Firefighting: How to correct a molder's worst nightmare

Plastics processing has a tendency to quickly fall into one of two categories: tribulation.. or turmoil. Early on, I learned the true meaning of "firefighting" as it pertains to the world of plastics injection molding. It is real easy to fall into the "Band-Aid" trap. Ignorance of mold, press, material and manpower failures can embed itself into a company's overall ideology and approach.

The end result nearly always ends in catastrophe!

How many times have I heard the statement, "It always runs that way," and felt the mental cringe that I can only compare to fingernails being drug heavily across a chalkboard? Bad processes run the way they do because no thought is put into root cause. No research is performed to clarify the true problem(s), and little or no effort is put forth to not only identify the problem, but also make an effort to resolve the issue. The industry's mutually shared quest for continuous improvement is easily preached, but commitment to the concept can often fall short.

Perhaps "firefighting" is a molding slang term you are unfamiliar with. If yes, here are some examples that I have heard used (and used myself) in multiple shops over the years.

Molds that repeatably show poor production characteristics: poor ejection, repeating mechanical breakdowns, defects that consistently plague a processor from one press to the next. I'm sure that each of you can add your own insight to this list

Material issues that continuously rear their ugly head: contamination, color swirls, burns, etc. Make a list of your own that you have noted as being recurring problems. Perhaps the list is press or mold specific, or it could be noted from one press to another consistently.

Presses/Robots/Auxiliary equipment can be an additional source of production failures. Screw assemblies fail; press components fall short of production requirements; machine/ equipment inconsistencies can prevent processors from controlling scrap/efficiencies/ downtime. Note what issues you see in your production schematic that continually fail you.

Manpower can be another source of failure: operators fail to meet production demands and miss quality failures; technical support crews fall short of production needs or miss crucial data and defects; in the end leading to unwanted scrap, downtime and equipment/tooling/communication breakdowns. Make yet another list of the failures you note in regards to this area of concern.

Exasperated yet? Don't be. You have now entered the realm of continuous improvement. Problems are expected. It is all about how you acknowledge and correct them that defines your end result; failures that are ignored and accepted will always be  repeatable.

Successful molders:

  • Recognize their weaknesses
  • Plan and implement a corrective strategy
  • Enforce, improve, and monitor the repairs they implement
  • Review the completed change to assure that the desired effect is achieved
  • Reevaluate poor performing corrections for improvement or replacement

All of this may sound complicated, but it is easier to address than you may believe. The most important thing to remember? Approach each problem one at a time. Develop a team to evaluate, process, and resolve the issues based on their exposure, skillsets, and knowledge of the situation you are focusing on.

Once they have developed an approach that the vast majority involved support, stick to your guns and enforce the correction. Once the change has been firmly implemented, utilize the same team to develop a method of monitoring whether the new approach/equipment/procedure/etc. have given your operation the boost you desired and leave it to them to make the determination to accept, improve, or replace the change implemented.

"Fighting fires" may be commonplace in many injection molding facilities.. but no company is bound by its terms. By acknowledging the issues at hand, a facility can liberate itself by making strong, committed strides towards resolution. Continuous improvement is not bound by time constraints, but with hard work, commitment and a true analysis of facility failures, any company can plow through even the worst complications and succeed!

Here are some of the most common failure areas on the plastic injection floor. Many are easy to correct.. others require more concentration:

TRAINING: When it comes to your facility, training should NEVER be deemed as unnecessary, or a budget cut! Your team is only as strong as its weakest link, and training is a crucial buffer when it comes to production. Utilize not only those in your facility that have the ability to offer their own expertise and input, but some of the other outside entities that have been exposed to multiple facilities. Withdrawing from the industry to pursue your own perception of "the right way to do things" is not only limiting but dangerous! The best way for you to keep in tune with industry growth and exposure is participation. Research and implement training sources that best fit the scope of your operation...

ENGINEERING: There is an old saying that "success or failure is an engineered path." Avoid shortcuts in the pre-production stage, and thoroughly plan your production through research and team thought. Problems are easiest to remove during the planning stage.

DESIGN: Tooling/ Equipment/ Material/ Layout is either your best friend or your worst enemy. Take the time to evaluate the overall picture of what you intend to achieve and don't be afraid to be critical of the successes you plan. What are your potential limitations? Has your tooling been tweaked to allow for material fluctuation? How do you expect to be limited in your processing? Are work instructions in place that clearly define each team member's responsibility, and what procedures do they need to follow to properly perform their job duties?

MATERIAL: What thought has been put into your material choice, use and potential failures? Material choice should be based on part function, and flexibility, as well as consistency when processing.

TOOLING: The best time to address tooling failures is during the development/design stage. Are there potential failures that should probably be addressed prior to the production stage? What preventative maintenance procedures need to be implemented and enforced to assure that the tool life is as expected, or extended? What tool functions are most likely to lead to production breakdowns, and limitations, and are there ways and/ or means to reduce or eliminate these risks?

These are just a few considerations you need to evaluate in the pre-production phase. Success is more likely when planned, rather than the depending on Lady Luck to look over and bless your company. After all, team engineering efforts either eliminate or confirm "firefighting" in your plant, and ultimately it is your plant that makes the choice. Which scenario will your team choose?

About the author: Garrett MacKenzie is the owner and editor of www.plastic411.com. Mackenzie started in plastics at the age of 19 as an operator, eventually moving up through the ranks to engineering over a 27-year timeframe. He currently is working as a plastic injection consultant in engineering capacities.

Comments (0)

Please log in or register to post comments.
  • Oldest First
  • Newest First
Loading Comments...