Empire plans to significantly increase space for its assembly and secondary operations, with 1,000 square feet dedicated to optics secondary operations such as mechanical assembly and coating. Having acquired the assets of Light Wave Enterprises Inc. in 2012, Empire is one of the only precision plastic molders to manufacture both optic and non-optic tooling in house.
Empire's new tool room will comprise 12,000 square feet, tripling the amount of current space. "The tool room seemed quite big at 4,000 square feet when we first moved into the facility, but we've outgrown that space as our molding operations have grown," Neal Elli, President, told PlasticsToday. "In the new tool room, we'll be developing a technology center with three presses designated for mold tryouts, and [we will] groom them prior to taking them to the production floor for process validation, which will allow us to get the molds into production faster. We'll also be adding a crane system in the tool room to handle larger molds."
Currently, Empire operates 38 injection molding presses ranging in size from 20 to 300 tons, but Elli added that he plans to go to 450 tons in the near future. The company also plans to invest in a number of servo-driven robots.
Empire's expansion will include adding 3,600 square feet of office space; the former 4,000-square-foot tool room will be turned into a white room molding area with hepa-filtration. Warehouse space will increase by 8,000 square feet to help support vendor-managed inventory and delivery programs such as KanBan and JIT.
The expansion will also incorporate several energy-efficiency upgrades. For example, hydraulic presses will be replaced with electric machines, and new material driers will decrease power requirements while improving drying consistency. The expansion is projected to be fully completed in the first quarter of 2016.
"These changes are making our processes leaner, cleaner, more accurate and more efficient," Elli said. "We're excited about the opportunity this gives us to better support our customer at all stages of a project, from design and prototyping through assembly and packaging."
Elli noted that Empire has been hiring, and currently has just over 90 employees. The company will also be looking to hire additional technical staff in areas such as plastic engineering, moldmaking, process engineering and quality assurance.
Since purchasing Light Wave, Elli said that the "optics business is starting to gain traction" for applications in medical, lighting and imagery. "We're heavy into medical with several new customers and, of course, we've been strong in electronics for a number of years," Elli stated. The company also molds components for the industrial, military/aerospace and consumer markets.