Injection Molding and the Thrill of a Machine Going Down

Does the prospect of trouble shooting a down injection machine excite you more than smooth operations?

As with any good presentation, John Winzeler’s discussion at Amerimold earlier this month challenged his audience. Winzeler started attendees on the path of self examination by pointing out that many run their shops below full output as a buffer for when a line will inevitably go down.

“We run plants at 75% capacity,” Winzeler said, before asking, “how much more product could you get out the door? A lot of us seem to thrive on the thrill of solving a problem when a machine goes down.”

The thrill here owing in part to the problem solver’s ability to swoop in and save the processing day. It’s great that you got the machine running again, but what if it never went down in the first place?

Whenever my wife asks me to grab her something from the top shelf in the kitchen, I joke that I leave things just out of her reach as a means of keeping myself useful. I’m joking, mostly, but in truth, if our kitchen was a molding plant, it wouldn’t make much sense to knowingly keep some aspects of the operation in an ineffective state just for one individual to occasionally feel useful.

Winzeler’s bigger frame for this presentation was his molding facility’s embrace of Industry 4.0. At Winzeler Gear just outside Chicago, he noted that all the molds his company runs are outfitted with temperature and pressure sensors, with vision systems in place for 100% inspection of parts. Every single cycle is tracked, every part has a date stamp, and in all, there are 230 independent Wi-Fi devices sending and receiving signals at any one time—all towards a goal of more enlightened molding.

“Before you can have smart manufacturing, you need smart air, smart water, smart electricity,” Winzeler explained, noting that at present his company has five “connected” machines, for which it has started to collect data. Winzeler notes that many small and midsize companies are not implementing 4.0, while others that gather data don’t necessarily use it. “We generate gigabytes of data,” Winzeler said, “but we’re not analyzing it unless there’s a problem.”

Winzeler’s discussion made me think of Dave Preusse’s presentation, also at Amerimold, of what Industry 4.0 means at Wittmann Battenfeld. While speaking, Preusse shared an anecdote he’d heard of what the molding plant of the future would look like. There will be machines, a dog and a man. The man will feed the dog; the dog will keep the man away from the machines; and the smart machines will just run.

Feeding a dog might not be as exciting as putting out a process fire, but presumably with the additional free time, tomorrow’s process tech can find some more value-added activities.