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August 20, 2002

11 Min Read
IMM's Plant Tour: An undeviating standard of service


Fabrïk's molding machine capacity includes 63 presses in three bays. Bay 1, shown here, houses its smaller horizontal-clamp presses from 40 to 200 tons. All of its machines in all of its bays are Engels. The ductwork running under the high ceilings, as part of the company's air recycling system, is indicative of Fabrïk's commitment to the well-being of its trusted employees.

Seth Wagner, founder and president, started Fabrïk Molded Plastics (McHenry, IL) in 1980 with one goal in mind—standardization. He sought qualified, dedicated people who could apply up-to-date processing techniques to the latest advancements in materials and equipment technologies. With the best tools available, updated and always on hand, such people would set standards that would continuously improve, never failing to meet or exceed their shared commitment to excellence.

"We have automotive programs that go back to the mid 1980s and are still running," Wagner says. "And when we take on a new product or a new product technology, we do it right. We're looking at multishot molding now. But we're not looking at taking on six different two-color projects a year all at once. We'll start with one, and we'll do it right."

Newcomers find what Fabrïk's loyal base of satisfied customers have found over the years—reliable, technologically sound partners from its front office, to its cradle-to-grave project engineers, and right down to its shop-floor personnel. Meeting or exceeding its own standards of excellence does the same for its customers' quality and cost-containment expectations. That's the most important result of Fabrïk's standardization.

Fabrïk's close-knit circle of suppliers also has found the same unwavering dedication to the pursuit of excellence at work in McHenry that its customers have. Its suppliers have shared in the winnings from the company's growth-forecast to be more than 7 percent in FY 2002—by being players on Fabrïk's team. Its standard for equipment turnovers is every four to seven years, or as required.

Design for manufacturability, precision molding, rotary-table insert molding, and pad printing are among the key specialties Fabrïk does right. How? Let's tour.

Production-intent Prototyping
The facility plan is basically in a horseshoe shape that follows the flow of a project from design engineering to finishing and assembly. Our guide is Don Hardin, sales manager. The first stop is Fabrïk's design and prototyping department. Fabrïk provides prototyping and DFMA services for customers. It has two seats of SDRC Ideas, one of Pro/Engineer, one seat of Cadkey, and three of AutoCAD. All are the latest revisions.


Shown is a sampling of the parts Fabrïk molds. From the top, clockwise, these include a mounting housing (steering column) for a turn signal/windshield wiper/clock spring assembly; electrical coilform/bobbins (white parts) and components of an oral cleansing kit (blue); insert-molded bezels used as a component in a cruise control housing; retainer used in a fuel delivery assembly; and parts used in the turn signal/wiper/lighting group assembly for a column mount.

Vital Stats
Fabrïk Molded Plastics, McHenry, IL

Square footage: 120,000

Annual sales: $28 million to $30 million

Markets served: Automotive, aerospace, appliance, E/E, medical

Parts produced: 155 million/year

Materials processed: Acetal, nylon, LCP, other ETPs and commodities

Resin consumption: 3,038,179 lb/year (2001)

No. of employees: 265

Shifts worked: Three shifts, five days/week

Molding machines: 63 (44 horizontal, 19 vertical-rotary), 40 to 400 tons, Engel

Secondary operations: Decorating, pad printing, hot stamping, heatstaking, insert blanking, hi-pot continuity testing, vision system inspection, ultrasonic welding, assembly

Internal moldmaking: Production-intent steel prototypes, outsources 80 percent of production tools

Quality: ISO 9002

Its design activities are supported well by its experience in resin selection, moldmaking, and parts manufacturing. Hardin says Fabrïk's integrated art-to-part expertise helps it keep its promise to customers that any deviation from realistic part specifications will effectively be zero.

Fabrïk has a 7000-sq-ft toolroom that is fully equipped with EDMs, grinders, milling machines, drill presses, and even a CNC machining center. All of its fixtures and EOAT are built here. Though its toolroom is capable of building production molds, Fabrïk mostly sticks to prototype moldmaking, mold improvements, and revisions to existing tools. In addition, Fabrïk maintains a second fully equipped toolroom (about 4000 sq ft) for maintenance, mold repair, mold cleaning, and mold revisions when required.

"We do a lot of production-intent prototype molds in steel," Hardin says. "What we learn from our prototypes is built into our production tools."

It outsources most of its production tools to a half-dozen or so suppliers that it's been dealing with for about 20 years. Wagner says they are an extension of Fabrïk. All of its moldmakers must adhere to Fabrïk's own set of standards, which incorporate innovative design, SPI standards, QS 9000 criteria, and core customer requirements. Hot runners from Synventive Molding Solutions (Peabody, MA) are the latest Fabrïk has used.

Though Wagner helped put himself through college by working as an apprentice toolmaker, he shies away from committing to a full-scale, in-house moldmaking shop. "It's easier to yell at someone else than it is to yell at your own employees," he jokes. "Besides, we're a great salesroom for our toolmakers."

The Engel Standard
Fabrïk's injection molding operations are in three bays. The first houses its smaller machines, 40 to 200 tons. The second is reserved for its vertical-clamp, rotary-table insert molding presses, ranging from 55 to 200 tons. And the third is for its larger, 200- to 400-ton presses. The bays are temperature controlled, and the air is recycled. Machine utilities are from overhead. Ceilings are 20 to 22 ft high, and the flooring is urethane coated.

Fabrïk has standardized, 100 percent, on injection molding systems from Engel (Guelph, ON). It's had a close working relationship with Engel, literally, from day one. When he opened his first molding shop in Algonquin, IL before moving to McHenry in 1984, Wagner says he acquired the first three Engel machines ever sold into the U.S.

His son, Keith Wagner, worked at Engel in Guelph for 18 months before he went to college. Keith is now Fabrïk's VP and GM. And, until just a few months ago, our tour guide, Hardin, sold Engels in the area. He says Fabrïk was one of his best customers.

"We've had a symbiotic relationship with Engel over the years," says Wagner. "They have helped us considerably, and we have contributed a lot to Engel, too."

"Equipment standardization looks nice, but it's practiced here because it's practical," Hardin says. "It makes training and maintenance so much easier, and it gives us better control over our processes and minimizes rejects." Wagner adds, "Standardization makes us self-sufficient. We can buy one part that will fit a multitude of machines, and vice-versa. That reduces both training requirements and inventory costs."


The majority of the 19 vertical-clamp insert molding machines in Bay 2 are equipped with Avalon digital video imaging systems to ensure proper insert placement and to prevent mold damage.

Standard Options
All of its Engels are 1994 model year or newer, and all are equipped with Engel's quick mold-mounting system for fast changeovers. The majority of Fabrïk's parts removal servo robots also are from Engel.

Engel's CC-100 RISC-based multiprocessing machine controllers are on all of its machines purchased since 1997. The control systems on all of its presses are closed loop and can interface with QA equipment for gathering SPC data, or with auxiliaries.

Fabrïk uses all of the special process control software Engel controllers have to offer, such as its Micrograph system. Once an ideal process is established, Micrograph monitors the entire process in real time.

"Our machine operators are parts handlers only," says Hardin. "The only time you'll see our technicians on the floor is when they're installing or setting up software."

Core pull and unscrewing through an integrated hydraulic system are standard on its horizontal machines. Low-pressure mold protection is universal throughout the shop.

Standardized Auxiliaries
ERP II software from IQMS (Paso Robles, CA) is another universal Fabrïk standard. It is used for quoting, scheduling, and real-time machine networking. Every machine in the plant is networked to the system.

The 300-ton Engel in this cell runs five days a week untouched by human hands. Parts are automatically palletized, and the pallets are automatically stacked. The majority of Fabrïk's robots are Engels.

Fabrïk builds production-intent prototype tools in steel for its customers in a well-equipped, 7000-sq-ft toolroom. It also modifies and improves existing molds.

Fabrïk has also standardized its auxiliary equipment. All of its machines are equipped with hopper loaders and dryers from Universal Dynamics (Woodbridge, VA). Its press-side dryers are mobile units. The company also has a custom-built, five-station offline hopper drying system from Una-Dyn.

Its water temperature controllers are either from Sterling (Milwaukee, WI) or Advantage Engineering Inc. (Greenwood, IN). Oil temperature controllers are from Sterling. Granulators are from Cumberland Engineering (South Attleboro, MA) or IMS Co. (Chagrin Falls, OH).

All of Fabrïk's parts handling conveyor systems are from Harvard Factory Automation (HFA; Harvard, IL). Many of the systems on the shop floor were custom-built by HFA to Fabrïk's standards.

Fabrïk standardizes its equipment. All of its hopper loaders and dryers are from Una-Dyn, including this custom-built centralized desiccant-drying system.

These 8-oz throttle body housings, molded in PEI, are robotically removed, degated, and weighed for SPC purposes.

Fabrïk's QA equipment includes a Model VM-150 Nikon Veritas CNC video measuring system. It automatically transfers data to Windows-based programs, like Microsoft Excel.

All of the molding systems at Fabrïk's plant are networked into its real-time IQMS ERP II system. Scheduling during setup saves time and takes the guesswork out of product flow.

Vertically Integrated Verticals
Molding electrical circuitry, fastenings, connectors, filters, and other inserts is a company specialty. Fabrïk has 19 rotary-table Engels in Bay 2. "We find the rotaries to be easier to operate for our kind of parts. We automate them as much as possible," says Hardin.

It has 16 video inspection systems from Avalon Vision Solutions LLC (Lithia Springs, GA) and RealTime Technologies (Waterloo, ON). They keep an artificial eye on insert presence and placement to prevent mold damage.

Fabrïk has 15 pneumatic, hydropneumatic, mechanical, and hydromechanical stamping presses, from 2 to 15 tons, for blanking, perforating, and for multicircuit isolation of the inserts it uses. One of its inserts has 32 isolated circuits stamped from one blank.

Supporting its sophisticated insert molding operations are 11 hi-pot testers with 5000V capacity. These devices test the voltage traveling from one lead to another, ensuring proper arc transit between terminals. In addition, an assortment of continuity devices and testing fixtures are used.

Fabrïk maintains a sales/customer service/QA office in McAllen, TX and is looking to expand into new markets, particularly those requiring the type of value-added parts that are Fabrïk's forte. "These days, we all have to do something other than just molding," Wagner says. Whatever it winds up doing, Fabrïk will probably do it right.

Close-tolerance, multicolor pad printing of parts with irregular or unconventional surfaces is another Fabrïk specialty. A 5000-sq-ft room houses a state-of-the-art, temperature-controlled, and environmentally friendly pad printing department.

In-house decorating and contract services are provided. And, like the rest of Fabrïk's facility, its decorating and finishing department meets or exceeds ISO/QS standards. "We perform the highest-quality pad printing of products in the U.S.," says John Ruck, a 20-year printing industry veteran, who heads the department.

There are eight automated pad printing lines here, consisting of custom-built pad printers from Trans Tech (Carol Stream, IL). The lines are supported by IR heater/conveyors from Cincinnati Printing & Drying (Cincinnati, OH). Rucks says he personally designed the latter. Fabrïk also does hot stamping, die cutting, and finishing.

High-quality pad printing is a specialty of the house at Fabrïk. The company runs eight fully automated, custom-built lines.

Contact information
Fabrïk Molded Plastics
Div. of Fabrïk Industries Inc.
McHenry, IL
Don Hardin
(815) 385-9480; www.fabrikind.com

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