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What Are the Most Important Issues Facing Processors?

By: Tony Deligio 8. October 2014

In advance of NPE2015, Plastics Technology surveyed its readers regarding their operations, the show, and what the most important issues facing them are, garnering some interesting responses.

 

Nearly 230 individuals responded to the survey, and in terms of the processes performed in house, injection molding lead the way, at 60%, followed by extrusion and machining/fabricating (both at 29%); compounding and thermoforming (both at 14%), with blow molding (13%) close behind. Compression molding (7%) and rotational molding (2%) rounded out the respondent pool.

 

Quality, quality, quality
Just like the old Ford slogan, “Quality is Job One” for our survey participants, with 83% calling increasing manufacturing quality “very important.” Up next was increasing productivity/output (76%), followed by reducing scrap/material waste (63%). The skills gap, which Plastics Technology has covered extensively, is also top of mind for our readers. Just over 57% said finding/retaining skilled workers was very important, with 55% calling increasing their workers’ skills a top priority.

 

Rounding out the list were reducing energy consumption (46%), competing with low-cost manufacturers in other countries (41%), and increasing sustainability or operations/products (35%).

 

What About Safety?
Perhaps as interesting as what our readers checked off, were the topics respondents added in via comments. Leading the way? Safety. Four commenters noted that plant safety was a top concern for them, with additional write-ins including freight rates, developing new/better products, and preventative maintenance.

 

Making NPE better
The crux of the survey dealt with SPI’s triennial plastics event, NPE, and will be highlighted in a feature article that will run in Plastics Technology’s November issue. From those questions two things were clear: lots of folks have been to the show (83% said that they or others at their company had attended), and a lot more people will be headed to Orlando come March (nearly 61% said that they, or someone from their company, would go to NPE2015).

 

We also asked survey participants how they would improve the show, and a theme emerged. In so many words: Make NPE more like K. At least, make it like K in how the show is organized, with like technologies in the same hall (guessing folks wouldn’t want to recreate Düsseldorf weather in October or jam-packed U-bahn cars).

 

Here’s a sampling:

 

Set up floor so that all like manufacturers are in the same location.

 

Put like machinery/processes together instead of having it spread around. Do it like the K show.

 

Arrange the show by category, machines, secondary equipment, quality equipment, robotics, material handling.”

 

Group the technology providers closely together; they compete directly in the market place so there should be no problem with their booth areas all being together.

 

For the upcoming article, Plastics Technology spoke with SPI Trade Show Sales and Marketing Director Brad Williams, who acknowledged that show floor product categories will be a “big discussion” with NPE2015’s exhibit committee following the 2015 event. Whether that leads to a change in layout remains to be seen.

 

It should also be noted, that more than a few respondents were perfectly happy with the show as is:

 

No changes. I already find NPE to be the most useful trade show in the U.S. for my needs.

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.

Out of Chaos, Collaboration

By: Tony Deligio 24. September 2014

Like any good buzzword, “collaboration” has been used and abused enough that its literal definition has all but completely eroded away, leaving in its place a vague sense of what the word once meant

 

At SPI’s Fall Meeting in Chicago, Dan Sanker, founder and president of CaseStack, sought to reaffirm collaboration’s definition, acknowledging the importance of a word that has served as the operational basis of his company, which optimizes shipping of goods among manufacturers, OEMs, retailers and distributors.

 

Per the company’s website:

 

CaseStack combines an advanced transportation and warehousing system with proprietary, web-based software to enable customers to reap the benefits and economies of a sophisticated, global logistics system without all the infrastructure costs.

 

In plastics, he sees similar opportunities in another “sophisticated, global logistics system”, describing the sector in his speech as a “complex, dramatic, big industry with a lot of trading partners.”

 

“If you happen to be in a large, complex industry that seems chaotic at times,” Sanker noted, “that can be a huge opportunity.”

 

The consumer’s role
In a job that requires the day-to-day management of supply chains, Sanker has become acutely aware of the consumer’s ability to influence activity up and down the chain.

 

“The consumer is at the very bottom of the supply chain,” Sanker noted, “and when they they go shopping, that dictates everything that happens up the supply chain,” adding that companies up the chain that respond to consumers are the ones that succeed.

 

Success for Sanker, in part, has meant collaborating with the world’s largest retailer, Wal-Mart. He discussed how the 1300-plus consumer product companies that surround Wal-Mart create a new kind of business cluster, rife with the chaos that can lead to opportunity, describing a “collaborative ecosystem” that is ultimately consumer driven.

 

True collaboration
Sanker broke down true collaboration into four steps:

 

  • Networking (share information)
  • Coordination (take action)
  • Cooperation (share resources)
  • Collaboration (shared risks/rewards)

 

In his business, which involves linking various parties with common interests (albeit at times competing goals), Sanker noted that true collaboration has been key, explaining the power of groups with a simple equation.

 

In a group with 2 participants there is 1 collaborative opportunity, while in a group with 12 participants, there are 4083 collaborative opportunities. How large of a collaborative network could you build? 

CaseStack's Illinois Consolidation Center

Plastics Industry Puts Skills Gap in its Sights

By: Tony Deligio 17. September 2014

When you complete an article, sometimes you feel like everywhere you look news related to that topic is popping up.

 

In Plastics Technology’s September issue, I wrote about the so-called skills gap in manufacturing and what plastics companies are doing to address it, so the whole topic is still very top of mind for me. Apparently the issue is top of mind for lots of others as well. On September 16, I received five press releases related in various ways to the skills gap, ranging from a Manufacturing Day celebration to machine donations to schools to plastics education online and in apps. If awareness of the skills gap really is everywhere, that’s a good thing for the plastics industry.

 

Toshiba Machine announced it will host students and their teachers from local high schools, community colleges and universities for its first annual Manufacturing Day celebration. On Oct. 3, more than 600 Manufacturing Day celebrations will take place across the U.S. For Toshiba, celebrating means helping the U.S. “secure its leadership position in the global manufacturing marketplace by inspiring the next generation of workers to pursue careers in the industry.”

 

Toshiba’s event will run from 10:00 am – 4:00 pm at its corporate headquarters in Elk Grove Village, Ill.  Guest speakers will include Michael Taylor, Senior Director, International Affairs and Trade, Society of the Plastics Industry (SPI) and Omar A. Ghrayeb, Associate Dean, Outreach and Undergraduate Programs, Northern Illinois University. Additional presentations at the event will come from Paulson Training Programs, RJG, Reiloy Westland and Yushin America.

 

SPI and Tooling U-SME launched a new online training program intended to close “the manufacturing skills gap in the plastics industry.” PlasticsU will provide a customized selection of courses and programs for a broad array of plastics related skills. SPI noted that the offerings range from a basic introduction to the most advanced studies, with courses including Interpreting Blueprints; Creating a Milling Program; Principles of Injection Molding; Measuring System Analysis; Rigging Inspection and Safety; and CNC Controls.

 

Milacron announced an expansion of its Education Partnership program, specifically shipping a Magna T Servo injection molding machine to Salt Lake Community College in support of its short-term intensive training program for injection molding. Milacron noted that it has more than 40 machines supporting learning institutions across the U.S.

 

The Salt Lake Community College molding lab currently features three machines, with room for five. The plastics program’s goal is to train up to 15 students every eight weeks. Milacron also noted that Penn State Erie, which offers an accredited plastics engineering technology degree, celebrates the 25th anniversary of its first graduating class in 2014. The multimillion dollar Penn State lab, which has equipment from Milacron and others, provides more than 125 students hands-on training every year.

 

Routsis Training announced the release of its new Injection Molding Reference Guide app for both Apple and Android devices. Routsis notes that the reference guide gives process techs the info they need to troubleshoot and establish a scientific molding process. The app also includes information regarding Routsis’ RightStart and SmartTech training, including video previews from actual training courses.

 

Finally, the first ever International Congress on Vocational and Professional Education and Training was held, an event described as a “global dialogue about the importance of a skilled workforce for economic competitiveness.”

 

Jim Wall, executive director of the National Institute for Metalworking Skills (NIMS) attended highlighting the NIMS’ Competency-Based Apprenticeship System. NIMS reported that the congress focused on “building a positive image of vocational training, supporting bilateral exchanges between the private sector and policymakers, and presenting best practices in companies and schools.”

 

What Does the Future of Manufacturing Hold?

By: Tony Deligio 10. September 2014

Dividing the manufacturing industry by region and sector, an ambitious study attempts to ferret out its future through 2050, with some interesting results. Valentijn de Leeuwm, VP ARC Advisory Group, shared the findings in a webinar entitled: The Future of Manufacturing: Scenarios for Investment in Manufacturing through 2050.

 

Some key takeaways:

 

Sustainability: Industry will undergo major restructuring and modernization due to the pressure for sustainability, which will be less and less ideological and more driven by necessity and scarcity.

 

Reshoring: Technology-enabled re-shoring of small-scale production (mass customization) will require traditional automation to instrument, automate, and connect new categories of devices to enable the industrial Internet of Things (IoT).

 

Connectivity: Data from a single or multiple plants must often be aggregated, integrated with supply chain and business data, analyzed, and exploited to enable what ARC refers to as “information-driven manufacturing.”

 

de Leeuwm placed “rubber and plastics” in the global innovation for local markets group, along with automotive, electrical/electronic, and chemicals. On a regional basis, Africa and “Emerging Asia” were classified as “factor-driven” economies, with Latin America and the Middle East labeled as “efficiency-driven” and Europe, North America and Developed Asia as “innovation-driven.”   

 

In terms of investment growth, the study sees the highest rates in Africa (7%), followed by Latin America (6%), with Emerging Asia and the Middle East both at 5%. Europe is forecast to see 4% growth, while North America and Developed Asia come in at 3%.

 

The study forecasts that the global innovation for local markets industry group, which includes plastics,  will grow steadily but slowly and then be overtaken in investment by the technology innovators industry group (machinery, semiconductors, pharmaceuticals), after 2025.

 

In its “most likely scenario”, the study forecasts that industrial production will grow worldwide until at least 2050.

 

Efficiency-driven economies will experience the highest growth, and innovation-driven economies will also continue to grow and remain important areas for investment, largely because manufacturing has become a high priority as a source of social and economic development. In factor-driven economies, industrial production will slowly grow and accelerate after 2030, but remain small at world scale.

 

de Leeuwm believes local sourcing will be a big driver of manufacturing in the future, regardless of the region. “We will probably produce more locally,” de Leeuwm said. “We foresee large plants making commodities at a very large scale, then shipping materials, with things made locally.”

 

He was most interested in the potential impact a more connected manufacturing industry could have on efficiency. “We believe optimization will become more and more large scale,” de Leeuwm said. “Today we optimize a plant or line, in the future we will do several plants together, real time.”




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