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Recognition is a great reward for hard work, and the team members of Plastikos Inc., an Erie, PA-based custom injection molder, couldn't be more proud of being awarded the 2012 Manufacturing Success Award from ERP software developer IQMS.

Clare Goldsberry

October 31, 2012

5 Min Read
Automated labeling, quality control, and mold tracking nets Plastikos an award

Philip A. Katen, president and GM at Plastikos told PlasticsToday that he was truly "excited and pleasantly surprised given the impressive competition that we faced" when the company received the award at a reception held at the IQMS User Group 2012 in Las Vegas on Oct. 16. "I couldn't be more proud of everyone on the Plastikos team who played a vital role on our project," Katen said.

Plastikos nominated a three-phase continuous improvement project to the Manufacturing Success committee: Automated IQMS Production Label Generation; Automated Real-Time Dispositioning at the Press; and Automated Mold Tracking via Barcode Labeling. All three phases were completed over a period of several years. With the implementation of each phase, Plastikos achieved greater efficiencies, better productivity and higher quality both internally and for its customers.

Manual labels become automatic
The Automated IQMS Production Label Generation system has proven to be a big benefit to Plastikos. Katen explains that the legacy system the company had in place was largely a manual one, but with 29 injection molding presses ranging from 50 to 220 tons, molding extremely small parts, creating labels for each of the hundreds of boxes of parts generated each day was quite burdensome. Additionally, it resulted in mistakes now and then that caused problems for the customers and Plastikos.

"We had all the data in our IQMS system but didn't have the capability to automatically generate the label, so historically we had to manually input all the information required on the labels for each box and then print the label in shipping," Katen said. "As we all know, any manual process is inherently subject to human error especially when inputting longer part numbers, material lots, box quantity, date/time molded stamp, P.O. number and more. It definitely wasn't the most efficient way to create a label, and occasionally the person would mis-key a letter or a number, which made the whole label wrong. It was frustrating because we could do everything right on the production floor to mold high-quality parts only to get the label wrong. That would impact our quality metrics. It didn't happen often, but even once is too often."

Since each of the company's machines is directly integrated into IQMS to manage the production process from P.O. to finished product shipped, it was a matter of integrating a label printer with the weighing scale and the molding press with the IQMS data - collectively called the Press Label Station. A cross-functional project team from the leadership, IT, quality and production departments worked together to design, develop and rigorously test the custom Press Label Stations. After a few months the Press Label Stations were rolled out to all the presses.

The successful implementation of the Press Label Stations resulted in increased efficiency on the production floor by eliminating multiple manual steps from the process. Additionally, Plastikos eliminated the rework or relabeling required for any boxes that contained inaccurate label information. To date, Plastikos hasn't received a single external customer reject for a mislabeled or incorrectly labeled box since the implementation of its Press Label Stations.

Counting good parts from bad
The next phase of Plastikos' efforts was the Automated Real-Time Dispositioning at the Press system. An order would be processed and scheduled into IQMS, and the members of the quality team would manually update (disposition) the actual number of good parts produced at the end of each shift or the completion of a production order, (three times per day or more if a run completed mid-shift).

The manual dispositioning process was required because a member of the quality team had to verify the actual parts that were produced during a given timeframe prior to updating the corresponding inventory numbers. The actual parts produced took into account any in-process scrap, which any ERP system would otherwise not be aware of. Plastikos recognized that this manual approach was also a sub-optimal process, and their ultimate solution was built upon the foundation of the Press Label Stations.

Working with IQMS, the calculation methodology was refined and the direct interface expanded between the Press Label Stations and the IQMS database. With these software and process refinements, the Press Label Stations could provide an accurate real-time production count (cycled every five minutes) at all 29 presses and then automatically disposition that data to update the company's inventory numbers in IQMS.

"This automated system allows us to see how close we are to filling an order and allows for better planning and scheduling, material purchasing with better accuracy, and when to place an order for material," Katen explained. "It enables everyone to be much more effective and efficient, and again it eliminates the manual step of going to each press at the end of the shift to physically count the parts that were made during the shift. The successful completion of this phase of the project resulted in the elimination of careless errors such as transposing digits or miscounts, and it seamlessly ties into the Press Label Stations."

Where's my mold?
Phase 3 involved Automated Mold Tracking via Barcode Labeling. Being a custom molder always means a large number of molds moving in and out of the presses, going to the mold shop for maintenance and repairs, being prepped for the next run or put back into the mold vault. "While we had a manual system in place, oftentimes people would lose track of a specific mold's physical location because they would forget to manually document when they moved the mold or where the mold was," said Katen.

To solve that issue, Plastikos integrated bar codes on each of the mold frames. Now, using hand-held scanners, people can easily store the information and locate the molds. "It also allows our tool room to see the history of the mold and where it's been, how many cycles that particular mold produced since it was put into the press, and we can design our PM program for specific molds.

While these projects were a huge success, it required a lot of hard work among the project team members. "The payoff is that it made a good company an even better company," commented Katen. "It's all about continuous improvement. Even the small day-to-day improvements start to add up, and we become more efficient. Automating the little manual processes frees people to focus on higher value-added projects. It's improved our performance for our customers too resulting in better quality overall."

About the Author(s)

Clare Goldsberry

Until she retired in September 2021, Clare Goldsberry reported on the plastics industry for more than 30 years. In addition to the 10,000+ articles she has written, by her own estimation, she is the author of several books, including The Business of Injection Molding: How to succeed as a custom molder and Purchasing Injection Molds: A buyers guide. Goldsberry is a member of the Plastics Pioneers Association. She reflected on her long career in "Time to Say Good-Bye."

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