Roberts, Milacron make push for predictive machinery maintenance

Hired into a newly created position in October of last year as president of Americas Aftermarket Service for Milacron Plastics Technologies Group LLC (Batavia, OH), Dean Roberts describes his portion of the plastic machinery equipment manufacturer's business as entailing "the customer experience", and ultimately, being about a lot more than spare parts.

Speaking with PlasticsToday from the company's manufacturing, engineering, and administrative offices in Batavia, OH, Roberts, and Dave Lawrence, president worldwide plastics and DME for Milacron, described how the company views its aftermarket group within its business cycle.

Dean Roberts, president Americas Aftermarket Service, Milacron
Dean Roberts, president Americas Aftermarket Service, Milacron.

"In a lot of ways, it's a big circle," Lawrence said, tracing the shape on the conference table. "We sell a piece of equipment, and we believe our equipment is high quality and reliable, but at some point, you know you're going to have repair issues, and maintenance issues, and Dean's focus is to support that reliability element by anticipating what might go wrong and helping the customer to predict it and ultimately result in less down time, because really, that's it. If you were to ask a customer in certain applications or technical products that we make and sell, 'What's the most important characteristic?', it's up time, reliability."

Parts, productivity, predictive

Roberts, who came to Milacron from the transportation and locomotive industry, with time in aerospace prior to that, has worked in manufacturing for his entire career, with a focus on aftermarket over that whole time. He sees his job and business unit as being focused on what he calls three key levels: parts, productivity, and predictive.

"You've got to be world class in parts delivery, very high expectations, 24/7, etc.," Roberts said, "but when you move up from parts and replacement, now you're at the productivity level." Roberts said the for Milacron this level is occupied by its Servtek brand, including products like TCS ceramic heater bands for injection and extrusion barrels and VBET screws, which are both intended to optimize processing and boost output.

Predictive, as the name would indicate, is about anticipating issues before they occur and mitigating or eliminating downtime.

"Where we're operating now is really the third level," Roberts said. "Now we want to be about predictive and how do we help the customer with what their real needs are going to be. We've got a lot of really smart customers, and they do very good preventive maintenance programs, but we have some additional data that will complement them. How do we help them have a preventive maintenance program that can be even more advanced. What we're talking about is uptime and the elimination of any business interruption costs from an unscheduled event."

Ultimately, Roberts said, the goal is to create a centralized "command center" within the aftermarket group that is tied into its customers' machines and analyzing process data as it comes in, noting occurrences like pressure drops, and using that information to try to predict failures before they occur and result in downtime.

Noting that, "We're not there yet," Roberts said that level of service is ultimately where the company hopes to take its aftermarket business in the future. "Customers can check parameters now within the machine on their site," Roberts explains, "what we'd like to do is bring it to the next level where we're actually helping them, and we can monitor it centrally and do the remote monitoring."

In terms of upcoming product launches, Roberts said the company is currently running trials on a new screw design intended for the packaging industry called the V-Pak, with commercialization planned for the summer. Roberts also noted that its TCS heater bands remain a very active product, luring customers with potential energy savings up to 50% in certain applications and a return on investment in 12 to 24 months. "We're finding that we go out," Roberts said, "we work a trial with a customer; we do a couple of machines; we prove the savings are there; and they outfit their whole fleet."

Lawrence said the goal is to continue to build on aftermarket's success since it ultimately can boost the entire company.

"A lot of time the guy that's really the judge of our equipment is the guy that's out on the shopfloor, the maintenance supervisor, the maintenance guy," Lawrence said. "If we can get him saying, 'I like this stuff; it runs and runs.' It's a win for Dean's portion of the business and the machine side because they feed each other."


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