The Customer Buys the Machine, You Mold the Parts

By: Matthew H. Naitove 1. October 2014

I’ve heard of custom molders locating a satellite operation inside a customer’s facility, but a recent visit to Currier Plastics in upstate Auburn, N.Y., exposed me to the inverse of that arrangement. On both the injection and blow molding sides of its business, Currier is operating some customer-owned machines in its plant. The reasons for doing so differed in each case.


In extrusion blow molding, Currier runs a large Automa machine making three sizes of HDPE detergent bottles. According to Steve Valentino, blow molding plant manager, the basic machine cost $1 million and required another $300,000 to $400,000 in hardware and software modifications for product-quality purposes and to allow quicker mold changes. Because the raw material accounted for 70% of the piece price, Currier told the customer that the job would not be profitable if Currier had to pay for the machine and upgrades. So the customer bought the machine and pays Currier to operate it, but at a much lower machine-time rate than usual. (The machine is pictured here receiving attention from Mary Stotler, Currier’s first female blow molding technician.)


In injection molding, Currier had been custom molding acetal electrical parts an OEM that subsequently acquired a business with in-house molding capacity. The OEM came to the conclusion that Currier could mold the parts more efficiently than the acquired captive operation. So the OEM moved eight Engel presses to Currier. Five of them are now molding acetal cable-connector insulators; the other three are currently idle, awaiting new program approvals. Again, both parties save money, so the arrangement profits both, according to Sriraj Patel, injection molding project engineering manager and toolroom manager.

More Details On The Big Area Additive Manufacturing (BAAM) Project

By: Lilli Manolis Sherman 27. September 2014


As I discussed in an earlier blog this week, the launch of Cincinnati Inc.’s prototype Big Area Additive Manufacturing Machine (BAAM) made a big splash at the recent IMTS show in Chicago, and further development of what is already an impressive machine is underway.


A couple more interesting tidbits about BAAM were passed onto me by my colleague Jim Callari. One is that Dri-Air Industries furnished the dryers for the carbon fiber reinforced ABS that was used for the Strati car project that was produced during IMTS. The other is that a well-known authority in plastics processing and machinery  designed the screw for the project. The original screw used was generating 10 lb/hr but the new design from this pro boosted BAAM’s output to 35-40 lb/hr, as noted in the earlier blog. This pro has also signed up to design and build new extruders for this evolving project.


As reported previously, BAAM resulted from the formation of the company’s partnership earlier this year with Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) to develop a large-scale additive manufacturing system. The partners aim: to introduce significant new capabilities to the U.S. machine tool sector which supplies manufacturing technology to automotive, aerospace, appliance, and robotic industries.


The prototype machine uses the chassis and drives of Cincinnati Inc.’s gantry-style laser cutting systems at the base, and incorporates a high-speed cutting tool, pellet feed mechanism, and control software. Cincinnati Inc.’s market development manager Rick Neff explained to me how the company participated with Local Motors, Sabic and ORNL to take on the challenge to 3D print a car during the IMTS trade show.


Printing started on Sunday morning at 7 am, and by 6 am Tuesday, they had printed the main structure of the car including the frame, seats, cockpit, hood and tail in one 1000-lb piece. The rough part was then taken to a Thermwood Router where the surfaces that needed to be accurately machined smooth were routed smooth.


On Wednesday through Saturday morning, the Local Motors crew attached a drive train, suspension, steering wheel, instruments, brakes and some trim to complete the car. The car, named Strati (Italian for layers), uses a drive train from Renault that is employed in the European Twizy City Car. “Right on schedule at 9 am Saturday, we fired up the Strati and drove it out of the show…the reaction from the crowd and the press was overwhelming,” says Neff.


Here is some key information Neff provided about BAAM:


• The machine extrudes hot thermoplastic to build parts layer-by-layer, similar to an FDM machine.

• BAAM’s extrusion rates are very high—in the neighborhood of 35 lb/hr, which is reportedly hundreds of times faster than typical rapid prototyping 3D printers.

• The material for Strati is ABS with carbon fiber reinforcement formulated right into the plastic. Carbon fiber reinforced ABS is readily available for about $7/lb.

• The layer thickness is 0.160”.

• The build envelope on the prototype BAAM is 2m x 4m x 0.87m.

• The extruder can use quite a variety of thermoplastics and fiber reinforced thermoplastics. Neff says they have used ABS, PPS, PEKK, and PEI. Carbon fiber and glass fiber reinforcements have been used to improve strength and thermal stability of the parts.


Although a production version of BAAM is not yet ready for delivery, Neff confirms that the company is considering selling a very few alpha level machines to laboratories or companies who would like to do some basic research on the technology right now. He says, they are also willing to take orders for beta level and production machines that will be available in 2015 for customers who want to be the first in their industry to be using BAAM.


SPE Extrusion Group Annnounces Two New Scholarships

By: James Callari 26. September 2014

The Extrusion Division of the Society of Plastics Engineers announced recently the establishment of two new scholarships for student seeks to pursue advanced education in polymers.


The Ed Steward Ed Steward Scholarship will be awarded to students selected by the SPE Extrusion Division’s Scholarship Review Panel. The Division will award scholarships as follows: Once each academic year, the Extrusion Division of SPE will have a goal to award at least one $2,500 scholarship to a student meeting the scholarship’s criteria listed below:

• Applicant must be or become a SPE Student Member and be active in the local Student Chapter if their university or college has such a chapter.


• Applicant must be attending (or high school senior applying to attend) a U.S. or Canadian college or university.


• Applicant must be an undergraduate student enrolled in, or high school senior applying to, an associate degree or technical degree program, who is committed to becoming a “hands-on” workers in the plastics industry – i.e. students who are dedicated to careers as plastics technicians or engineers.


Preference will be given to:


• Students pursuing a career in plastic or rubber extrusion processing.


• Students of exceptional merit enrolled at a university or college who are focusing on polymers or Plastics Engineering

Students pursuing an associates or bachelor’s degree in Mechanical, Chemical, or Manufacturing Engineering and focusing on a career in manufacturing involving plastics.


• High school seniors or students in their first year in an engineering program at a college or university;

• Students with an academic record indicating a 3.0 grade point average or higher who are in good academic standing;


Students who are awarded the Ed Steward scholarship are to submit a testimonial report back to the SPE Extrusion Division as to the benefit that they were given by receiving the scholarship from the Extrusion Division.

Ed Steward (photo) was a long-time member of the SPE Extrusion Division whose screw designs are still operating at plastics plants around the world. After a long-stint at Davis-Standard, Steward joined with Bill Kramer to co-found American Kuhne Corp., Ashaway, R.I., which is now part of Graham Engineering Corp. Steward passed away in 2011.


The scholarship will be funded by contributions from of $1200 from the Steward family; $1800 from SPE Extrusion Division; and $6000 from American Kuhne.


The Russell J. Gould Scholarship, meantime, will also be awarded to students selected by the SPE Extrusion Division’s Scholarship Review Panel. The Division will award scholarships as follows:


Once each academic year, the Extrusion Division of SPE will have a goal to award at least one $2,500 scholarship to a student meeting the scholarship’s criteria. The conditions are as follows:


• The applicant must be or become a SPE Student Member and be active in the local Student Chapter if their university or college has such a chapter.


• The applicant must be US or Canadian citizen;


Preference will be given to:


• Students pursuing a career in plastics, rubber or polymer processing.


• Students of exceptional merit enrolled at a university or college who are focusing on polymers or Plastics Engineering


• Students pursuing an associates or bachelor’s degree in Polymer, Materials Science or Plastics Engineering and focusing a career in manufacturing.


• Students in their second or third year in their degree program at a college or university;


• Students with an academic record indicating a 3.0 grade point average or higher who are in good academic standing.


• Students who are awarded the Russell J. Gould scholarship are to submit a testimonial report back to the SPE Extrusion Division as to the benefit that they were given by receiving the scholarship from the Extrusion Division.

Gould died last December. A long-time member of the Extrusion Division Board and editor of its newsletter, he was an internationally known inventor and consultant and won engineering awards for his distinguished work in the plastics industry.


For more information on either of these scholarships, click here.

New Initiative Aims At Workforce Development

By: James Callari 26. September 2014

The Society of the Plastics Industry (SPI) and the Society of Manufacturing Engineers (SME) Tooling U have announced the launch of a new online training program aimed at closing the manufacturing skills gap in the plastics industry. Administered by Tooling U-SME, PlasticsU will serve the plastics industry by providing formal online training tailored specifically for the industry’s challenges and needs. Tooling U-SME is considered a leader in providing workforce development and training to the manufacturing industry,


“Our industry has some of the best and brightest workers, operating top-of-the-line equipment and technology,” said Bill Carteaux, SPI's president and CEO. “Unfortunately, many of the technological advancements made recently are being held back by a growing manufacturing skills gap, which is why SPI partnered with Tooling U-SME to launch PlasticsU.”


He adds, “The plastics industry will not realize its full capacity for growth and production unless companies take an active approach to workforce development. PlasticsU offers these companies flexibility and convenience to make this process easy.”


As recently as 2013, a vast majority of U.S. manufacturing companies reported being challenged by a moderate shortage of qualified workers for skilled production, as reported by SME. Volume alone is no longer the sole solution to increased productivity. Highly technical and specialized skills are required not only to meet increased demand, but to maintain growth into the future.


“By instituting a training program, companies can ensure they remain competitive today and into the future,” said Jeannine Kunz, managing director of SME’s Workforce and Education. “Creating a well-trained workforce can help improve quality, cycle time, communications, reliability and safety, while reducing costs and downtime/rework.”


Because SPI represents and supports such a wide range of the companies throughout the entire plastics industry, it partnered with Tooling U-SME to develop PlasticsU and provide a customized selection of courses and programs for areas specific to as many stakeholders as possible. With levels ranging from a basic introduction to the most advanced studies, courses include Interpreting Blueprints; Creating a Milling Program; Principles of Injection Molding; Measuring System Analysis; Rigging Inspection and Safety; and CNC Controls: GE Fanuc, Haas and Mazak.


Click here to learn more about PlasticsU and to sign up.


In another somewhat related development, DME Company, a leading supplier of hot runners, mold bases and a variety of other mold components based in Madison Heights, Mich.,  has awarded a $1,000 DME Plastics University scholarship to a senior student at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville. Teng Yang (photo below), who hails from Oshkosh, Wis, received the scholarship for the fall 2014 semester at UW-Platteville. It is the second time Yang has been named a recipient of the scholarship. He is the second student to be awarded the DME Plastics University Scholarship twice since the program's inception.


Each year since 2008, DME has offered this scholarship program to help finance, encourage and support the future of qualified students who have interest and potential in moldmaking, plastics and related career fields.


“DME is committed to advancing training and education within the plastics industry by continuing to support the DME Plastics University Scholarship Program,” said Dean Froney, DME v.p. and GM. “As one of the preeminent leaders in the industry, it’s both our obligation and in our best interest to help develop and groom tomorrow’s moldmaking and plastics industry experts.”


o qualify for the scholarship, students must be enrolled in a plastics program at any accredited trade school or university with a two-year certificate, two-year associate or four-year bachelor’s degree program. Applicants who are enrolled in related coursework are also considered if they demonstrate a strong academic emphasis and interest in plastics.


Along with an application, students are required to submit a transcript, personal statement and recommendations for review. The DME Plastics University Scholarship Program selection committee considers a variety of factors including academic achievement, interest in the field and personal qualities to determine the winners.


DME and other major manufacturers continue an attempt to combat the trend of students shying away from manufacturing disciplines. With an aging population of skilled workers, the plastics industry is facing a major human resources challenge. The scholarship program is just one of the ways DME is taking action to support the ambition of college students who have shown interest in the plastics industry.


The company also offers grants and scholarships to its customers for continuing education, an extension of the popular DME Plastics University on that was created to aid new plastics industry students and professionals.


DME scholarship applications for the spring 2015 semester are available here.


Mission Statements Vs. Business Plans

By: Tony Deligio 25. September 2014

How do you define an expert? A person who has made all possible mistakes within a narrow field.


With that joke, business consultant Christian Majgaard began his keynote address to the SPE Thermoforming Conference in Schaumburg, Ill., using humor and his years of experience at Lego to walk a technology-inclined crowd through a much softer side of business: strategic planning and branding.


Majgaard, who parlayed years of experience at the global toy giant Lego into a successful consulting career, noted how often times new clients regale him with the story of their company via Powerpoint, often times including an aerial shot of the sprawling business among the slides, hoping to convey growth, and thereby, success.


“Is that growth what we could call true development or is it obesity,” Majgaard asked, noting that expansion is many times conflated with development. In his consulting business, Majgaard often works with companies that have attempted to develop a grand strategy on their own, with mixed results.


More than a mission statement
Deriding the “away day poetry meeting,” where management hole up for a half day in a hotel conference room to reinvent a struggling company, Majgaard discussed how some businesses utilize such time to develop a new mission statement. That statement becomes the “poetry” at the top of a pyramid with a base of “plans and budgets” and a middle consisting of a “success formula.”


“It is the stuff in the middle that's interesting,” Majgaard said. He then laid out the basic model for a “success formula” as a spectrum, running from right to left and consisting of “capability” on the far left, “original idea” in the middle, and then “market preference” on the far right.


“You need to put the idea in the middle and see yourself on the one side and then the customer on the other,” Majgaard explained, adding that success usually means that the original idea you develop is ultimately liked by your company and your customer, but just for different reasons.


When developing that “original idea”, Majgaard said it must answer three questions:


  • Who is the customer?
  • What are you trying to offer your customer?
  • How are you going to make it happen?


In this scenario, the second question becomes what is more commonly known as the value proposition, while the final query is the basis for a business model. Once that is established,  a company must determine whether the customer actually “likes” the new idea. In this instance, affection is often determined by three additional questions by the customer of your company.


  • Do I know and like you [branding]?
  • Are your covering special needs?
  • Can we reach each other [sales and marketing]


“It is as banal as that,” Majgaard said. “If you take any startup company, you can use those questions and see if it will be a success or not.”


Brands vs. Logos
Majgaard noted that he had walked the SPE Thermoforming Conference’s show hall prior to his presentation, commenting on impressive machines and detailed displays, but noting an omission by many exhibitors that is common among a great number of businesses.


“What we often miss is the explanation of in what way is this product an advantage to the customer,” Majgaard said. “This is a value proposition.” Once a value proposition is determined and conveyed to the market, a company can reinforce that differentiator via branding.


On his next slide, Majgaard pulled up an array of famous corporate logos, using these readily identified graphics to draw a distinction.


“Are these brands or logos,” Majgaard asked the audience, half rhetorically. “I think we should agree that we see here are logos, because that's the only thing we can see. Logos are painted names. So what are brands than? A brand equals an impression; a logo is an expression. A strong brand equals money, awareness, image, satisfaction, loyalty. A brand can build up loyalty even without comparisons. Brand is power, it makes people choose you again and again.”


As a company works to establish a brand, Majgaard said it must express how its products meetvcustomers needs. “If you can’t figure out those needs, the customer will tell you,” Majgaard said. “And if you're not covering their needs well, one day you will stand face to face with reality.”


Travel with someone who’s been there
Majgaard noted how in the early days of Lego, the founder, who was a woodworker, traveled to Germany to bring back an expert in plastics to the company’s production facility in Denmark, in the process acknowledging his own experience deficit. So too must companies seeking to enter a new area of business hire individuals with prior experience in that new arena.


“The rule is if you're moving from ‘A’ to  ‘B’, the team that does that should have more people on it who are from ‘B’ than ‘A’,” Majgaard said. “The team should have more people who've worked with that new area. If you’re in a completely new technology, please hire some people that have already worked with it.”


New to the world or new to you?
In that same vein, business leaders should be ready to accept that their original idea may not be that original. “If your idea is not new to world, go and see it,” Majgaard said, noting that the relevant scale of novel ideas is “new to the company”, “new to the industry” and, most rare, “new to world.”


“Vision is about, ‘What is our next big move?’ Once the management team agrees,  then figure out ‘Where do we go and see it?’ because in 99% of cases the new idea already on this earth.”


Majgaard finished with some basic truths about human psychology. “Every manager thinks they are a genius and every person says they're ready to change but they aren’t,” Majgaard said, adding that a company doesn’t need to reinvent and entire corporation. Better to start “in the corner first.” Once you do start, remember something else.


“When you want to redevelop a company,” Majgaard said, “you cannot communicate enough,” adding that true communication entails both participants in a conversation understanding its contents in the same way.

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