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August 7, 2000

6 Min Read
Adding ISO without adding cost

When it comes to ISO certification, I take the bottom line into account." Gene Pitts is a practical man. He and his brother Rick run a trim ship his father Bob, a veteran toolmaker and product designer, launched four years ago. It's a precision custom molding and moldmaking company called Marchel Industries Inc. (MI Inc.—Spartanburg, SC). Serving consumer electronics, medical, and snap and fastener markets, and specializing in multicavity lens molding, MI's average annual sales are about $1.6 million.

ISO Floor
MI's manufacturing area is bright, air conditioned,
and spotless. Its 15 Arburgs, ranging from 28
to 83 tons, are arranged end-to-end in two rows with foam-
insulated utilities dropping unobtrusively from the ceiling.

The brothers work hard to keep overhead low. They didn't spend any money hiring a consultant to come up with a company name, for instance. "Marchel" is a cryptogram of the first letters of Bob's grandchildren's first names. Rick, the president, runs manufacturing. Gene, vice president of sales, continues:

"We see the need for ISO from a marketing standpoint. It's critical. It's something we need to do to broaden our customer base within the markets we're serving now, but we're not being pressured into it by our customers. We see its need from a functional standpoint, as a means of adding value to our business." Gene and company want to add ISO, but they don't want ISO implementation to add to their bottom-line costs, especially their labor costs.

"We want to implement ISO without adding any more people, any 'paper pushers,' if you will, especially up on the front end of the business, like those who would be involved in setting ISO up, like an ISO manager, and an assistant to the ISO manager, or special gauge calibrators, or anything like that," says Pitts. "We feel ISO implementation duties should be spread out among the people we already have, and we're well on our way."

It's yet to receive ISO certification, but MI already runs like a certified company, and then some. "ISO is basically a given document, documenting what we're already doing," says Pitts. Just walk around MI's immaculate shop floor and you'll see. MI's been in its own 18,750-sq-ft plant just under two years. The manufacturing area is bright, air conditioned, and spotless. You won't find many cardboard boxes, for instance. MI uses returnables.

"All I need to do is put HEPA filters on the doors, and I could do cleanroom medical," Pitts jokes. MI operates 15 machines from 28 to 83 tons. They are arranged end-to-end in two rows with foam-insulated utilities dropping unobtrusively from the ceiling. MI has standardized on Arburg molding machines. Arburg opened one of its technical centers in Spartanburg not too long ago, a helpful fact not lost on any at MI. MI also uses hot runners from Mold-Masters. Mold-Masters Injectioneering also recently opened in Spartanburg. All dryers are the latest models from Conair Franklin, designed for small machines. "With standardization, there's less trouble," says the practical Pitts.

MI runs mostly engineering resins like PC and PMMA, about 225,000 lb a year. Materials control is, in his words, "nothing fancy." Materials are properly arranged in rows with easy-to-read visual aids. Regrind and virgin are clearly identified. All grinders are out of the main molding room. All spare parts are in their proper place, as are all tools. Speaking of tools, MI's toolroom is equally shipshape. Mark Davis and his partner work a single shift, but like many other moldmakers, Pitts says, "They really work here all the time." They basically concentrate on core and cavity work in building customer molds to run in-house, but occasionally build their own bases.

Unlike many other moldmakers in the States, Davis mostly uses copper electrodes rather than graphite in his Hansvedt two-axis CNC EDM. He says tungsten copper is faster, cleaner, and worth the extra expense. Davis says molds built in his toolroom run the first time: "They don't come back in here."

MI employs a total of 22, working in three shifts from five to seven days a week. Pitts has seen to it that all of MI's shop-floor people, including Russell Dietz, process technician, have been trained to be QC inspectors. They enter data from the critical dimensional tolerances they monitor into the company's DataMyte SPC software.

Dietz and his associates have also started to chart statistics for determining the best processing parameters to keep quality under control. Every change in the process is dated and recorded. "After you make a part, it's too late," Pitts observes. MI molds lenses for the latest Bose radio models in optical-grade PC and hot runner multicavity tooling, holding tolerances to within .0005 inch in certain dimensions, shot to shot.

Different Products 

MI molds many different products for its
customers in the consumer electronics,
medical, and snap and fastener markets. 

Pitts is a self-avowed "form freak." If a form doesn't already exist for something, he creates one. "It's what I like to do," he explains. For example, MI's preventive maintenance checklists are very thorough. "We check everything, right down to the heater bands and oil," Pitts says proudly. Then, there's his comprehensive Product Quality Requirements (PQR) forms, guidelines covering every job running on every machine, guidelines the operators find very helpful. In one 48-cavity job they helped improve the CPK from 1.18 to 1.5. "All the people in the shop are supportive of ISO. They already know how big I am on documentation control, and they know documentation can help them. It's key with them."

Perhaps more to the point, Pitts has already generated a book of plant operating procedures that he developed according to ISO standards. It includes work instructions. "Why have some other layer of bureaucracy do that for you?" he asks. That would mean meetings. "We're not very big on having meetings. We're not a big company. We'd have to shut down our machines for meetings. We have an open-door style here. If someone on the floor has an idea, he might forget it by meeting time. When I'm writing things like the work procedures—that's when I have my meetings, to make sure I get input from everyone."

MI plans on pursuing ISO 9002 certification this year, even though it could pursue ISO 9001 with its skills in product design. It uses Cadkey and D-M-E CAD/CAM software for part and mold design purposes. But Pitts believes ISO 9001 would definitely mean adding more people. "Why spend the money for that? You could better utilize the money to improve production, tooling, and support equipment than in putting in another person to chase paper. My machine rates are low—we're truly a low-overhead molder." Pitts says the company's practical ISO goals are to contain costs while adding to the knowledge base of his existing work force, thereby using ISO as a way to add value to the company. MI is a low-overhead company; Pitts plans to keep it that way.—Carl Kirkland

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