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November 1, 2001

6 Min Read
Untouched by human hands from pellet to pallet

Multiple CAP plant with highly automated systems turns Fortune 500 customers into raving fans. 

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It's hard to find a personal care product that Precise Technology doesn't mold. The fast-growing custom and contract molder serves Fortune 500 customers such as P&G and Playtex.

Precise Technology has seen the future, and the future is high-speed, highly automated, multiple customer-aligned production (CAP) jobs in a single plant. At its Newark, DE facility, the fast-growing contract molder uses automation systems that take parts from gaylord to shipping pallet without being touched by human hands. Meanwhile, Fortune 500 customers such as P&G and Playtex have never been happier. 

CAP plants became popular in the early '90s as a way for major OEMs to outsource all molding requirements to custom molders rather than maintaining their own captive molding operations. In effect, the molder takes on all of the related responsibilities for producing the molded parts, including building a dedicated facility nearby for manufacturing and delivery. 

Automation and CAP are a marriage of necessity, according to Mike Farrell, executive vp for Precise. "One of our company mottos is to focus on quality rather than costs. We believe that a primary focus on quality will also lower costs, while making lower costs a first priority will never allow us to achieve the best quality. For CAP molding, automation is an outstanding way to improve quality and, in turn, lower costs." 

Evolution of a Multi-CAP 
Until mid-1999, the Delaware plant was a single-customer CAP facility making Baby Fresh tubs and lids for Scott Paper (see "Customer-aligned Production: A Hot New '90s Trend is Getting Hotter," October 1994 IMM, pp. 15-19). When P&G took over the product line and changed the design, Precise moved the job to its new Bridgeport, NJ facility and began the transformation in Delaware. 

As Precise started making the change, investing nearly $3 million to revise the facility, its officers thought the Delaware plant would simply become another contract molding operation. But its long-term customer P&G needed a CAP format to support the launch of its Olay facial wipes, while new customer Playtex needed a highly technical supplier capable of producing a large volume of parts and sending them directly to its manufacturing lines. 

This type of customized production and shipping done for one product line and one customer is now being done for several customers and their respective product lines. In total, the Delaware plant produces more than one billion parts per year. 

"You could call it a custom facility with a CAP philosophy, or you could call it a multi-CAP plant," says Rusty Brooks, plant manager at Precise Delaware. "Either way, each of the product lines we mold has an exacting set of requirements for molding, packaging, and delivery. Meeting and exceeding these needs is what makes this concept challenging and, ultimately, rewarding." 

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This 128-cavity stack mold (left) runs on sub 10-second cycles, producing tampon applicators at Precise Delaware. A side-entry CBW robot picks them off faster than gravity can drop them. Automated inspection (right) ensures that quality levels remain constant.



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The Precise Delaware facility started out as a CAP plant, producing tubs and lids for Scott Paper. In-house automation was added (pictured) to speed production.

Automation Abounds 
The 85,000-sq-ft plant in Delaware houses 14 injection molding machines ranging from 240 to 420 tons along with 35 full-time employees. Most of the machines are Netstals, with three Husky presses. Materials storage includes six silos, three for PP and three for PE resin. 

For P&G, Oil of Olay boxes for facial wipes are molded, labeled, inspected, and put into shipping containers entirely via automation and robotics. Four presses are dedicated to these products, and the stack molds used to make them were built at Precise Massie in Florida. Robotic equipment (from CBW) not only labels the part, but also inspects the color registration and position of the label on the part. It applies and inspects 55 labels per minute. Finished boxes are sent by conveyor to a robot that picks up 70 at one time, and then places them in a shipping box. 

Also for P&G, Precise Delaware molds travel pack containers for Pampers baby wipes. These boxes require a four-cavity mold for the box and an eight-cavity mold for the cover. The box and cover are assembled automatically by equipment made by Zaugg (Switzerland), and then transported to a robot that places them in shipping gaylords. 

One of the most amazing robotic applications here involves a 128-cavity stack mold that produces tampon applicators for Playtex. The stack mold runs on sub 10-second cycles, and a side-entry robot (CBW) removes all of the parts in less than 1 second. It takes more time for gravity to remove them, according to Brooks. 

CAP Guidelines 
As an early adopter of the CAP concept, Precise has written its own rules on operating a CAP plant successfully. One underlying philosophy is to purchase injection molding machines with an eye toward the application. "We make sure it is the best type of machine and automation for a specific job before we buy it," says Brooks, "and then we buy only that machine make. For multiple CAP plants, we may opt for a second or third machine type to suit a different product application. So we are, in effect, customizing the machine to the job." 

Selecting automation equipment is no less customized. Ray Veno, vp/automation systems and continuous improvement, begins the search by scouting out the best equipment for the job. Veno's group then meets with the customer to better understand the criteria for the job. Once the critical parameters are set, Veno and company purchase the workcell components as a package. 

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Aesthetically demanding containers for Oil of Olay facial wipes are sent through an automated inspection system that checks label position and color registration at a rate of 55 per minute. After the inspection, a robot lifts 70 boxes at once and places them in a shipping container. Workers then perform final packaging steps but never actually touch parts.

Materials handling at the Delaware multi-CAP has been tailored to eliminate contamination and human error. All 14 machines are fed by a central vacuum system from Premier Pneumatics, which also checks for metal contamination. The system is augmented by automation built in-house that feeds pellets directly from specialized bins that ensure the right material is going to the right machine. 

Another caveat for CAP, according to Brooks, is to build quality in rather than inspecting it in. "Customers originally thought we needed to have an extensive system of quality managers," he says. "Instead, we equipped each operator with an optical comparator for checking at the press and were able to run defect-free for years. Today, we use VMM automated inspection systems that check up to 64 cavities at a time." 

Contact information
Precise Technology Inc.
North Versailles, PA
Robert Schiavone
(412) 823-2100, ext. 3146
Web: www.precisetech.com

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