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Last month we looked at the beginnings of a molding company at a time when the injection molding industry was just about to enter a huge growth spurt with new applications in computers, business equipment, telecommunications, automotive, and packaging pushing the industry forward by huge leaps.

Clare Goldsberry

November 19, 2014

5 Min Read
Anatomy of a molder, part 2: Plastic Molding Manufacturing grows over two decades

Last month we looked at the beginnings of a molding company at a time when the injection molding industry was just about to enter a huge growth spurt with new applications in computers, business equipment, telecommunications, automotive, and packaging pushing the industry forward by huge leaps. In this installment we look at the boom years of the 1990s, when injection molders couldn't mold enough parts fast enough, and how this organic growth helped Plastic Molding Manufacturing (PMM; Hudson, MA) strengthen its business.

PMM-cleanroom-400.jpgFor the injection molding industry, the 1990s were the decade of incredibly fast growth. As the economy picked up steam, so did manufacturing. It was a decade in which plastics processing machinery makers couldn't make machines fast enough. Molders were demanding new processing equipment almost every time they landed a new project, and were buying machines from anyone who could deliver the fastest, as backlogs were lengthening delivery times. Additionally, injection molding press technology was evolving with better computer process controls for more accurate material profiling, giving process technicians an edge in faster set-ups.

It was during this period of time that PMM began its organic growth, as the company took advantage of improved molding technologies. George E. Danis, the President of PMM, with Dick McKenney, the business partner, noted that prior to the advancements in machine control technology, processing techniques were "based on the experience of the operator," he said. "We could make good parts but couldn't profile material like you can today, by which we create the process we need for each part, lock it in, and it remains consistent run after run."

McKenney and Danis say they both remember the "dial turners," a term often used for process technicians during that time, who had to learn to change pressures and temperatures until the process was "dialed in" just right, and then it often had to be "tweaked" throughout the run to maintain consistency in the settings. McKenney added, "We had to have good people to keep things under control on the production floor or they'd be constantly tweaking the process."

It was during the 1990s with the advent of process controls that material profiling would be more precise and consistent. While the material might change, the computer aided controls could compensate for that and keep the process under control. The auxiliary equipment was also getting better to keep up with molding machine technology.

Many molders expanded their business during the 1990s, and PMM was no exception.

In the mid-1990s, PMM bought a molding company that had closed. It had 23 molding machines, some of which were newer vintage. "In 1993 we purchased three new Van Dorns with profiling capabilities and from there kept working on upgrading our equipment. We integrated them into our production floor, and got rid of the older machines," said McKenney. "Gradually we upgraded to get all new controls on the presses."

To accommodate the expansion, PMM acquired another company and moved to North Attleboro into a much larger 70,000-square-foot plant with overhead cranes and water lines already installed, well-equipped for an injection molding facility.

The thing that McKenney and Danis remember most about the booming 1990s was the highly competitive environment that erupted during that decade. "A guy could start his own company with just a few used machines, crank them up, and go out and get business," he said. "Every corner you went around you ran into another guy with a small operation. That made it extremely price competitive because many of the smaller companies had lower overhead."

PMM couldn't compete at that level so the company decided strategically to go after larger companies that required a high level of quality that included documentation such as Statistical Process Control (SPC), which became big in quality circles during that time. That drove PMM to begin analyzing the metrics in which they discovered they could do better. "Danis has a ‘passion for perfection' and worked hard to get everyone in the company involved," McKenney explained. "This was a big key to our success. George and I never made a part; we weren't the ones making the parts and putting them in a box. So, we gave the people who were making the parts the responsibility to develop a quality system, the authority to make it happen, and then set some goals for parts per million (PPM). They took this and ran with it. They beat every PPM goal we set. They got so good it was exciting."

In 1999, PMM applied for RIT-USA Today's Quality Award and won. "It opened up our eyes to what people could do if you made them part of the solution," said McKenney. "If they were getting bad parts the operator could shut down the press—they had the authority to make this decision. Give people the authority and the responsibility, and it's amazing the things that can happen. A whole new mind-set was created. They had greater control and more responsibility, and they did a great job for us."

During this decade of growth, PMM also developed an ISO and regulatory compliance tool that combined engineering and quality processing requirements. The company also designed a manufacturing-wide Universal Cross-Training program, the fastest way to transfer project-process-inspection-packaging knowledge from senior technicians to the workforce. "Every operator is cross-trained for every process," noted McKenney, which gave PMM an added competitive advantage for getting customers' orders completed and shipped on time.

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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