Team 1 Plastics Reflects on 30 Years Partnership with I I Stanley
Editor’s Note: This is Part Two of a two-part series on the 30 Years Partnership between Team 1 Plastics and I I Stanley. Part One was published on Tuesday, June 4, 2019.
It’s been a successful 30 years of partnership between I I Stanley, a member of the Stanley Electric group of companies dedicated to producing high quality advanced lighting products for the world, and Team 1 Plastics, a plastic injection molding company for the mobility industry.
As Dale Bufka, Procurement Department Manager for I I Stanley, said, “We’ve had a good relationship – a good partnership over the 30 years. It’s been a really beneficial partnership for both of us.”
The partnership has been tested as both companies have experienced things like growing pains and recessions. It was through these problems that the strength of the partnership has been forged by the two companies working together to solve very challenging problems that had the potential to be disastrous.
One of those very challenging problems was the time when Team 1 Plastics and I I Stanley were less than 24 hours away from shutting down Ford’s Hermosillo plant. If you’re a supplier in the automotive industry, the number one thing on your list of what NOT to do is probably this: NEVER BE THE CAUSE OF A SHUTDOWN at a car manufacturer’s plant. The financial consequences will be devastating to your company. Every supplier understands this, and, yet, that almost happened back in the 1990s.
Gary Grigowski, Vice President and Co-owner of Team 1 Plastics, recalls that time very vividly. “We were running a Garnish part for I I Stanley. The part was a long, rectangular strip that went below the tail lights on a Ford Focus. It had a very shiny, mirrored surface on one side with some fastening features on the back. This design was very challenging to produce and required a very complex mold.”
It was normal, Grigowski said, for the scrap rate on this part to be 30%-40%. “In some cases, it would jump to 60%-70%, and Team 1 would have to send out the mold to a toolmaker to have the mold’s T-shaped feature welded up and recut. Sometimes it would work and be better, and sometimes it would come back, and it was worse.” And, because so many parts were scrapped, Team 1 would occasionally get very behind in fulfilling production orders for the part.
And that’s what happened on the day that the companies almost shut down Ford’s plant in Hermosillo, Mexico.
Grigowski recalled what happened. “The scrap rate on the Garnish was getting terrible, and we had to send the mold out for repair. The repair was made by the toolmaker’s lead journeyman — someone who had worked on the mold many times. Unfortunately, he accidently forgot to interlock the cams into the T-shaped feature when he was done with his work. And, we didn’t know it, and it wasn’t an obvious mistake because the mold had a spring-loaded plate and could still be closed to that point.” The mold came back to Team 1. Grigowski said that as soon as the mold was completely closed and the piece that wasn’t interlocked experienced high-clamp pressure, it crushed and deformed the cam into the highly finished mirrored surface and left a great, big divot in it. The mold was unusable.
Team 1 Plastics could produce no more Garnish parts for I I Stanley. And, if I I Stanley ran out of the Garnish parts, it couldn’t assemble any more tail lights to send to Mexico. And if Ford ran out of tail lights, the Ford Focus production line will be shut down. “Obviously, that’s a problem!” Grigowski said.
Team 1 Plastics contacted I I Stanley and explained what happened. Everyone understood how precarious the situation was. Grigowski said, “Their eyes got real big, but they took the news in admirable stride. They didn’t make the whole situation any more stressful than it needed to be. Our experience was that they treat their suppliers fairly and even-handedly, and that proved true.”
Team 1 Plastics and I I Stanley had to figure out how they were going to repair the mold. They decided that they would try to repair the mold by welding it so they took the mold back to the toolmaker. Grigowski said that the toolmaker had a welder who specialized in this type of work. “He would take a torch, and he would heat up the mold and try to blend the grains in between what was already there and what he had just welded in. Then, he would polish it. We’d bring it back to Team 1, and we’d mold some parts.” But, when the mold came back to Team 1 Plastics, it hadn’t work. So, they returned to the toolmaker. “The welder would work his magic, and we would bring it back. Basically, we did this non-stop. ‘Okay, it’s still not working,’ or ‘It doesn’t look right in this other spot.’ We went through at least five or six loops like this, trying to get the part acceptable.”
Grigowski continued, “Then, we began molding it at I I Stanley’s plant so we could test it more quickly after the repair attempts. I was running the machine, making adjustments, trying to get the part acceptable. The Purchasing Manager and Quality Manager were there, and we were all very blurry-eyed. I remember, we were all standing around, and they were looking at the parts. And, finally they said, ‘You know what? These parts are okay!’”
I I Stanley was able to quickly assemble some parts and get them to Mexico, and the shutdown of the plant was averted. Grigowski said, “That’s probably the closest we ever came to shutting down a factory! We were literally less than 24 hours away from shutting down Ford’s Hermosillo plant.
Another challenging problem almost caused Team 1 Plastics to walk away from the partnership with I I Stanley. Dave Seedorf, Engineering Manager, for Team 1 Plastics recalled the situation. He said that there were two parts that Team 1 was making for I I Stanley’s ELP (Electronics) division. One was Part #412 which was a bright, brown-colored cover that needed to be polished and very shiny because it would visible to the consumer. The other was Part #414 — a core skirt part.
Part #412 – the cover – looked like a very simple “shoot and ship” part, Seedorf said, “But we struggled and struggled with this part for years. We were constantly sorting the parts. Every time we ran it and shipped parts, we would get rejected and would have to send people over to I I Stanley’s facility in Battle Creek, Michigan to sort parts. It was terrible!” Team 1 struggled to find the root cause of the problem, but no solution was evident, and the problems continued.
Similarly, on Part #414 – the core skirt – Seedorf said, “We had problems with the parts sticking in the mold and breaking legs. Every shipment … every production run, we had parts breaking.”
Seedorf said that everyone was “frustrated and extremely distraught over both of these jobs.” These two parts were the only work that Team 1 Plastics had at the time from the ELP division of I I Stanley. The company had not quoted any jobs nor won any work from this customer in years. “We were spending so much money. We were producing bad product. We were sorting parts. We were having trouble meeting orders.” They began to think that maybe it was time for Team 1 to cut its losses and tell the customer that it wouldn’t produce these two parts any longer.
Seedorf said that he remembered being involved in several conversations about sending I I Stanley, as he described it, a “Dear John” letter, saying that “Team 1 Plastics can’t do this anymore. We were very close to sending them that letter. I think we were probably days away from making that decision.”
But, what would be the consequences for Team 1 Plastics if they sent that “Dear John” letter? Seedorf said, “I remember specifically talking with Craig [Carrel], and saying that if we tell them that we can’t do this anymore, then we’re probably not going to be able to produce any parts for them. They’re not going to come to us for a quote or for a new tool or for anything.”
He remembered Carrel’s response, “What can we do? Maybe we’re not looking at this right? Can we take a look and try to find out what we can do better or differently and try to get good parts off of it?” And that’s what Team 1 Plastics did.
Seedorf said that for Part #412 – the cover – the company started looking at how the parts were gated (i.e. how the four parts produced at one time would be separated from each other).
They decided to adjust the design to make the four parts all gated to the same method. Then, they sent the tool to a tool maker. And, when they sampled the part, “It was favorable!” They had solved the problem, and Team 1 Plastics successfully ran Part #412 until it went out of production.
For Part #414 – the core skirt – Seedorf said that the decision was made to build a new tool. “We developed it and sampled it, and immediately, the job ran much better. Ultimately, we were able to run the parts for the remainder of the program without defects.”
Soon after the two parts went out of production, Team 1 Plastics began quoting and winning many jobs from I I Stanley’s ELP division. Seedorf believes that because I I Stanley had witnessed the determination that Team 1 Plastics had shown in resolving the problems with Parts #412 and #414, and had finished the programs out successfully, that positively impacted their future decision-making. “We had really strong relationships with all of the people at Stanley, and they knew they could rely on Team 1 Plastics to use that same determination with these new jobs.”
One of those new jobs was a Center Key unit for I I Stanley’s ELP division that the company was producing for Canon printers. Craig Carrel, President and Co-owner of Team 1 Plastics recalled the work. “Stanley came to us with this Center Key unit that had some buttons which activated the control unit. They needed us to mold the buttons – one was blue, the other was salmon.”
Carrel said that the job looked easy, but in reality, was very challenging. He explained, “Any time you’re using buttons, whether it’s an automotive application or, in this case, a printer, it’s all about the feel. It has to have a certain feel when you press it. It’s a balancing act between functionality and feel. We went through so many iterations, trying to get it right.”
Carrel recalled that I I Stanley sent some of its Associates from the Quality and Purchasing departments to Team 1’s facility for several days as the two companies worked together to produce parts which would meet the customer’s specifications. Carrel said that Team 1 would run some sample parts, and I I Stanley’s Associates would test the parts, and then adjustments would be made. “It wasn’t just adjustments with the process; we were also making adjustments on the mold. Let’s widen this or let’s make this deeper, or we’ve got to change this. We just kept trying things, and, eventually, we became successful.”
Carrel added, “What I remember most about it was just working all hours of the day and night just trying to figure out the solution, and the Associates from I I Stanley working right alongside us. It was another example of a partnership approach. We just kept working through the problem until we came up with a solution together.”