Hoffer Plastics expands, installs eight new Wittmann Battenfeld presses

By Clare Goldsberry
Published: February 15th, 2013

Hoffer Plastics Corp. finished 2012 by completing another expansion with its latest “focused factory,” a concept developed by Bob Hoffer, founder of the South Elgin, IL company, in 1953. Today, the company has nine focused factories and operates out of a 365,000-sq-ft facility with more than 100 molding machines in operation, including the eight presses added in 2012.

In spite of what we’ve heard about manufacturing’s doldrums and economic woes, Hoffer Plastics has created a firm foundation upon which to grow even in the down times. In fact, Hoffer originated the “focused factory” as a way to make growth manageable, by creating smaller, 12-press “factories” within the evolving and growing facility. Each of the factories within the factory focuses on a specific type of molding process, press or application.

The focus of Hoffer’s newest focused factory is packaging, and the four newest presses from Wittmann Battenfeld (www.wittmann-ct.com) are running in Plant #4. The newest focused factory is a state-of-the-art plant for high-speed, high-tech molding complete with automation. Wittmann Battenfeld also supplied Hoffer with the robotics, automation, and auxiliary equipment that includes a central material handling system for the new factory.

In addition to the four new Battenfeld machines in Plant #4, Hoffer is running three two-shot and one 240-ton Battenfeld HM machine in a separate focused factory at the plant that is molding multicomponent (PP and TPE) appliance handles for a major OEM. According to Rocky Brewer, director of manufacturing at Hoffer, that particular factory was built in less than three months and is dedicated to appliance components.

Maximizing machine utilization critical to custom molders
All 111 of Hoffer’s injection molding machines are process-monitor capable, and many are equipped with remote, web-based monitoring. Hoffer monitors set tolerances on a minimum of three molding parameters: cushion, fill pressure, and overall cycle time.  “Most have an average of five to seven parameters over the course of the production runs,” explains Brewer. “If any parameter goes out of tolerance, the ‘divert’ capability kicks in to ensure that parts that may be out-of-spec are diverted from in-spec parts.”
   
Establishing the process monitoring on the presses is the first step. An MP2 system contains set maintenance schedules for the presses. “We adhere to these maintenance schedules very strictly,” Brewer explains to PlasticsToday. “All of this has, over the last five years, resulted in our machine efficiency increasing drastically. We monitor that on our company score card in each focused factory and closely track machine utilization. This increases uptime by 10-15%. Currently we’re running at 82%-85% capacity.”

Carefully monitoring and tracking each press increases Hoffer’s capacity without having to do "out of the box" things and lets the company know when it actually is hitting full capacity. “If we get new business our numbers show why we need a new press versus just being more efficient with what we have,” Brewer says. “We delve deeply into that before we purchase a new machine. Uptime is the biggest part of the equation. We put a schedule out each day based on efficiencies as well. If we’re scheduled for 48 hours and it takes us 60, we’re in trouble. The goal is 48 hours or less.”

Wittmann Battenfeld’s Web-Services technology is being utilized by Hoffer to enhance their molding operations' performance, create more uptime, and obtain supplier support in real time. Brian Heugh, IMM regional sales manager for Wittmann Battenfeld, said that in today’s manufacturing environment, everything is “instant accessibility.” The control platform on Hoffer’s Wittmann Battenfeld injection molding machines, as well as the R8 Robot Controls and the M7.2 Central Material Handling controls, have true 24/7 coverage.

“Response time is critical when there’s a downtime issue,” Heugh told PlasticsToday. “It’s a just-in-time environment. Most molders don’t have the luxury of taking five days to make three days' worth of production. And in the automotive world, the OEMs have penalty clauses you’ll be charged with if you shut down a line.”

With Wittmann Battenfeld’s Web Services technology, molders can have web-based service immediately for their machine controls. “We don’t even have to have technicians here in the States 24/7. They call the same phone number 24/7, but the next guys that come on line are in Australia, then Austria, then the U.S. as time moves on,” explains Heugh. “They call one phone number and get a technician with the capability of dialing into the machine and performing service no matter what time it is.  And it’s not just the molding press but the robotic and central material handling systems as well. That aspect is relatively new in the industry. Hoffer has been receptive to that plan.”
   
Brewer added that the Web Service has been extremely helpful to Hoffer. “It goes back to efficiency and uptime,” he says. “If machines are down and we didn’t have the personnel training to troubleshoot or fix it, I’d typically have to wait for someone from the machinery maker’s factory. With the web service, we can let them link in and we’re down for two hours instead of two days. We’ve taken full advantage of that service. More and more of the machines we’ve purchased have that availability.”

From a strategy standpoint in today’s processing world, planning uptime is critical. Heugh notes that uptime for machines used to be 98% annually. “However, in order to achieve that you have to have suppliers that respond immediately,” he adds. “Most of our customers have cut back in the maintenance department so coaching them in standard maintenance issues is one of the services we provide. Today’s wireless communication technology that we’ve developed makes it fast and easy.”

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