one of its suppliers to build new molds for three new products. “All of the molds were large, pretty busy, and complex.” That much work all at once for this supplier exceeded its capacity. Each of the molds was delivered late and was substandard, creating problems with part quality and delaying production.

Assess the Strengths and Weaknesses of Your Supplier is the fourth key. Each company has strengths and weaknesses. You want to utilize your supplier’s strengths to your advantage and to improve your new product launch. Conversely, you want to avoid your supplier’s weaknesses.

Seedorf said that Team 1 Plastics evaluates its suppliers to learn which type of mold each supplier excels in building and how well each company operates in standard conditions as well as under pressure. He said that one mold maker had built several molds for Team 1 without any noticeable problems. However, as the supplier’s company grew, it changed its operational processes. As a result of the changes, Team 1 began to experience quality issues from this supplier.

Remember these four keys when your company is contemplating its next New Product Launch, or, as Seedorf said, “Your product will most likely not be profitable due to cost overages, quality issues, missed shipments to customers, and, potentially for manufacturers, line down situations.”

Topics: Team 1 Plastics, quality, new product launch, communication, Dave Seedorf

Laurie Harbour Gives Update of Plastics Industry

Posted by Brenda Eubank on Tue. June 21, 2016

LHarbour.jpgWhat is the State of the Plastics Industry in 2016? What challenges and opportunities lie ahead in the next two to five years? What key things should processors implement now to ensure their companies’ future success? These are some of the questions that Team 1 Plastics, a plastic injection molding company for the automotive industry, recently asked plastics industry expert, Laurie Harbour.

Five years ago, Craig Carrel, president of Team 1 Plastics, interviewed Laurie Harbour, President and CEO of Harbour Results Inc., in a video blog for Plastics Pipeline. Harbour began the 2016 update by articulating how the plastics industry has changed since that interview in 2011. “Plastics as an industry has continued to evolve. There is a greater use of technology in terms of equipment and processing. In addition, the way that the labor force is used has changed due to the lack of skilled and hourly workers. The other major change is that five years ago, the industry was climbing out of a deep recession. As it did, many of the key industries like automotive, appliance, medical, and aerospace, were beginning to experience double-digit growth in sales volume. Processers were at the bottom of a rapid return to high volumes and demand for products.”

Harbour contrasted that double-digit growth to current status. “Today in 2016, we are seeing all of those industries level off. Growth rates are below 2%, and some even predict a small recession in 2019. Although volumes are still high, growth rates will not see the same impact in the next five years, changing plans for processors going forward. Processors now have to capitalize on volumes and efficiency gaints to grow their profitability. In the rapid growth period, we actually saw companies working harder than ever but not making the money they would like to see.”

In the 2011 interview, Harbour had predicted that by 2015, there would only be a 10-20% labor gap between China and the US, making it more financially feasible for companies to build/expand new facilities in the U.S. Team 1 Plastics asked Harbour to comment on this prediction. “The labor rates in China have absolutely risen in the last five years. Although they still have a significant advantage over the U.S., we have seen a great deal of re-shoring occur for plastic parts. Exports in China have gone down dramatically and were actually negative in 2015. We are still seeing quite a bit of tooling or molds coming from China, because there is still a cost advantage. Tooling is becoming a huge cost among large companies today so any savings they can get, they will work to obtain.”

Harbour then focused on North America. “There has been quite a bit of investment in plastics in the U.S. Companies have added buildings or expanded existing facilities. The big change in the global economy is the effect of the exchange rates. The global economy is very shaky -- particularly driven by China which is working to slow its growth. The BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China) countries are doing very poorly, and Europe is still on a slow rebound. Right here on our continent, things are changing. The Canadian dollar is down to .70 cents on the U.S. dollar, making Canada a very attractive place for companies to purchase parts and tooling and giving Canadian companies an advantage over U.S. companies. The exchange rate difference is expected to continue through at least 2018. Additionally, Mexico is booming and to some degree is the new China. There is tremendous investment in Mexico, particularly in automotive (over $24 billion in the last few years), and the pull for automotive suppliers to be in Mexico is significant.”

Having commented about how the plastics industry had changed over the last five years, Harbour switched her focus to the current state of the industry. “All of the industries that Harbour Results studies, including medical, automotive, heavy truck, aerospace, and agriculture, are experiencing a flattening of their markets. Some are actually going backwards, such as appliances, because they believe 2016 is an uncertain year due to the U.S. election. Without knowledge of what consumer spending will be like after the election, they are leery to launch new products.

“Big companies, particularly in automotive, are moving to Mexico and putting up new facilities to support the growth in volume in that region. They are asking their supply base to move with them to support production. This is a big ask for companies because the investment is significant. Although labor cost is cheaper in Mexico, it is not necessarily a low cost region to do business in or to set up a new plant.

“Technology continues to be a factor in the plastics industry, specifically, in terms of equipment technology. Varying levels of automation are being invested in across companies. Many companies are evaluating what level of automation is critical for their type of business. They are examining the data and making sure not to over automate -- but to automate appropriately for the right level of efficiency.”

Harbour added that new equipment technology, such as 3-D printing, is beginning to impact the plastics industry. “There are disruptive technologies, like 3-D printing, that are looking to impact processors. We have seen that in low volume applications; the higher volume is just not there yet. But it will be, and it’s clearly something to watch in the near future.”

In discussing the current state of the plastics industry in terms of production, Harbour said, “There is a lot of capacity in the market, and capabilities are strong.” She added, “Our concern is that we still don’t see companies taking advantage of the volumes to drive efficiency during good times. Also in automotive and several other industries, we are seeing a shift from low mix and high volume to high mix and low volume on several key parts, particularly those that are customer interfacing. This is causing new operational challenges for those that are not use to this model of production.

“Cost pressure continues to be a challenge for all companies. The best processors have a very good understanding of their cost and are leveraging their business to fill up their facility and optimize capacity to drive profitability. Others are still struggling to fight tightening of prices and are not working on the right things. Those that focus on what they can control and drive improvement in their business will remain strong and get new opportunities.”

Finally, Harbour discussed how the labor force is affecting the current state of the industry. “The labor force continues to be a challenge for all manufacturing. The U.S. and State governments are still not doing a good job in promoting manufacturing to the younger generation as a viable career choice. As a result, the schools are missing a whole population of people that could be great manufacturing workers. Companies are struggling to find the right people that are highly motivated.” Harbour added, “We don’t see a massive shift in this any time soon. Frankly, processors have to invest in this in order to find and train the people they want.”

When asked about the future of the future of the plastics industry in the next two to five years, Harbour stated, “Each industry will continue to have strong volumes through 2020. However, with an uncertain global economy, concern regarding the U.S. election, and the exchange rates with Canada and the Euro, companies need to closely watch what happens over the next 12 – 18 months as it relates to their growth plans. Due to the uncertainty of the future, now is the time to get more efficient and capitalize on volumes to make more money.

“Technology and investment in process are at the forefront of things that companies will have to work on in the next two to five years. The challenge of good labor will continue as the boomer generation retires and gaps emerge in the employee base. In addition to proactively finding the next generation of manufacturing workers, companies will have to utilize technology to fill the gaps.

“Constant changes in the economy, and their impact on the markets in which companies play will be critical as well. All economists believe another recession will come, or at least an adjustment in the market, around 2019 or 2020. It will not be as deep as 2008, but an adjustment will need to come. Companies have to be prepared for their operations to adjust down and up flexibly in order to maintain profit margins. They have to work now to establish the efficient foundation to manage these peaks and valleys.”

Team 1 Plastics asked Harbour to share three "Keys" that a plastics company should be implementing right now to ensure (as best it can) its success in the next two to five years. Harbour replied, “A long-term strategic plan is the first and most critical key. Most companies that we assess don’t have a long-term plan or vision for where they want to be and how they will get there. The best companies have this and have made significant strides coming out of the recession with this in place.

“The second key is a solid Strategic Sales Process. We have found in the last 12 to 18 months that a solid Strategic Sales Process is lacking for many companies. Most companies are still selling the way they have for 20 years. The problem is that times have changed, the customer has changed, and work does not ‘just come’ anymore. Harbour Results has been working with processors and other companies to develop these demand models, to plan for the type of customer they want in the future, and to determine how to scale their business.

“The last key is to become a more data-driven organization. Not just with operational metrics like efficiency, scrap, changeover time (although those are critical), but gathering data at the front end of the process on sales, hit rate, quote rates, profitability by customer, etc. These front-end metrics are crucial to link the demand and operations together and to drive profit and capital expenditures. Most companies are very weak at sales planning. Bottom line is that we can run plants well, but without sales, it means nothing.”

Harbour then concluded her update of the state of plastics industry, “Times are good in many different industries for processors today. Companies need to stay focused and not become complacent. History shows that things will change -- sometimes slowly and sometimes quickly as in 2008. Companies need to be ready -- being ready means being flexible and remaining profitable.”

Topics: Sales Strategies, Laurie Harbour, Concerns In The Plastics Industry, Plastics Industry, Team 1 Plastics

Peering into the Future of Plastics in the Automotive Industry

Posted by Brenda Eubank on Tue. May 24, 2016

According to an old Danish prfuture.jpgoverb, “It is difficult to make predictions, especially about the future.” This may be true, but if a business is to survive in this world of rapidly changing technology, one must attempt to predict the future and prepare its business for the changes coming.

The plastics industry is no different, especially those focused on the automotive industry. Team 1 Plastics, a plastic injection molding company for the automotive industry, recognizes the need to prepare for the future. In a recent interview, Craig Carrel, President, talked about the changes he sees coming, “Team 1 is excited about the future. There are tremendous changes coming in the automotive marketplace that will create new opportunities for our business to grow and provide value to our Tier 1 customers. The key is to be working with the best Tier 1 customers so that we are partnering with them on the new technology and will be prepared for these changes.”

Although one can’t know exactly what the future holds for the automotive industry, current emerging technology and upcoming governmental mandates do provide a glimpse into it.

According to the CNN 10: Future in Driving report, “A new wave of innovation, led by carmakers and automotive-tech companies, is transforming the driving experience. Thanks largely to on-board computers, our vehicles are becoming smarter, nimbler, safer and more fun ... Fully self-driving cars remain some years away. But new technology in the next five to 10 years will help cars park themselves, monitor the alertness of the driver and even communicate with each other to avoid collisions.”

The YouTube video, Together We Ride, released by Nissan Newsroom in October 2015, gives a clear picture of what this car manufacturer believes is the future of automobiles. “We envision a world where you share your journey with your car, not as a tool, but as a partner. It’s not just about potential about what could be, may be, or what’s possible. This is a promise of a future that’s smarter. Safer. Easier. And absolutely electrifying.”

Emerging technology has allowed car manufacturers to already add many new sensors -- things like, monitoring the traffic around the car (cars talking to each other), monitoring the driver's health and distractedness, and personalizing the interior environment of the car (learning the driver's preferences and automatically adjusting to them).

According to Carrel, “Plastic is a key component of these types of sensors and provides the framework and structure for them.” He then addressed the future of self-driving cars. “We are seeing rapid advancement in systems that will take more control of driving away from the driver. Many are already being added to cars, and more is projected over the coming years. These systems will employ lots of sensors -- cameras, radar, etc. They all will have some plastic components.”

Plastic is also a key component in helping car manufacturers achieve the 2025 fuel economy requirements by Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE). According to its website, “Enacted by Congress in 1975, CAFE's purpose is to reduce energy consumption by increasing the fuel economy of cars and light trucks … which will improve our nation’s energy security and save consumers money at the pump.”

In August 2012, Whitehouse.gov announced that the Obama Administration “finalized groundbreaking standards that will increase fuel economy to the equivalent of 54.5 mpg for cars and light-duty trucks by Model Year 2025.”

“Because of their light weight and versatile properties, especially with the upcoming CAFE requirements to 55 mpg by 2025, plastics will continue to play a key role in automobiles,” said Carrel. “We are seeing a renewed interest in material replacement using plastics to help reduce the vehicle weight to improve gas mileage.”

Carrel then addressed the emergence of hybrids, electric cars, and non-traditional fuel cars. “Currently they do not play a significant role in the automotive market, less than 5% market share, but all the major car companies have developed an electric vehicle as one way to achieve the 55 mpg CAFE requirement. No one is predicting they will significantly increase their market share over the next five years, especially if gas prices remain low, but they will continue to grow in importance. The key will be to lower their cost while increasing their range to 300 miles per charge to be competitive with traditional gas engines.”

Automotive industry expert, McKinney & Company, agrees with Carrel. In its January 2016 report, “Automotive revolution – perspective towards 2030,” electrified powertrains are discussed. “Stricter emission regulations, lower battery costs, widely available charging stations, and increasing consumer acceptance will create new and strong momentum for penetration of electrified vehicles (hybrid, plug-in, battery electric, and fuel cell) in the coming years … Over the next decade, electrified vehicles will achieve cost competitiveness with conventional vehicles, creating the most significant catalyst for market penetration. Advances in charging technology, range, and awareness will further improve the customer value proposition.”

The report continued, “At the same time, it is important to note that electrified vehicles include a large portion of hybrid electrics, which means that even beyond 2030, the internal combustion engine will remain very relevant.”

Good news for Team 1 Plastics. “A full electric car has a lot less components, metal and plastic, and would be a major shift for companies like Team 1 who supply a lot of precision plastic components in the traditional gas engine,” remarked Carrel. “The key to the future is to make sure we remain diversified across many vehicle systems, Tier 1 customers, and OEMs to take advantage more of the opportunities and minimize the risk with all the significant automotive market changes. We need to make sure we are providing the ‘best overall value’ today, but we also need to make sure we have an ongoing dialogue with them about their future technology and systems and how can we help them become even more successful.”

Topics: Future Opportunities In The Plastics Industry, Trends, Team 1 Plastics, Craig Carrel, automotive industry, Plastics Pipeline blog, technology, value

Competing Globally Operating Locally

Posted by Brenda Eubank on Tue. March 29, 2016

global_business.jpgHow can you, as a local manufacturer, compete globally? According to Houston Chronicle writer, Brian Hill, in his article, “How Can Small Business Enterprises Compete in a Global Market?”, there is “tremendous opportunity for revenue growth through selling … products and services internationally” because “about 95 percent of the world’s population [is] located outside the United States.”

The opportunity is out there. But how do you seize that opportunity? What are the keys to expanding your business beyond North America? What are the challenges to having a global business?

Hill admits that “It is challenging for businesses that do not have brand name recognition overseas to get a foothold in a foreign market.” However, he argues that “One advantage is that American goods and services are highly regarded in other countries because of their reputation for quality.”

For the article, “How Some US Manufacturers are Successful in Competing Globally”, written for Industry Week, Michele Nash-Hoff “… interviewed several companies that do all or the majority of their manufacturing in the U.S. to find out what they are doing to successfully compete in the global marketplace.”

Here’s what she found out that the companies had in common:

  • All of the products are sold to other businesses (referred to as B-to-B) instead of to consumers.
  • The products fill specific needs and requirements of other manufacturers.
  • All of the companies manufacture their products in America.
  • The companies export their products to other countries.

Although not included in Nash-Hoff’s interviews, Team 1 Plastics, a plastic injection molding company for the automotive industry, fits these common denominators:

  • It serves Tier 1 customers and OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) in the automotive industry. None of its parts are sold to consumers.
  • All of the parts are manufactured in its plant in Albion, Michigan.
  • The company currently exports its parts to Canada, Mexico, China, Spain, Japan, Thailand, Honduras, and Germany.

From its beginnings, Team 1 Plastics has focused globally. According to Craig Carrel, President, Team 1 has always had an international focus to its business. “Our target market at the business inception was the Japanese transplant automotive suppliers in south central Michigan -- in particular, in Battle Creek. Automotive is truly a global business. All major suppliers are international and have operations around the globe. Thus our competition is global also.” In fact, Team 1’s business has grown with mostly international automotive suppliers – now mainly European with a North American presence.

A key lesson that Team 1 can share is that it takes time for international customers to feel comfortable with American suppliers. And, in turn, it takes time for the American suppliers to understand the international customers’ systems, requirements, expectations and needs. Carrel said that you want to make sure that your company can meet, and hopefully, exceed the customers’ expectations and needs. In Team 1’s experience, once the international customers gained confidence in its abilities, then their relationships and business together grew quickly.

As with any business venture, Carrel pointed out that there are challenges in being globally focused. For example, “Sometimes key decisions require approval from the company’s Headquarters. This can cause delays, change of direction, or a requirement for additional information. You need to be able to provide support for the company’s local operation so that the Decision-makers at Headquarters feel comfortable and will support the decisions made by the local operation.”

To help the relationships and communication, Team 1 encourages and welcomes visits from its customer’s international teams. “We want to make sure we are known as much as possible throughout their whole organization,” Carrel said.

Another challenge is to make sure your company is globally competitive against the best international competitors. Many of Team 1 Plastics’ international customers have created benchmarks to rate their plastic molder suppliers, looking for the best overall value in service, quality, delivery and price. According to Carrel, Team 1 has received high marks in most areas and has been recognized as a top global plastics molder. The ratings systems “force us to continually improve all phases of our company so that we are the number one choice for precision plastic components.”

Although its customers are international and have operations around the world, Team 1 does not need to follow them around the globe. Carrel said, “We need to make sure we are globally competitive but laser focused on being the top plastic molder in the Americas (NAFTA region). At the tier 2-3 level, our main competition is in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico.”

Acknowledging that many Presidential candidates are discussing the negative effects and major job losses caused by the NAFTA treaty, Carrel offered a counterpoint based on Team 1’s experience. He said that Team 1 Plastics has been a major beneficiary of NAFTA and the ease of trade between the countries in the NAFTA region. “We have over 20% of our sales going to Mexican automotive facilities and have grown our business and added jobs because of NAFTA.”

Topics: benchmarking, Team 1 Plastics, growth, manufacturing, target, globally competitive

Making Automation Work

Posted by Brenda Eubank on Tue. February 16, 2016

About ten years ago, Team 1 Plastics, a plastic injection molding company for the automotive industry, made a decision to focus on automation on its production floor. Craig Carrell, President and Co-owner, described the change. “One of the things that we’ve changed dramatically is the focus on automation. When we started, there were a lot of people at machines handling the parts; and over the last ten years, we’ve really seen that the way to go is to move out of direct labor. The automation and the information technology Automation_-_Robot_1.jpgpieces have come down in cost, making it advantageous for a molder like us. So we’ve made a big push into automation.”

Every injection molding press at Team 1 is outfitted with some type of automation. Most have a rectilinear robot that is programmed to perform tasks such as extracting parts and placing them on to a nest and/or a conveyor. Some robots inspect the parts; some de-gate the parts and deliver them into final packaging.

Some presses utilize Gate Cutting robots either built into the End of Arm Tooling (EoAT) or as a stand-alone unit. Others have Selective Compliance Articulated Robot Arm (commonly referred to as SCARA robots). These versatile robots can perform many different operations. They can separate parts when more than one part is produced in a mold. They can count parts. They can perform cell packing. And, with different end of arm effectors, they can even do some measuring and testing.

At Team 1 Plastics, automation is used to minimize the manual handling of the parts, producing a more cost effective process. Automation is also used for efficiency of production. Tim Henry, Production Team Manager and Assembly Manager, put it this way, “A lot of what our automation does is designed to cut down on waste. We know that waste eats up profits.”

Even the way that Team 1 has organized its production floor is based on being efficient. Its plant has four production zones: 

  • Zone 1 consists of 11 injection molding machines ranging in size from 40 to 180 metric tons
  • Zone 2 consists of 11 injection molding machines ranging in size from 25 to 180 metric tons
  • Zone 3 consists of 3 injection molding machines ranging in size from 180 to 280 metric tons
  • Zone 4 consists of 3 injection molding machines ranging in size from 180 to 300 metric tons

Automation_-_Robot_2.jpgDue to the role that automation plays in Team 1 Plastics’ production environment, only one Production Operator is required in each zone. Parts in both Zones 1 and 2 tend to be small, and the machine and automation do the majority of the work, including placing the completed parts into a container. An alarm notifies the Production Operator to print a label, exchange the full container with an empty one, and move the finished goods into the Warehouse pick-up zone.

Parts produced in both Zones 3 and 4 tend to be larger and require more Operator contribution. The parts are placed via a rectilinear robot onto a conveyor. The conveyor then moves the parts to the Production Operator who may have a secondary operation to perform, such as a small inspection or layer packing. The conveyors in these zones are capable of running in either direction to accommodate the Production Operator’s work load for that day’s shift, eliminating extra movement by the Operator.

Printers, located at every press, enable the Production Operator to print a label after the parts are packed. The Operator attaches the label to the packing container and delivers it to the warehouse where the parts are scanned and added to the real-time inventory.

Team 1 Plastic’s production monitoring software, ProMon, also enhances efficiency. The software, available on the touch screen monitor located at each press, provides the Production Teams with a variety of useful feature and functions, including the most up-to-date manufacturing standards, a quick reference on what part defects to look for, order status, and run history, and the software gives the Production Team the ability to create Maintenance work requests.

The software also provides guides for the Set-Up Technicians. It provides detailed instructions of how to set-up the job for the specific part to be produced, what process parameters will be running, what alarms should be set, and what conditions they should look for. All of these functions are available to the Team without ever leaving the production zone.

Henry said that production packets, consisting of multiple documents, required for every production run, used to be kept in filing cabinets. Before the production changeover was produced, someone had to retrieve the multiple documents from the filing cabinets and build these production packets. After the job was completed, someone needed to break down the packets and return the documents to the filing cabinets. Sometimes the paperwork was misplaced or outdated, and the packet would need to be recreated before production could be run. This was a necessary, but tedious and time-consuming process. The addition of the ProMon software at every press completely eliminated this packet-building process.

Efficiency even determines where Team 1 stores each mold. The company used to store the molds at one end of the plant. Someone had to go get the tool when changing to a new part and take the previous tool back to the storage area. Now, the molds are stored near the presses which use them. Henry explains, “Storing the tool directly where you’re intending to use it is another example of eliminating waste.”

And, as mentioned previously, waste eats up profits.

Topics: Team 1 Plastics, automotive plastic components, efficiency, automation, production monitoring software

2 AM Production Emergency?

Posted by Brenda Eubank on Tue. January 19, 2016

What happens in your plastics manufacturing facility at 2 AM when your production team is struggling with a part? Is it automatically a “5-alarm” emergency? Or, do your employees have the information they need to make an informed decision – like knowing that enough product has already been made for the order so they can shut down the part for the rest of the shift?

Does your Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software provide real-time production information? According to Glenn Nowak’s article, The Value of Real Time, “Too many manufacturers miss out on critical decision-making pieces of the puzzle because of a lack of timely production details. A lack of real-time information can cause crippling effects throughout the entire enterprise. Live data, on the other hand, can reduce the loss of time, resources and, ultimately, money from the bottom line.”

Your ERP should provide the information that help your employees make a good decision at 2 AM. Nowak pointed out that “Out on the shop floor, the robots and work centers are gathering tremendous amounts of data. Production details regarding performance and maintenance are being tracked, as is in-depth information about the products being made.” That data should be readily available to your employees whenever they need it.

Maybe you don’t have an ERP – many small and medium-sized businesses (SMB) don’t, according to the article, ERP a Big Challenge for SMBs, by Drew Robb “…87 percent of potential ERP buyers fall under the SMB category, which it defines as companies with annual revenues of less than $100 million. The vast majority of these companies do not currently possess an ERP system.”

ProMon.jpgTeam 1 Plastics, a plastic injection molding company for the automotive industry, developed its own production monitoring system, called ProMon, that allows a paperless production and quality system on the manufacturing floor. Networked thin-client computers, located at each of the presses, deliver work instructions and quality check points. The touch screens allow the machine operators to interact with them. The operators can quickly and easily record any quality checks they made on the part. And, they do have the information they need to make a good decision at 2 AM.

Gary Grigowski, Owner and Vice President, said that Team 1 Plastics does a “…good job of integrating technology that services what our customers need. Whether it is our ability to easily take in orders, quickly integrate them, consider impact of new order on scheduling, or integrate 100% automatic quality testing.” Speaking of the ProMon system, Grigowski said that “since it was internally developed, it is specifically designed for Team 1's systems and can easily be updated to make it more efficient.”

Joshua Nye, IT Manager, echoed Grigowski on the advantages of Team 1 Plastics’ proprietary ProMon software, “The biggest advantage by far is customization. Basically, if the data exists, we can deliver it to you just about anywhere you want it, and how you want it displayed … If you go with a canned [third-party developed software] system, there will be minor tweaks and views you can create; but overall, you fit into their system rather than their system changing to fit you. Our system is specifically built to work in the way Team 1 has been designed to work.”

But, proprietary software comes with its own set of challenges. Your internal IT department must be able to program the software, including updates driven by customer or employee requests. Nye said, “The priority is always to get the application you are working on fixed or updated with new features as they are needed, however with a steady flow of requests, new ideas, etc., it isn’t always easy to keep up on properly documenting the code, creating, or revising any knowledge base.”

And, with proprietary software, the IT team is literally on their own – there is no Support team that they can call. “When we have a problem or an issue arise, we are the only ones that can really fix it. There is no support center to call to work through the issue; there is no FAQ on a product website to lean on. Big software companies have the developers, and they also employ technical writers and such to create their knowledge base, FAQ, and support sections,” said Nye.

Maybe these IT challenges are more than your company wants to handle. In that case, there are lots of third-party software ERP options for you. And, there is a lot of advice on choosing and implementing them.

Manufacturing Tech Insights dedicated its entire December 2015 magazine to ERP systems, including its list of the Top 10 Manufacturing ERP Solution Providers for 2015.

The Resources section of SoftwareAdvice.com’s website has articles, e-books, and research to help you, including Key Criteria For ERP Software Selection, which offers “guidelines and tips before embarking on an ERP selection project.”

In EnterpriseAppsToday.com, Drew Robbs shares his 7 ERP Implementation Tips:

  • Avoid ERP Rigidity
  • Consider ERP Customization Needs
  • Involve Upper Management in ERP Implementation
  • Focus on Early ERP Expectations
  • Get Right ERP Implementation Partner
  • Pay Attention to Reporting
  • Head to the Cloud

Forrest Burnson, summed up what you need to consider when shopping for a third-party ERP system in his Enterprise Resource Planning Software Buyer Report – 2015, “For prospective buyers, the task of selecting and implementing a new ERP system can be daunting. When selecting a solution, buyers should take into account not only their current needs, but what their needs will be five or 10 years down the road, as well as whether they’ll be able to integrate existing and future data in the new system.”

Burnson continued, “Buyers should also weigh the benefits and drawbacks of different pricing models, and ensure they have a clear understanding of what the total cost of ownership will be depending on which path they take. Finally, they need to consider how well-equipped their IT department is to handle such a massive undertaking, and should seek outside consulting and implementation services if they are unable to do it in-house.”

Whichever ERP system your company uses, make sure that it provides the information your employees need at 2 AM.

Topics: Team 1 Plastics, effective communication, Plastics Pipeline blog, technology, ERP, production monitoring software

Ensure Your Team is Rowing in the Same Direction

Posted by Brenda Eubank on Tue. December 15, 2015

Are all of your company employees striving for the same target? Do your employees even know what the target is?

Think about this … can you imagine a competitive rowing team being successful if one of the members of the team is rowing2.jpgturned around in the boat and rowing in the opposite direction from the others? Or, maybe they are all rowing in the same direction, but they don’t know where the goal line is. Would they be successful then? It’s highly unlikely.

You’ll probably agree with this statement: Having your team know what your business target is and then having everyone work together is a key to a successful business

But, you may be wondering, how do I achieve this?

Consider incorporating Open-Book Management.

“Making the economics of a business transparent, involving all employees to understand and share in the improved financial results, is a recipe for success,” according to Bill Fotsch, Founder and Head Coach of Open Book Coaching. “Labeled, the ‘Open-Book Management Guru,’ Fotsch has helped more than 400 companies boost employee engagement and increase customer retention over the past 25 years.” “The trust and focus on the common good captures the employees’ hearts while the information captures their minds. Open-Book Management creates an empowered, learning organization.”

In the Harvard Business Review article, A Winning Culture Keeps Score, Fotsch wrote, “In many businesses, however, people have no clue what winning would mean. More profits? A higher stock price? How can I affect those? Maybe ‘winning’ just means making my KPIs—or not getting laid off. Employees can’t get excited about winning, because they never know whether they’re winning or not. They need a score to tell them.”

Open-book management can help. It focuses the employee’s attention on a “Key” number -- “the one number that, if improved by a significant margin, will leave the business healthier and stronger at the end of the year. If that number is headed in the right direction, you’re ahead. If you hit an agreed-on target, you win.”

Team 1 Plastics, a plastic injection molding company for the automotive industry, adopted an open-book management philosophy with workers in 1999 so that all Team Members would have the information to act like owners in their jobs. This allows them to focus on a “Key” number with regular updates to help guide the company toward success.

What makes a number “Key?” According to Fotsch, “You can’t pick just any old metric and call it a key number.”  He suggested these three attributes: “It’s directly connected to the financials. It’s not imposed from on high. It’s for now—not forever.”

For Team 1, the “Key” number is Operating Profit. Team Members work together to achieve the financial target of the company – surpassing the pre-determined minimum yearly operating profit. Once this target is achieved, everyone who is eligible earns a bonus.

Why is Operating Profit the “Key” number for Team 1 Plastics? According to its Bonus Plan Summary, it is Operating Profit that creates and drives the bonus. Operating Profit is their best indicator of success - accurately reflects how the Company is doing. And, Operating Profit is easy to calculate and understand.

Each month, Team 1 Plastics holds an “Open-Book” Meeting, sharing the company’s finances with the Team members. The meeting allows for open and honest discussion, allowing the Team Members to ask questions and understand how the company is doing. “We have monthly meetings where we go over our financial statements,” said Craig Carrel, President. “All of our Team Members know what it takes to be successful and share in the related bonus plan.”

And the Team Members appreciate the Open-Book management. Andrew Zblewski, from Team 1’s Maintenance department, shared “Team 1 is a very unique company. The monthly open book meetings allow me, the employee, the opportunity to see the vision of the company as well as the knowledge of any concerns that may affect me personally and financially. These monthly meetings also allow us to voice concerns and ask questions in an open and honest atmosphere. This stops any rumors or fear feelings from growing out of control and allows us to feel more secure in our positions.”

Elaine Luca, Accounting Specialist, shared her perspective, “As the Accounting Specialist at Team 1 Plastics, I see on a daily basis all aspects of the company’s financial information.  It brings a ‘trust’ factor knowing that this information is shared with all Team Members. This open book policy gives Team Members an understanding of how the company is doing; it opens the door for them to participate with questions or comments.”

Open-Book Management has worked for Team 1 Plastics. “With a company that is comprised of Team Members who conduct themselves as owners, better decisions are made at all levels because all Team Members have a vested stake in the outcome,” said Carrel.

Topics: Team 1 Plastics, automotive plastics, team, open book management, profits, transperancy, target

Which Check-Out Lane Do You Use?

Posted by Brenda Eubank on Tue. December 1, 2015

You’ve just put the last item in your shopping cart and head to the check-out area of the grocery store. If you’re like me, you scan all your options for checking out and quickly access which option is best for you that day.

Which lane is fastest? Should I use the self check-out machines? Do I want the convenience of a cashier? Do I have a previous experience with that cashier? Is the cashier efficient and accurate?

In just a few seconds, the options are weighed, my decision is made, and I steer the cart for the lane I’ve chosen.

As a manufacturer, you have similar options on what is the best solution for assembling your product. Sometimes, it makes sense to assemble all the parts in house, like using the self check-out option. Maybe the parts are from several different suppliers or maybe you make all the parts in your plant.

Other times, it makes sense to have some of the parts assembled by a supplier, like the convenience of a cashier. Maybe the same supplier already has several of the parts. Shipping parts separately adds time and money … more shipping containers, more work for the receiving department, and more storage space required.

assembly.bmpThink of Team 1 Plastics like an efficient, accurate cashier. Team 1 can coordinate with you to produce the assemblies you need. Led by Shelley Lewis, hired in 1990, Team 1’s Assembly Team focuses in on assemblies that have at least one of its own molded plastic parts. It works closely with you to purchase any additional components such as springs, pins, and inserts, or painted or electrical components.

It’s very difficult to expect someone to do something perfect 10,000 times a month, but the four assembly machines used by Team 1: Grease Machine, Knob Machine, Hot Plate Welding Machine, and Float Stalk Machine, have safeguards to detect operator errors. For example, an operator must insert a spring and attach felt to a plastic case for a product that Team 1 assembles. The tool used by the operator will detect whether the part has these items and will not allow the Grease Machine to cycle if either part is missing.

In addition, each of these machines ensures quality parts by incorporating error proofing (poke yokes) or laser and vision systems. These minimize quality defects like missing components and non-functioning assemblies. For example, parts sealed together by the Hot Plate Welding Machine undergo a Leak test to ensure that the seal is correct. The tool testing the part measures the seal for air and tests the PSI. The testing tool will mark the part if the seal passed the quality test.

It may not always make sense to choose Team 1 Plastics as your “check-out cashier” for light assemblies, but when you do, you can be assured you will have a good experience.

Topics: Team 1 Plastics, plastics, efficiency, manufacturing, team, assembly, value

How to Reduce Unscheduled Downtime

Posted by Brenda Eubank on Tue. November 3, 2015

Unscheduled Downtime can cost you time and money, and potentially a loss of customers. No one wants that! So, how do you reduce Unscheduled Downtime?

Team 1 Plastics has developed three practices that have dramatically reduced the amount of its unscheduled down time.

The first practice is its daily Huddle Meetings. Representatives from each of the departments meet together each morning to discuss any problems that have risen during the previous 24 hours. They also share updates on any current Hot Topics. The Huddle Meetings encourage the flow of communication and ensure that each item is being handled appropriately and allows prioritization of the most critical issues at hand.

The second practice is Preventative Maintenance. Team 1 does a complete mold teardown after 25,000 shop count hours. And, each machine has a complete screw and barrel replacement after 5,000 run hours.

To help with coordinating the scheduling of the Preventative Maintenance, Team 1 posts a Maintenance Schedule Board in the plant. The five-member Maintenance Team works with the Logistics Team to create a two-week schedule. The schedule ensures that any customer-related issues, such as customer rejects or internal quality control concerns, are given the highest priority. It also allows the company to apply the right resources at the right time and to the right projects.

When a mold nears 25,000 shot count, the company’s Express Maintenance System sends a notification to let Logistics know that it’s time to schedule preventative maintenance. The Maintenance Team tears the die down; then, they inspect, clean, and lubricate all of its components. Any possible defects are photographed, and an analysis of previous samples is made. When all the concerns have been addressed, the die is reassembled and ready for production.

As part of the preventative maintenance practice, Team 1 keeps a spare screw and barrel system for each molding press machine. After 5,000 run hours on a machine, the current screw and barrel is replaced with the spare one. The Maintenance Team inspects the screw and barrel that was removed. If repairs or corrections are needed, it is shipped to an outside vendor for adjustments.

Team 1 admits that to keep a spare screw and barrel system for each machine, it was “… a huge cost up front, but unscheduled down time is down dramatically since we started doing it in the late 1990s.” This preventative maintenance practice has virtually eliminated any quality problems that were related to check rings.

Of course, not all maintenance is planned and scheduled. The third practice to eliminate downtime is Team 1’s preparedness for the occasional unexpected downtime due to a machine issue. This is accomplished by scheduling the Maintenance team to work on two different shifts, and by having all Maintenance Team Members on call 24/7.

By utilizing each of these practices, Team 1 Plastics has greatly reduced its unscheduled downtime, saving time and money, and most importantly, providing exceptional quality for its customers. 

Topics: Team 1 Plastics, preventative maintenance, effective communication, efficiency, unscheduled downtime