Team 1 Plastics Reflects on 30 Years Partnership with TRAM

Editor’s Note: This is Part Two of a two-part series on the 30 Years Partnership between Team 1 Plastics and TRAM. Part One was published on Tuesday, March 3, 2020.

It’s been a successful 30 years of partnership between TRAM, a member of the Tokai Rika Group of companies dedicated to producing “Human Interface” systems and controls, and Team 1 Plastics, a plastic injection molding company for the mobility industry.

Craig Carrel, President and Co-owner of Team 1 Plastics, recalled how the relationship began. He said that when Team 1’s original three owners, Gary Grigowski, Craig Carrel, and Jim Capo, decided to start their own business, they created a list of companies that they thought had a potential to become customers of Team 1 Plastics. Tokai Rika was one of those targeted customers.

Carrel said, “Jim Capo had worked closely with Tokai Rika in Japan when he worked there for our previous employer, Celanese, so he made the initial contact with them in their Battle Creek, Michigan company, TRMI, which Tokai Rika had just opened.” After a series of visits to Team 1 by both TRMI representatives and Tokai Rika representatives from Japan, Team 1 Plastics was awarded its first mold build job, and the partnership officially began.

As Tokai Rika’s success grew in North America, the company began to open other facilities and eventually combined them under the umbrella, TRAM. One of those other facilities was TRIN in Ashley, Indiana. Carrel said, “Team 1 Plastics is an original supplier for TRIN. We started working with TRIN as soon as the facility opened.”

Joe Rine, Vice President of Human Resources for TRAM, Inc. said, “This relationship has succeeded over the long-term due to the mutual respect, mutual trust, and focus on continuously improving from both sides.”

Continuous improvement by both companies was clearly demonstrated with a very complex “spider” light guide which TRMI asked Team 1 Plastics to make in 2003. Dave Seedorf, Engineering Manager for Team 1 Plastics said, “There were quite a few challenges with the light guide. For instance, the geometry of the part – the drawing contained several hundred dimensions. The part design had to be modified by the toolmaker numerous times to make the part manufacturable. This required Team 1 to provide a lot of communication both to and from the toolmaker and TRMI. We discovered that the mold required an abundance of polishing to prevent the part from sticking and being deformed. There were issues with the parts cracking during their ejection from the injection molding machine and even after the molding process was complete.”

Seedorf said that the manufacturing issues were ultimately solved by polishing the mold, adding radii and adding release coating to the mold surfaces. However, the part was not yet approved by Tokai-Rika’s headquarters in Japan (TRJ).

“Getting the Lighting element of the part approved was not as simple as just adjusting the dimensions of the mold to get the part within specifications,” Seedorf said. “TRJ continually required adjustments and changes to correct the lighting issues found during light testing. Team 1 worked with the toolmaker to make the specified adjustments in the tool steel. It took more than ten iterations with hundreds of adjustments before the part was approved by TRJ.”

After manufacturing the “spider” light guide for a few years, TRMI asked Team 1 Plastics to create a second version. Seedorf said that the learning done during the first version of the light guide made the process go much smoother for the second version. “Team 1 made improvements in the second version such as adding the radii upfront, providing timing and care for the additional cavity and core polishing upfront. This helped the process quite a bit.” He added, “TRJ and TRMI also learned from the first light guide. There were not as many light testing issues on the second version, and the part was approved for production much quicker and easier.”

Carrel said that the “spider” light guide is “an example of how Team 1 Plastics and TRMI worked closely together over the launch of the product to ensure the part met the customers’ expectations.”

Seedorf said that the way that Team 1 worked so closely with TRMI to solve together the challenges that the “spider” light guide posed has greatly affected the mutual respect and mutual trust between TRAM and Team 1. He said that after the light guide went into production, “Team 1 began winning many new awards from TRMI, including transfer work from other TRMI suppliers who were unable to solve production issues.”

Gary Grigowski, Vice-President and Co-owner of Team 1 Plastics recalled one such transfer production job that the company received from TRAM in 2008. He said that TRMI was having quality and delivery issues on a part manufactured by one of its suppliers. The part, which had been in production for more than a year, continued to have quality issues related to scratches and scuffs on the visual surface, likely attributed to the parts falling on top of each other while waiting for the Press Operator to hand pack them into cell trays.

Grigowski said that TRMI approached Team 1 Plastics and asked the company if it would take over production of the part and solve the quality issue. “Team 1 used automation to solve the quality issue. First, we loaded empty cell trays onto a pallet. Then several of the pre-loaded trays were placed onto an indexing tray conveyor. As the parts were extracted from the injection molding press by the three-axis robot, they were placed into a nest. Then, a scara robot grabbed the parts from the nest and packed them individually into the cell trays.”

The use of automation in the process eliminated the need to hand pack the parts. The process now required only a small amount of time by the Press Operator – mainly to remove the full trays and to replace them with empty ones. Grigowski said, “Since the parts no longer fell on top of each other, the visual defects disappeared, and the quality issue was solved. He added, “Team 1 Plastics continues to manufacture this part for TRMI more than 10 years later!”

Carrel summed up how Team 1 Plastics feels about its relationship with Tokai Rika and TRAM, “We would not be here today without their ongoing support. The relationship has helped us develop a strong, new part launch process. They have been willing to work with us even when we have struggled, and they have helped us become a stronger and better company.”

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