There has been a great deal of fanfare over the growth in American Manufacturing. The reasons for this change are varied. Many point to the narrowing gap in foreign pricing, higher transportation costs and lack of intellectual property protection in foreign countries. One of the most egregious offenders in this category is China, where we have also seen a great rise in wages and other related costs.
Many companies also realize there is a great benefit to having their manufacturing facilities and partners closer to home. Reacting to consumer and market trends takes much less time when you can walk down the street or take a short flight to your suppliers.
American manufacturers, who continue to face tight margins and foreign competition, are doing a great deal to secure their competitive edge. These companies are investing in new technologies and automation to insure they are working as efficiently as possible. This increasing sophistication allows American manufacturers to fill the need for both near-shore and off-shore clients.
At The Rodon Group, we have been investing in robotics and manufacturing automation for over a decade. Using advanced manufacturing processes, we have greatly reduced per part cost. “When I think about the main advantage that overseas manufacturers have, really, it's their low labor rate, " Michael Araten says. "What we're looking to do is take that advantage away. We have 100-plus presses today, and our average shift has five or six operators. So we're taking the labor component largely out of the manufacturing process and putting it in the skilled component—design of the parts, design of the tools, building of tools—where it's necessary and where it makes sense.“
Strategic additions to our manufacturing operation.
The Rodon Group recently added six of the latest Nissei servo-driven hydraulic injection molding machines to their manufacturing floor. These energy-efficient machines provide the combined advantages of both hydraulic and electric injection systems. They are designed to deliver better performance for both thin and thick walled applications.
Ten years ago, electric machines became popular, but they were highly mechanical with many more wear points. This often presented maintenance issues, which could lead to production downtime. When you have strict schedules in a 24/7 operation, downtime can cost money and may hurt client relationships. Nissei’s solution was to develop a hybrid machine. This machine includes a patented servo-driven pump technology. It provides the accuracy and repeatability of an electric machine, without the maintenance. And, they are as energy efficient as an all electric. According to Doug Wachter of Premier Plastic Systems, “Energy studies show that these new Nissei machines are 50% more efficient than similar machines without the patented technology.” The precise clamping tonnage gives set-up technicians better control and accuracy. They can be set too much finer tolerances without disturbing cycles.
Along with the addition of the new plastic injection presses, The Rodon Group invested in the latest servo-robot technology, to provide value-added support to their manufacturing operation. Over the past decade, a great deal of change has taken place in manufacturing automation. Systems that were once used primarily to pick and place are now being used in quality control, advanced product packaging and cutting. Today’s machine controllers are more intuitive and user-friendly as well. Peter Gerzevitz of Star Automation says their clients can now do their own programming. “In the past you would need to call us or a professional programmer to make a change,” says Peter. “Today’s controllers can be programmed on site by the client. This reduces downtime and costs.” The new servo-robots at Rodon not only have a second arm, but have an articulated head that can swivel, allowing the robot to pack tightly and at odd angles.
Tony Hofmann, Facility Manager of The Rodon Group, continually evaluates Rodon’s manufacturing operation. “We are always looking for ways to improve our output. This new press technology molds faster and with greater accuracy. Speed and precision are the name of the game. The energy savings are the icing on the cake.” In terms of robotics, Hofmann has a goal in mind. “We look for robotic technology that can speed production and provide more downstream versatility. We see robots on the floor, performing quality checks, packaging and doing some light assembly tasks. The more options we have the better.”
This $1 million plus dollar investment illustrates The Rodon Group’s commitment to providing the highest quality precision molding, faster and more economically. Lowell Allen, Senior Vice President of Manufacturing says “Over the past 15 years, our business has changed. The work we do has evolved, and we are replacing older machines with new IMMs (Injection Molding Machines). These machines are hybrids and have the same efficiency as all-electric machines. In fact, we are doing a study to see how much more efficient they are in comparison to hydraulic machines.”
Robotic automation is the key to competitiveness.
Robots are not new to The Rodon Group. We introduced the first robotics to our plastic injection presses back in 2004. Since that time, we have expanded their use as well as their sophistication. Today, nearly 50% of our presses utilize robots that stack and orient parts into shipping containers. This increases plant productivity and reduces packaging waste by tripling the number of parts packed into cartons. We utilize KEYENCE Vision Inspection systems and Mitutoyo QuickVision systems to inspect parts and maintain our high quality control standards. We were one of the first manufacturers to purchase utilize Baxter, an adaptive manufacturing robot from Rethink Robotics.
Tony Hofmann, Facilities Manager at The Rodon Group says the company has been on the cutting edge of robotics automation. “In the early days of robot automation, auto companies were likely to use them to complete dirty, dangerous and difficult tasks. Today’s robots use artificial intelligence and have added significant value to the manufacturing process and our ability to compete globally" states Tony. "From the late ‘90’s on, we knew robots were the piece of the puzzle that we needed. We just needed to figure out how to use them to our best advantage, and be willing to learn and adapt along the way. And we did.”
The next generation of automation is sure to give a beneficial boost to our economy. U.S. manufacturing has been automating many of their manufacturing processes over the last few decades. Lean manufacturing principles, combined with the best of robotics has made American manufacturing more efficient than ever before. These important changes along with the higher costs of off-shoring production in terms of freight, labor and product quality have positioned American manufacturers to take the lead once more.
Within the plant, we utilize an MRP system (Material Requirement Planning system) to improve our efficiency and our customer’s bottom line. This tool allows the manufacturing team at The Rodon Group to monitor jobs from the minute they are initiated to the time they are delivered including all of the downstream impacts. According to Plant Manager, Tom Moore “The team manages to our customers requirements. By monitoring production runs throughout the day we can insure the needs of the customers are met. We manage the efficiency of each job. These measures insure we always have the materials and products required.”
While the MRP system can’t replace the input and experience of manufacturing managers, it does help improve efficiencies within the factory. This, in turn, creates savings for the customer.
Lowell Allen, Executive VP of Manufacturing says “This investment in equipment is part of our long term strategy. We are increasing our efficiency and upgrading our peripheral equipment. We are replacing our grinders to reduce our decibel output in the plant. Our new robotic technology will allow us to pack and stack without additional labor. All of our manufacturing enhancements are done with the productivity of our workforce in mind. We are constantly improving… creating a safer, more efficient, manufacturing facility.”