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April 1, 2002

6 Min Read
Sometimes it takes a revolution

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Investing in multicomponent technology allowed Allibert Equipment to add a number of two-color units to its already large line of material handling products.

As it is today, the inside of the large Allibert Equipment factory near the River Seine in Gaillon, France would not be recognizable to someone who worked there as recently as eight years ago. The company was then, as now, making many different lines of pallets and reusable material handling containers using relatively large injection machines. Why the big difference? The reason, says Process Manager André Auzou, is that during 1993 and 1994 company management did something extremely difficult: It changed its mind.

Management of the company that was then part of Sommer-Allibert (now part of Myers Equipment, Akron, OH) decided, in effect, to "go modern." To go modern, the company had to do nothing less than revolutionize its manufacturing from the inside out. The results, however, are everything Allibert hoped for, and more. It was not the products that were revolutionized. New product lines continue to be added and lines expanded as always, and the market position remained at the top of the quality scale, as always. This revolution was in how and under what conditions the products were made.


Automation, Illumination, and Participation
Management's approach to production before this revolution, says Auzou, had been to hold production costs down by spending only what was absolutely necessary on plant infrastructure. Other than buying a new or used machine to meet deman nvestment in the plant and fixtures was kept to the absolute minimum. Handling of materials, molds, and products from the mold was done by hand and with mechanical hoists and carts. That was one of the first things to change. Today every molding machine is automated.

Arguably more fundamental than automating, says Auzou, was the decision to promote the personal involvement of every individual and work group in the improvement of operations. The previous management style used the top-down approach with little input from production staff.

Changing that to participative management ultimately resulted in a reorganization of production units according to machine size, and a different way of handling work. Formerly, materials were brought in as needed and "out" conditions disrupted production. Now, everything needed for a job is staged in advance, kanban style. By far, though, the most noticeable change is in the work environment.

The facilities here are the traditional industrial style, which, as most

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Part of this plant's redesign is a central assembly area receiving output on a unified conveying system from six 650-ton machines out of the picture and to the right. It has cut time from virtually every product's cycle.

molders know, were built with little concern for the people inside. Lighting, for example, was put only where needed, which often produced more shadow than light.

The ceilings over Allibert's work areas today are punctuated by skylights. This shows off the results of painting and a lot of cleaning and reorganizing. Making all that happen took considerable investment, says Auzou, but the improvements in the work environment and overall productivity have more than justified the cost.


Machines and People
The line workers were instrumental in dividing production operations into small, medium, and large machine areas. They also created production, service, and quality teams within those areas. Owing to the generally large size of the products, a "small" machine here has a 650-metric-ton clamp. The small and medium machine areas are physically contiguous and in total contain 25 molding machines between 650 and 1250 metric tons. Nearly 120 people working three shifts, five days per week are divided into four production and three service zones.

The seven molding presses in the large machine facility have clamp forces of up to 2600 metric tons. Two of those presses are in a side-by-side twin configuration in which one large mold can straddle the synchronized platens. The interlocking machine controls let the two systems function as one. In effect, they become a 5200-metric-ton press with a maximum shot size of 72 lb (2 x 36 lb). Molds here can be as large as 90 metric tons. All machines acquired since 1988 a total of 20 are from Battenfeld, which also provided all the automation.

Jean-Michel Flamein, managing director of Battenfeld France who has worked with Allibert since 1988, says it is impossible to exaggerate the differences between before and after. The factory is totally different.

The 65 people in the large machine area, referred to as Big Inc., are divided into two production zones and three service zones. Auzou says there is more value added in this area in terms of postmold operations. Most small and medium machine products come from the press either finished or requiring minor assembly.

Contrast that with one large material container where, after the integral base-sidewall piece is molded, wood reinforcements are placed into the hollow top, corner, and wall ribs. Then, a custom welding system bonds a top cover onto the walls to make it ready for super-heavy loads.

Another similarly sized container, this one made for light but bulky loads, combines an integral molded bottom and half-height sidewall with blowmolded upper sidewalls.

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Two examples of Allibert's quest to add value and give customers unique advantages: The hinged upper walls of the bin to the left are blowmolded to reduce weight, while the corners and cross members of the red bin to the right are filled with wood for rigidity under extra heavy loads.

The blowmolded panels, which are hinged for easier loading and unloading, are made by another company and sent to Allibert for assembly.

Big Products,
Shorter Cycles
The Gaillon facility is one of three Allibert Equipment factories in Europe. The others in Spain and the U.K. are smaller, with 10 and eight injection machines respectively. The Gaillon factory is an orderly multistructure complex with just more than 500,000 sq ft of enclosed space. The land occupied is considerably larger at more than 1.076 million sq ft. Most of the outside area is fenced and used to store large finished products in multiple staging areas for JIT delivery.

Auzou says that within the manufacturing area, time is usually the most critical component. Everyone is looking to shave a second off cycle time or shorten setup sequences without a negative impact on quality.

For example, the frequent mold changes needed on the 650-ton machines to meet customer JIT requirements turned mold change time reduction into a high priority. The remedy was the adoption of magnetic platens, which eliminate mold mounting fixtures and the time it takes to work with them.

Auzou says the platens, which were supplied by Tecnomagnete and installed by Battenfeld, are now on all the 650s. He declined to give exact numbers, but stressed that the time savings are "very significant."

Allibert's products are large and available in a variety of sizes, designs, and colors. Its catalogs are thick with the containers, totes, and pallets sold through a range of manufacturing, distribution, and food handling businesses. Product innovation is a constant; for instance, a new series of containers encapsulates a microprocessor in the plastic structure so customers can track and manage material by computer. Allibert is a leading player in the worldwide materials handling markets proof that an orderly revolution can work wonders.


Contact information
Allibert Equipment
Gaillon, France
Andre Auzou
+33 (2) 3277 3107
www.allibert-equipement.fr

Battenfeld of America
West Warwick, RI
(401) 823-0700
www.battenfeld.com

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