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January 1, 2002

5 Min Read
Pulse of the Industry: Riding the technology curve

Until now, the IMM Pulse of the Industry surveys have dealt only indirectly with the actual process of injection molding. We've queried you on issues revolving around e-commerce, management, sales and marketing, design, and tooling. However, this month's survey, the last in the series, finally takes us to the machine itself. We wanted to know what technologies molders are using and how this technology is being implemented. We wanted to know what kind of automation is most popular. We wanted to know what parts of the machine require the most maintenance. 

The data on the next four pages paint a picture and reveal what the survey discovered. Much of what we found out reinforces many of the trends that have emerged in the last few years in the molding industry. Let's look at some of the data now. 

Technology, Quality Trends 
Much has been made of the fact that several high-profile molding jobs have moved south of the border or overseas in the last five years. Although the effect has been disruptive to the molding industry, the reason these jobs move is simple: low-cost labor. To combat this exodus, molders have shifted gears, banking on enhanced productivity and improved quality to help reduce the cost of production. Molders have also turned to value-added functions like assembly to keep and attract customers. 

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What end markets do you serve?

Which of these molding methods do you currently use?


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What molding technologies or philosophies do you employ?


Data from this survey reinforce this. Below, note the response to this question: Have your employee hours per machine increased or decreased over the last five years? A large majority of respondents, 81 percent, said hours have decreased. For those who reported a decrease, the average decline was 19 percent. Similarly, 66 percent of respondents said that sales per employee have increased in the last five years, with the average now at $47,786/employee. 

Enhancing productivity and improving quality can be done using several methods. Topping the list is automation, usually implemented in the form of robots or automated cells. Another option is to learn and use scientific, or Decoupled, molding techniques. Adding higher technology capabilities like gas counterpressure, inmold decorating and labeling, gas assist, and multimolding are also worthy options for molders. 

When it comes to pure molding methods, respondents to this month's survey listed insert molding as the type most often used. This was followed closely by overmolding and coinjection, with small minorities practicing PIM or TXM methods. 

Most surprising, and pleasantly so, was the relatively large number of molders (27 percent) who reported that they use scientific molding techniques. As would be expected, this number was followed closely by the fraction (25 percent) of respondents who said they use cavity pressure transducers. A smaller number (16 percent each) of respondents listed gas assist and inmold labeling as processes they use. On the robotics side, the graphs below indicate that automation is near the top of the capital equipment expenditures list, and that part takeout and workcell assembly robots are the most commonly used. Sprue pickers are a close third on the list, with 29 percent of respondents indicating that they use them. 

How many employees do you have?
130 average

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What label best describes the business of your plant or company?


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What types of equipment do you plan to purchase in 2002?

What is the biggest service item on your injection molding machines?


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What kind of automation do you use primarily?


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In the last year, how big of a factor has electricity become in your total cost of plant operations?

How would you characterize your orders in the last six months?

For 2002, how would you expect orders to fare?

How much money do you plan to spend on new equipment in 2002?
$645,200 average


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Have your employee hours per machine increased or decreased over the last five years?

On average, by how much?
Increase 11%
Decrease 19%
average


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Has the manufacturing floor space per molding machine increased or decreased over the last five years?


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Have your sales per employee increased or decreased over the last five years?

What is the current amount?
$47,786 average


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Has the number of inventory turns you perform increased or decreased over the last five years?

On average, by how much?
Increase 22%
Decrease 9%
average


Not surprisingly, the screw and barrel were reported as the highest-maintenance items on the molding machine, with 33 percent of respondents listing this high-wear duo. A little more surprising is that 23 percent of respondents reported that controls are their biggest service item, followed by nozzles (16 percent) and waterlines (10 percent). 

Adjusting for energy costs has become a real hurdle for some molders, and 32 percent of respondents in the survey said electricity has become a greater factor in the total cost to operate. 

In the end, the efficiencies molders strive for appear to be paying off. The amount of floor space molding machines consume is on the decrease, and 83 percent of respondents say inventory turns have increased in the last five years. 

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