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October 1, 2001

10 Min Read
IMM's Plant Tour: Shaping customers, employees in Eastern Europe


Injection machines at Cascade Engineering Europe have been upgraded to support increasingly stringent quality levels. The most recent units are from Arburg.

A walk through Cascade Engineering Europe (CEE) in a suburb of Budapest, Hungary while talking with General Manager Kornel Lates, is a fast education on this bustling company. CEE was the first venture outside of North America for parent company Cascade Engineering (Grand Rapids, MI). Yet, despite its location in a so-called developing economy, it was the first Cascade operation to gain ISO 9000 certification. 

Getting to that point, however, required a refocusing for the company. When what is now CEE came under Cascade's control in 1992 its marketing was fragmented, unless you consider blowmolding baby powder bottles and injection molding dog brushes to be somehow related. When Kornel Lates joined CEE, an analysis of the existing business climate, production equipment (small IMs), and shipping costs pointed at one of the parent company's strengths: small automotive parts. With marketing support from Cascade USA, CEE has gone after that market, and today is producing a variety of air vents, louvers and ducts, turn signal levers, seating components, and electrical connectors. 

CEE's first customer was Suzuki's assembly plant on the other side of Budapest. Customers like Valeo and Johnson Controls followed. Although CEE will not compete against the assembly operations of its Tier One customers, it nonetheless produces thousands of small assemblies like integrated turn signals. 

It is not easy to enter the European auto market, explains Lates. The existing supplier network is well established and connected, and there is both nationalism and regionalism to overcome. Low labor cost in Eastern Europe is usually seen as an advantage for market entry, and frequently it is implied that this is the only real advantage the region offers. 

That idea makes Lates laugh aloud. He points to Audi's TT as a case in point. Audi wanted its revolutionary and very successful sports car to be nothing short of perfect, and it elected to make it in Hungary. It is produced north of Budapest near the Austrian border. In fact, it is produced only there. Lower cost, says Lates, would surely have been a factor, but definitely not the most important consideration. He says that lower labor cost indeed is an advantage, particularly in assembly. But if you give these big OEMs a few products that fail, he adds with a smile, it does not matter how low the price is. 

CEE, says Lates, knew it had to be very customer-focused to succeed. Engineering, sales, and marketing are in one group under one manager; this provides fast and accurate response to everything from quotations to delivery schedules. Further, a customer group manager, an engineer, is assigned to each client as the main contact. This person handles all support functions, but each client also knows other members of the team and can go directly to them as needed. 



The only machine at CEE more than 200 metric tons, this 1000-ton Negri-Bossi is primarily used to mold automotive seating components (above).


CEE produces thousands of small assemblies like this integrated turn signal. Even the pad printing for this assembly is done in-house.

Molding Systems 
CEE's molding machines number 14. All but one are between 40 and 200 metric tons and work in a single production hall. The exception is a 1000-ton Negri-Bossi robot-equipped system that primarily makes automotive seating components. Six of the smaller machines are from Arburg and are the most recently acquired. Others are from Krauss-Maffei. Although robots are not much in evidence, partly due to Hungary's low labor costs, the machines are still conceptualized as production cells. 

CEE maintains an extensively detailed bluebook on every molded product. The book is always at the machine when it's running. In addition to processing specs and material details, the book also contains a floor plan of the cell showing the process flow. Lates says it is critical that the operator have a complete mental picture of the process to understand the detailed specifications. 

Directly beside the 1000-ton machine, freshly made parts are drilled and heat-staked, which is part of the process flow for these parts. All signs and documentation are in Hungarian and English, making it easier for visiting customers to understand what is happening. Production samples for quality monitoring are pulled and evaluated every 2 hours and there is a quality leader assigned to each of the three shifts. 

The company has a lot of engineering talent on staff. There are very few calls for tech support or service made to suppliers, says Lates. These engineers are also able to design and build custom auxiliary equipment to meet specific product needs. One long-running multicavity production of small connectors uses a staff-designed cylindrical conveying device to quickly bring a high volume of parts from the molding area to a waiting container. 

Cascade maintains what many molders would consider unusually large raw materials inventory. It is not by choice. Since Hungary and the rest of central and Eastern Europe have only recently begun developing production bases, plastic resins and many other items are still shipped in from the west. A delay in customs could bring the best-managed JIT operation to a grinding halt, so the materials on hand have to be in larger quantities. 



The pad printing specialists work as teams and can adjust the machinery themselves for optimum quality, such as on the turn signal arms shown here.



A total of 16 people work in this manual assembly department. Experience and training yield a high output level.

CEE's pool of in-house engineering talent means it can build part-specific equipment like this cylindrical parts conveyance device.

Teams in Training 
There are 16 people working in CEE's assembly section, and there is a lot of product going out the door. The company is particularly proud of its pad printing operation, which is vital for several groups of products, most notably the turn signal levers for companies such as Opel. CEE makes 260,000 of these each month. The company's in-house engineering talent also contributes here. The printing heads are bought from Teca-Print, but the rotary indexing and positioning tables, part jigs, and holding devices are designed and made in-house. 

Most parts generally receive two impressions to produce optimum ink thickness and smoothness. Operators know how to adjust print pressures and ink flow, and do it as needed to maintain perfect line thickness and sharpness. Special devices have been designed to eliminate the possibility of smudging a just-printed part. Teams on different shifts have their own pads, which only they use. They know those pads as a portrait artist knows the strokes a certain brush will make. Translated into numbers, these teams can print 300 ppm with zero scrap. 

Of course, such effective teamwork takes training. The emphasis, says Lates, is on part-specific education and training. Training is participative and two-way. CEE holds to the belief that the people making the parts know the most about the process. Once a week each shift goes through parts made during that week with the customer group manager, a quality specialist, and the plant manager. Customer quality specs are the standard, particularly if they have changed. Problems, says Lates, are often solved on the spot thanks to the diversity of talent present. 

This teamwork and focus was not possible when Cascade began operations here. Under the old socialist system, people simply had no idea about the quality and on-time delivery demands of private industry. Just-in-time was beyond their scope. Changing that, says Lates, took a good bit of training, particularly of older employees. It meant teaching technicians and engineers that cost was as important as technology. The idea of taking responsibility for and pride in your work went over very well. Now, says Lates, when CEE employees meet with people from the big OEMs, the discussion is lively, interactive, and very productive. 



CEE opened this new moldmaking shop in May of this year to provide faster turnaround and single-source project development to large OEMs. 

Besides new EDM machines and machining centers, CEE has skilled, experienced craftsmen.



Having key functions like customer managers and quality engineers (shown) in one space allows for fast problem resolution.

Thanks to its new floor, high-rack shelving systems, and slick FIFO system, you would not suspect that CEE's JIT-oriented warehouse was built in 1947.

A Mold in the House 
U.S.-based Cascade Engineering has its business roots in the moldmaking industry. Yet, when CEE was acquired, the company knew it needed to concentrate resources on molding operations. Since there were good moldmakers nearby, molds were initially sourced externally. As business grew, however, CEE wanted to better control mold production and in February decided to build tools in-house. A new addition was added to the existing building to house moldmaking operations, which officially began in May. 

Lates says expecting this level of in-house capability has become the norm for many large automotive and electronics OEMs. For many projects, manufacturers also want single sources to simplify control and tracking, meaning no subcontracting. Internal moldmaking makes CEE competitive for such projects. Where five people once did mold repair and maintenance, there is now a bright, spacious, 15-person moldmaking shop. Some molds will still be purchased externally, says Lates, but when time, cost, and quality are all critical, the internal operation makes the difference. 

The shop is equipped with wire and conventional EDM, a CNC machining center, vertical machining centers, a cylindrical grinder, lathe, saw, radial drill, and more. Along with the machinery, CEE has a design capability that includes full 3-D execution in Pro/E, solids and wireframe modeling, and cutter path generation and optimization linked to the CNC machining equipment. Design files are received directly from customers via high-speed modem. Is the investment paying off? Lates pointed to a Mercedes armrest being supplied to Johnson Controls. It required that three molds be made quickly. CEE won the job by supplying molds and molding as a package deal. 

Change orders and customer forecasts are communicated quickly through CEE's creative, logical, and simple solution to the problem of interdepartmental communications: The plant manager, purchasing manager, manufacturing engineer, and the customer group managers work in one large room with virtually no dividers. This is the room where customer forecasts are received weekly and daily by fax and EDI. This makes it the first place where a change in forecast is seen—and now it is immediately visible to everybody who needs to see it. Besides making communications fast and easy, the arrangement promotes interdisciplinary problem solving, which, as Lates says, benefits everybody, especially the customer. 

Cascade Engineering, Halásztelek (Budapest), Hungary 

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Contact information
Cascade Engineering Europe
Halászatelek, Hungary
Kornel M. Lates
+36 (24) 450-450, ext 101
[email protected]

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