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September 1, 2001

4 Min Read
Workcells, science drive a lean transformation


Allegheny Performance Plastics' self-contained manufacturing cell design has helped it lower total project costs for its automotive, industrial, and aerospace customers while zeroing out its overhead and doubling its gross margins.

Aurum, Fortron, Amodel, Ryton, Torlon, Victrex—first you see bags bearing the brand names of some of the most exotic high-temperature ETPs out on the shop floor at Allegheny Performance Plastics (Leetsdale, PA). Then you catch sight of the plant's unusual capital equipment and production-flow layout—horseshoe-shaped cells with exotic resins on one end, finished parts on the other, and everything from the small-tonnage machines that mold them to the CNC mills that machine them to tolerance in between. 

You pass one gutted and empty area after another and suspect something very different is going on in Leetsdale, but you can't quite put your finger on it. Clarke McGuire, gm, explains that what really differentiates Allegheny is not any one thing in particular. Allegheny, he says, is a system in action—actually, a system based on the smooth interaction of lean manufacturing principles such as these: 

• Mistake-proof process control.
• Pull-through production, kaikaku (radical improvement), kaizen (continuous improvement), and product-family teamwork.
• Product-family manufacturing cells.
• Small-tonnage machines with low-cavitation, hot-oil molds.
• Visual control.
• Fixed, activity-based costing based on throughput rather than hourly rates. 

McGuire says the empty areas once were filled with inventory before the company's lean transformation began. As hungry as it is lean, Allegheny now has the room to grow more cells. It plans to use lean principles to control costs, eliminate waste, and grow its high-margin sales from $6 million to $30 million in five years. 

McGuire is confident he has the right kind of system in place to win the high-volume accounts Allegheny needs to succeed. The company has been engineered to yield extremely competitive total project costs no matter how exotic (and expensive) the resin. 


Scientific injection molding is supported at Allegheny by low-cavitation molds run in low-tonnage presses, like this 7-tonner. SIM control renders the process insensitive to material variation, even for the high-performance exotics Allegheny runs, like phenolics.

Scientific Cells 
A product family is a range of related products that can be produced interchangeably in a production cell. Allegheny organizes its manufacturing cells and teams around product families. In doing so, the company minimizes the waste involved in startup, cycle, and changeover times. Simultaneously, it maximizes transport logistics and floor-space efficiencies. Serviced by overhead machine utilities, its versatile and movable cells are cost-effectively synchronized to a customer's use rate and demand. 

Workcell team leaders are the primary customer contact. The teams are directly responsible for collecting all of the process data at their respective workplaces. Training in a number of different skills is continuous and everyone is as intimately involved in change implementation as he or she is in business planning. 

Its cells are small and simple. For example, Allegheny believes any mold with more than four cavities is a family mold. Low-cavitation tooling, company sources argue, is more robust. Plastic has to be delivered to each cavity in exactly the same condition. If not, the parts ejected can never be the same. With more cavities, molders have less chance for error proofing the process, Clarke says. High-cavitation molds also mean higher complexity and higher costs to Allegheny. 


Allegheny's product family workcells are dedicated to specific industries (represented here) or to specific customers.

Scientific molding—process control based on plastic material variables, not machine variables—is the primary driver in each of Allegheny's cells. The company uses real-time process monitoring systems from RJG Inc. (Traverse City, MI) to manage key material variables, reinforcing the benefits and value of low-cavitation molds. Controlling the process scientifically compensates for inconsistencies in the resin, no matter how exotic (and expensive) the material is. 

In fact, Allegheny intends to be the first U.S. molder to apply scientific molding principles to the high-volume, tight-tolerance molding of a high-performance resin gaining considerable attention in these cost-conscious times because of its exotic low price—engineering phenolic. 

Allegheny has been working closely with Vyncolit North America (Bloomfield Hills, MI), a U.S. representative of the Belgian supplier of engineering phenolic. Vyncolit representatives have begun an aggressive marketing campaign, particularly in automotive circles, to gain the same kind of recognition here that the super-competitive cost/performance advantages of their phenolics have gained overseas. 

Editor's note: For more on scientific molding, see "Scientific molding, Part 2: Implementation," pp. 106-109. The first part of the series ran in the August issue of IMM. 

Contact information
Allegheny Performance Plastics Div.,
 Allegheny Plastics Inc.
Leetsdale, PA
Phil Juzwick
(412) 741-4416
[email protected]

Vyncolit North America
Bloomfield Hills, MI
Michael Rosser
(248) 452-5655
[email protected]

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