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Articles from 2009 In August

Growth strategies: Self-motivated innovation

, reports that the most content and hard-working people he’s ever met are the ones doing America’s dirtiest jobs. These same people did not “follow their passion” into their dirty jobs but found satisfaction in them despite the working conditions and type of work. As manufacturing company owners and managers struggle to improve performance, create innovation, and employ good people, Mike Rowe’s observations could be used to create self-motivated employees. Doing this requires understanding where self-motivation comes from and how to harness it.

In 1968, Professor Frederick Herzberg wrote One More Time: How Do You Motivate Employees? in which he analyzed job satisfaction survey results from 1685 employees in 23 occupations, including assembler, foreman, scientist, engineer, and manager. Work conditions accounted for only 10% of all events that led to extreme job dissatisfaction. Company policy and administration scored 55% combined. Extreme job satisfaction was helped only 3% by work conditions.

Today, Mike Rowe meets people content doing tough jobs in decidedly dirty conditions. It seems that 41 years later, work conditions still don’t matter when it comes to employee satisfaction. What, then, does deliver job satisfaction? Professor Herzberg’s study concluded that extreme job satisfaction comes overwhelmingly from two things: achievement and recognition.

Any time spent as a hands-on volunteer provides insight into what creates job satisfaction and thus self-motivated employees. Volunteers feel a sense of achievement when their contribution matters to someone outside their organization. They feel recognition from working with others towards a common cause. Manufacturers can use these same lessons to produce job satisfaction for their employees. To create a profitable sense of achievement, employee contributions must be aligned with doing what matters for someone outside the corporation, also known as delivering satisfaction (see “What Do Customers Buy?”. For employees to sense recognition for their contributions, all colleagues and managers must be seen striving towards delivering the same satisfaction.

The Rolex challenge helps managers identify the satisfaction their company delivers. Senior managers are asked to explain why customers pay $3500 for a Rolex compared to $350 for a Seiko. After some discussion they are told that Rolex delivers high-performance prestige and Seiko delivers a high-performance watch. Managers then write down, without discussion, what satisfaction they think their company delivers. Each manager reads aloud what he wrote. Widely varying views are normal. Managers then work together to develop a common definition of the satisfaction delivered.

To create self-motivated employees requires improving an internal company process using the newly defined satisfaction as a guide. A process that best impacts the delivery of the company’s satisfaction is mapped. The affected employees identify which steps contribute to delivering the satisfaction, which ones are unnecessary, and which ones are missing. By improving the process and then working the improved process, employees feel they are making a contribution that matters outside the company—achievement—and feel that everyone is pursuing a common cause—recognition. These self-motivated employees will be able to improve the performance of countless other processes, including the one used to develop innovations.

A company full of self-motivated employees content to work on delivering satisfaction will thrive even in the worst of times.

Matt Edison works as the Reactive Silicones business manager for Gelest, a specialty chemical manufacturer. Since 1989, Matt has also worked for DuPont, General Chemical, and Inolex Chemical, where his jobs included plant manager and engineering manager, among others. In his current role, Matt leads business development projects, manages the company’s silicone technology group, and improves the company’s business systems. These duties combine his special interest in aligning resources to realize customer opportunities. Matt lives in Woodbury, NJ with his wife Ellen and their four children. He can be reached at [email protected].

This article is reprinted with permission from the author and was originally published at

Molders Economic Index: Keep watching for slow, steady, sustained growth

The good news is that six out of the top 10 economies in the world are now officially out of recession, measuring small yet sustained growth in their GDPs. The bad news is that the United States isn’t one of them. Japan, China, Germany, India, France, and Brazil have all pulled forward. Both France and Germany reported growth of 0.3% from April-June.

While the United States isn’t out yet, the indicators show positive movement. According to a survey of 102 members of the National Assn. for Business Economics, the U.S. recession is abating, but shows few signs of an immediate recovery. We are leveling off and even gaining some ground, but it will be a few more months before we see growth.

The US GDP dropped about 1% in the second quarter, which is a solid improvement from the fall of 6.4% in the first quarter. Bloomberg News asked a panel of 76 economists to project the GDP for the coming quarter. The consensus is about 2% growth each quarter for the next four quarters. Slow, steady, sustained growth is the healthiest recovery and this is a positive sign.

Consumers paying off debt and increasing savings are driving the slower-but-better recovery. July retail sales fell 0.1% after three months of increases. It was most likely driven by fears about unemployment. The rate of new unemployment claims has slowed, but overall unemployment levels continue to increase and will probably do so until they top out at about 10% in early 2010.

The government’s grass roots “cash-for-clunkers” stimulus program was hugely successful. Sales at dealerships and parts stores climbed 2.4% in July, the biggest gain since January. The program helped sales at dealerships and parts stores climb 2.4% last month, the biggest gain since January. The program helped to get customers into dealerships. Many of those who did not qualify for the program ended up buying late-model used cars at aggressive prices. Total light vehicle sales for July were just shy of 1 million units, a milestone the industry hasn’t topped since August 2008. The initial $1 billion was spent by about 245,000 consumers from July 1 through August 7, when an additional $2 billion was added to the program.

The new housing market remains stagnant while the $8000 first-time-home-buyer tax credits being offered by the federal government continue to be used to snatch up bargains in the existing home market. According to data from the National Assn. of Realtors (NAR), total existing-home sales, including single-family and condo, rose 3.8% in the second quarter, but remain 2.9% below Q2 2008. Thirty-nine states experienced sales increases from the first quarter, and nine states were higher than a year ago. NAR attributed the rise in sales to the increased affordability of homes.

Manufacturing data from the Tempe, AZ-based Institute for Supply Management indicate that the overall economy grew for the third consecutive month, but economic activity in the manufacturing sector failed to grow in July for the 18th consecutive month. The decline in manufacturing was slower in July and new orders rose significantly, which is a solid indicator of future growth in the sector. The report stated, “The New Export Orders Index shows growth following nine consecutive months of decline, suggesting that the global economy is recovering. Overall, it would be difficult to convince many manufacturers that we are on the brink of recovery, but the data suggests that we will see growth in the third quarter if the trends continue.”

Planning ahead for health emergencies can save you money
Having an employee who takes time off work because (s)he is ill or because (s)he needs to care for an ill child might not seem like a big deal, but in 2007 it accounted for more than $300 billion in lost productivity in the United States. That’s certainly not chump change and it’s separate from more than $1 trillion in productivity that was lost due to chronic illnesses and injuries. That was an ordinary year. On June 11, 2009 H1N1, also known as swine flu, was declared a pandemic. It is highly contagious, although so far it does not appear to be as deadly as some of the “ordinary” flus covered in the annual vaccines. So how do we plan to maintain productivity in the coming months when we expect lost time will be higher?

Vaccines for H1N1 are in the works. It currently looks like the United States will designate the first doses for school-aged children (who have spread the disease the fastest) and those with specific health problems (who have had the highest mortality rate). The annual flu vaccines will be available earlier this year to allow time because the current swine flu vaccine is a two-part process. The first dose of the swine flu vaccine is followed by a second dose three weeks later.

Reviewing some basics with your staff will help to reduce sick time every year during flu season, regardless of whether you get slammed by swine flu or not. Encourage staff to get annual flu shots plus any special vaccines recommended by your local health department. If your tough guys aren’t willing to go get a shot, remind them that an inhaled annual flu vaccine is available for most healthy people from 5-49 years old. If you have a midsized to large company, talk to your local hospital about hosting a flu vaccine clinic onsite. For smaller shops, make appointments for your staff to have a road trip to a hospital, clinic, or doctor’s office to get vaccinated together.

A few simple steps can help reduce the risk of spreading influenza. Review with your staff the importance of covering their coughs and frequent hand washing with soap followed by thoroughly drying the hands. Be sure you have soap and towels stocked in all the washrooms and in the lunchroom. When someone in your shop falls ill and you suspect it’s influenza, disinfect all surfaces and tell that person to stay home for at least 24 hours after their fever is gone. Having one person miss an extra day is better than having them spread the flu to more staff that will then need time off.

While we’d all like to hope for the best, it’s a smart investment to be prepared for the worst. With that in mind, contact the emergency management office in your municipality for a copy of their pandemic flu protocols. This will let you know what is expected of you and your staff. Every municipality has a plan, but in small towns the emergency manager may be a part-timer with another full-time job. In these cases it can take days or weeks to get a copy.

Use your municipality’s plan as the basis for your company plan. Find out from your staff who will need time at home if schools close for several days. If the municipal plan will require you to shut your shop, will you cancel orders, delay orders, or try to work out a deal with another molder in an unaffected area? If OK for a week? Will products produced during a “sheltering in” period be allowed out of the area and if so, will there be any restrictions on shipping?

No one likes to think about getting sick, but time you spend now could be money you save later.

Lisa M. Pellegrino is a senior advisor of The Repton Group LLC (New York, NY).

Mold changing options will make you green

Current industry buzzwords abound, and one of the most repeated ones is “green.” One way to take advantage of the green wave is to incorporate quick mold (QMC) change procedures into your molding facility.

QMC can cut waste and increase mold change efficiency. Through standardization of the process, safety and improved press utilization are additional benefits. A QMC system will quickly pay for itself when additional press capacity and reduced changeover overhead are needed.

When using QMC, the mold can be moved either from the operator side or the nonoperator side of the molding machine. Molds are generally pushed in or pulled out of the press using the vertical space between the strain rods.

Press setup

Figure 1: Mold base with back plates attached.

Each press will need to be set up for QMC side mold changing. To change molds with standard back plates quickly, the press will need a quicker means of clamping the tool onto the platen, rollers to support the mold during the transition from cart or table to the press platen rollers, and a mold handling/exchange device to support the “new mold” and the removed mold.

The common back plates will be used to create a common attachment point and a common transfer surface for rolling the molds into and out of the press. This back plate also serves as a common clamping point for retaining molds to the platen of the press (see Figure 1).

Although manually clamping the molds to the platen is still an option, this wastes time. A better option is to incorporate a type of automatic clamping. This, in conjunction with common back plates, can strip minutes from your mold change times.

Two different types of automatic clamping are in use throughout numerous injection molding plants today: magnetic or hydraulic. Each method has a drawback and it is up to your individual case as to which method you should select.

Magnetic clamping requires the purchase of magnetic plates that are attached to the moving and stationary platens. The drawback is a loss of daylight in the press. You will have to subtract two times the thickness of the magnetic plates from the maximum mold shut height for your particular press. Still, magnetic clamping provides a safe and efficient way to attach your molds to the platens.

Hydraulic clamping can be used to attach your common back-plate-mounted molds into the press. This generally involves adding four to six hydraulic clamps to each of your press platens and controls for the same. The drawback is they are not as quick as magnetic clamps and hydraulics could eventually lead to system leaks. But there is no loss of daylight. 

The cost of clamping, whether magnetic or hydraulic, is a key consideration. Hydraulic clamping can be expensive to install aftermarket and is usually more cost-effective if installed by the press manufacturer.


Figure 2: Platen rollers and prerollers mounted to the press platen bridge the gap from the safety gate to the cart or table

Rollers need to be installed on each platen to provide a means of rolling the molds into and out of the press. The press manufacturer can provide these rollers with the molding machine or they can be incorporated into either clamping method. They can also be purchased aftermarket.

Prerollers are needed to bridge the gap between platen rollers and the press safety gate and your mold changing apparatus (cart or table). Generally, this gap is too large to span without the aid of extra rollers (see Figure 2).

The prerollers can be mounted to the edge of the stationary and moving platens using holes that are premachined by the press manufacturer or match-drilled in place by a competent mechanical contractor.

Mold handling/exchange device
There are several options for a device to handle your back-plate-mounted molds. Carts are available that use different types of power sources to move around in your facility. Free-ranging carts can be designed and built to handle loads up to 100,000 lb and greater.

These carts can be single- or dual-station. Single-station carts can remove one mold from the press and take it to a rack or mold storage area, followed by taking the new mold to the press and inserting it. Dual-station carts are designed to take advantage of the remove-one/add-another style of mold changing. A new mold or “ready” mold is placed on the cart before the change process. When the mold change is initiated, the operator removes the existing mold from the press and inserts the ready mold in a matter of minutes. These free-ranging carts can be used to service several presses with optional lift capabilities (see Figure 3).

Figure 3: A two-station, 20,000-lb mold cart services many presses.

Figure 4: Typical two-station mold shuttle table.

Depending on your facility’s requirements, your company may opt to provide each press with a shuttle-style table that’s capable of storing one or several molds to be inserted into the same press. The shuttle tables are permanently mounted to the floor parallel to the injection machine and act as a staging area for the “next up” mold. When it’s time to change molds, the existing mold is pulled from the press and the ready mold is shuttled into position and inserted into the press (see Figure 4).

Some facilities opt for using rail-mounted carts that are lined up to service presses on either side of the rail. The capacities of such systems are virtually unlimited but the drawback is that it is difficult to incorporate after a facility has already been constructed and presses are in place. This type of arrangement must be incorporated during the building structure phase to be feasible.

All of these options require an investment from the molding facility. Depending on the degree of automation required and options available, the QMC upgrade to your facility could cost several hundred thousand dollars, depending on mold sizes and the number of presses. The return on investment can generally be within the first year based on improved efficiency, safety, and product output.

Figure 5: A press setup for side QMC with platen rollers and prerollers installed. The molder uses a free-ranging DC cart to service several presses from 65-300 tons.

QMC: Even for small machines?
Quick mold change can generally be applied to nearly any size press due to the increased safety factor. Mold weights that customers have successfully changed using QMC range from 1000-100,000 lb. One of our customers, a molder in Mexico, has QMC for presses as small as 65 tons (see Figure 5).

This molder is changing out molds in 6 minutes or less, shot to shot. It uses rollers and a manual quick clamping system to achieve its desired results. This eliminates the need for an overhead crane and improves overall safety. The mold techs do not have to deal with a heavy swinging load on an overhead crane and there is less chance of damage to the press due to banging into press components or strain rods during the mold changeover process.

Calculate the cost
There are several items to consider when transitioning to QMC, so before jumping in, create a budget to incorporate QMC into your molding operations. Use our cost justification ROI calculator to assist you in calculating return-on-investment numbers.

Author Michael Ray is senior application engineer with Green Valley Mfg. Inc. (Mt. Zion, IL), a manufacturer of quick mold and die change equipment.

Used equipment, new life

Working to match the market’s needs with its own expertise, The R.T. Kuntz Co. (Farmingdale, NJ), a systems integrator with experience designing, supplying, installing, starting, and servicing turnkey resin conveying and scrap handling systems for processors, has expanded its reach so that the company also considers projects involving used equipment.

“Lately we’ve been helping some of our customers in a different way,” says Scott Thompson, VP of sales for the company. “We’ve helped our customers save money by utilizing some of the equipment they’ve stored in their plant or warehouse by refurbishing their used equipment into existing or new systems.” As an authorized Maguire dealer for that company’s blenders, and distributor and reseller of other brand-name auxiliary equipment, The R.T. Kuntz Co. typically deals in new equipment for its systems.

But opening itself to the use of used equipment allows its customers to expand, add lines or integrate another system, and save 30-50% of the cost of a new system, Thompson says. “We partner with customers to help them choose the proper pieces of equipment, and fill in any gaps in the system with new equipment, PLC controls, and so forth, and integrate them into a complete system,” he adds.

Refurbishment usually includes vacuum pumps, central filters/dust collection systems, vacuum chambers, vacuum valves, and conveying equipment.

“While our core business is integrating new systems, if it’s a matter of getting the project done and there are limited funds, then refurbishing idle used equipment plays a big role in getting a new system up and running at an economical cost,” notes Thompson. He says his company typically won’t work on used grinders and dryers, but can help its customers  “find the right person and make sure that the system works together,” Thompson says. Clare Goldsberry

TPE resin pricing, August 24-28: PE steady; PP, PS on the rise

Polyethylene (PE) spot prices were steady last week and trading slowed, according to spot-trading platform The Plastics Exchange (TPE) and its reporting partner, The PetroChem Wire. Producers had proposed a $0.04/lb increase in August, and while several participants said they were still negotiating, others said they reached agreements to keep prices flat this month.

Going forward, one producer announced that it would seek a $0.04/lb increase Sept. 1, with a $0.05/lb increase October 1. Spot trading slowed, as bids moved lower, buyers digested increases, and sellers raised offers. Supply remained tight through August, due in part to a series of production issues and product allocations. Domestic spot prices for high-density polyethylene (HDPE) blowmold and injection pail grade were in the low $0.50s/lb range, with linear low-density polyethylene (LLDPE) film trading at a $0.015/lb premium. Low-density polyethylene (LDPE) film clarity-grade held in the high $0.50s/lb, with high-molecular-weight HDPE blowmold remaining in the mid $0.50s/lb. After being active for most of the month, export activity slowed in August’s final week. Spot HDPE blowmold prices had been around $0.48/lb FOB Houston, but offers moved into the low $0.50s/lb last week, while bids moved lower.

Polypropylene (PP) spot price ideas moved higher last week, but trading was thin amid tight supply and buyer reluctance to accept higher price offers. For August, market participants said increases in contract prices roughly tracked propylene monomer contract prices. Producers have said they will seek $0.12 and $0.15/lb increases in PP contract prices in September. These proposals come amid sharp increases in spot prices for refinery- and polymer-grade propylene in August, as well as thin margins. The fact that processors and traders have become increasingly reluctant to take on any additional inventory, fearing a sharp drop in values, promoted thin trading. Homopolymer PP was in the mid-to-high $0.50s/lb range, while copolymer PP was discussed in the high $0.50s/lb. The export market remained quiet, with only limited discussion of export deals taking place. Traders have shied away from the export market due to the sharp rise in U.S. prices.

Polystyrene (PS) spot prices moved higher as supply remained tight, but falling benzene prices and softening in ethylene could provide relief. Spot general-purpose PS was in the low-to-mid $0.60s/lb, with high-impact PS in the high $0.60s to low $0.70s/lb. Producers were seeking contract price increases totaling $0.11 to $0.12/lb, with some participants indicating about half of this increase is now reflected in their pricing. [email protected]

Foam zoo roams the streets of Linz

Next week the streets of this Austrian city will be filled with cars, kids trudging to school, people finding their way to work—and a menagerie of more than 470 polyethylene foam animals—made by processor Eurofoam. On September 5 the streets come alive with the lumbering figures.

This elephant—and some 470 other creatures—will hit the road in Austria next week.

The work is part of the ongoing art and cultural projects in Linz in 2009 as part of the city’s designation this year as the Europe’s cultural capital. The animals are characters in the city’s Klangwolke (Cloud of Sound) event, held annually since 1979 and expected to draw a crowd of 100,000 or more to the banks of the Danube River.

On the afternoon of September 5, the fairytale creatures, designed by South African artist Roger Titley, will be parading through town, accompanied by musicians. Elephants, hippos, giraffes, rhinos, praying mantises, and warthogs, and some 34 other animal and insect types, round out the herd. The giraffes stretch to heights of 4m.

Eurofoam, with 42 sites spread across Central and Eastern Europe, donated the animals to the city. [email protected]

Device helps ensure even the thinnest of walls hold their seal

The thinner the walls on molded plastic closures get, the greater the chance that leakers can enter the distribution channels. Too much torque on thin-walled closures can lead to distortion, while too little torque won’t ensure a good seal. Processors of caps and closures, and their customers, may therefore be interested in a new torque tester said to simplify torque testing of these while also improving accuracy and minimizing downtime.

Handheld, accurate, and flexible in use, the TorqTraQ is a serious competitor for benchtop equipment.

Developed and marketed by Plastic Technologies Inc. (PTI; Holland, OH), the TorqTraQ can be handheld, unlike heavier traditional torque-metering units that are mounted on tabletops. The metal disk (with indentations to facilitate gripping) fits in a user’s hand, making it easy to transport from bottle to bottle or line to line.

The TorqTraQ works by positioning a closure-specific chuck, located on its underside, over the cap that is to be tested. Chucks can be changed out in less than a minute to measure torque on different closures, according to PTI. The closure-specific approach enables the device to accurately meter a broad range of metal and plastic closures—including those with irregular shapes and features, such as dispensing.

According to PTI officials, the device is not only handier than larger models, but also more accurate. “The TorqTraQ device works much differently from traditional benchtop models. Those units actually grip the base which can distort the bottle. Further, torque is measured by applying manual force to the closure. As a result, the operator can end up squeezing the cap, which could potentially distort the torque reading. Because those traditional units are designed to hold bottles with round bases, using them with other base geometries can be more challenging,” explains Ron Puvak, new business development at PTI.

The device includes a USB port which downloading of up to 250 readings, which can then be imported into a spreadsheet.  It can measure in pounds (of force) per inch or newtons per meter. [email protected]

Would you like some service with that?

PSG Plastic Service Group (Stevensville, MI) announced that it now offers a full range of diagnostic services, planned maintenance, and on-demand service/repair offerings for any manifold system located in North America, regardless of the original equipment manufacturer.

Rich Oles, president and CEO of PSG’s North American Operations said, “For some time now, PSG’s North American Operation has been providing service on our competitors’ manifold systems on an as-needed basis for customers who’ve asked for assistance. We felt it was finally time to bring our capabilities for this service to the molding community at large in North America.”

PSG’s service staff in North America is composed of people with hands-on toolmaking skills, including moldmakers, mold designers, special machine designers and people with a lot of experience who’ve been working with us for a decade or more,” Oles explained. “We’ve been building our reputation in North America on the basis of our service, our support and our ability to bring innovation to our customers, and believe this is a natural step for us.” Clare Goldsberry

COC unlocks nanoscale replication potential

Micromolding processor microPEP (East Providence RI) has driven the technology closer to near-nanoscale replication by successfully injection molding a Microwell Array from Topas cyclic olefin copolymer (COC) supplied by Topas Advanced Polymers (Florence, KY). MicroPEP is a wholly owned subsidiary of Precision Engineered Products (Attleboro, MA).

The details reproduced in microPEP’s Microwell Array measure 3 µm diameter by 3 µm depth, with a pitch of 6.5 µm. These features appear on a standard microscope slide (25 mm x 75 mm x 1 mm thick). Such arrays are used in a variety of genomics, life science, and biomedical assay applications that utilize microspheres or beads. Prior to the arrival of microPEP’s thermoplastic Microwell Array, the industry relied primarily on etched silicon or glass parts.

Topas COC was chosen for its excellent flow and surface replication characteristics, as well as its purity, biocompatibility, high moisture barrier, and resistance to damage by many of the chemicals used in biomedical assays. Moreover, Topas says its resin is an attractive choice for analytical applications owing to its extraordinary transparency, especially in the near-UV range (250-300 nm) where many tests are conducted, and to its inherently low autofluorescence. Read about the details on the challenges associated with molding this part. [email protected]

Flat-shipped packaging stands up to the task

Belgian processing startup Wallbox SA (Mouscron) has developed and commercialized a packaging concept for dry goods that relies on injection molding to provide food companies with a platform for making containers that are easily customizable for various products. The NewCaps system comprises an injection molded base and reclosable lid made from polypropylene, and a body fabricated from cardboard coated with an EVOH barrier, or alternatively made from plastic barrier sheet. The first commercial application of NewCaps is by cracker manufacturer Lu Belin, part of the Kraft Group; Belin La Box was launched in France in April this year.

Wallbox uses injection presses from Stork Plastics Machinery BV (Hengelo, The Netherlands) and tooling from Loomans (Lommel, Belgium) to manufacture the molded components. If required, barrier properties can be given to the lid and base through inmold labeling. Wallbox has installed Stork S+ 250t machines to produce the first 9 million boxes planned for 2009. Molding is carried out using 2+2 stack molds from Loomans.

Wallbox supplies the components of the NewCaps system to food processing companies, as well as the machinery for box assembly. The packaging components are shipped flat, meaning 200,000 boxes can be shipped in a single truck.

The plastic base and lid are automatically glued to the formed body of the pack in Wallpack’s assembly machine. A vision system checks for proper sealing. The combination of plastic base and lid plus sheet-based body allows companies to easily reconfigure their packaging lines for short-run promotional products, for example, that may feature different labeling. The Wallbox packaging machine can handle boxes up to 28 cm high and can create different box shapes. [email protected]