Traceability and recordkeeping are essential elements of modern plastic injection molding operations. Rigorous data collection and analysis ensure the molder can quickly respond to part quality issues by tracing root causes and taking steps to ensure they won’t happen again.
The best possible scenario is a plastic injection molder that operates at this level of precision daily – not because specific customers require it, but because it’s the right way to do business. That’s the case at New Berlin Plastics.
A data-centric operation
Like many injection molders, NBP uses an ERP system called IQMS to manage its production and operations. But the company has integrated it more deeply into its operations than many of its peers. Data is woven into NBP’s DNA:
“We’re power users of IQMS. From raw materials to finished products, it gives us a complete, real-time picture of our operations. This enables data-driven decision making with a high degree of precision,” explains business development manager Karl Held.
“There are many injection molders that have IQMS. They have the ability to do this. But they’re probably not utilizing its full capabilities,” he adds. “It takes a big commitment to configure IQMS to monitor and manage your production from end to end – from barcodes to manage raw inventory and finished goods to gathering and analyzing real-time data from your presses and automation systems. If you’re not using it in this way, it’s as if you’re driving a Porsche, but never going past 60 miles an hour,” he adds.
The company’s data-centric approach begins the minute raw materials enter the building. Incoming shipments of resin, additives, and inserts get bar-coded so they can be connected to specific locations and traced throughout their usage. At the presses, NBP uses eDart systems and IQMS to capture real-time processing and manufacturing data. It also records automation performance data. When a box of parts is closed and sealed for shipping, it gets a label with a barcode and a time and date stamp to allow lot tracking once the finished goods leave the building. All the data NBP collects is backed up onsite and offsite, ensuring that it’s always accessible no matter what.
What happens if there’s a problem with a part?
“When a customer alerts us to a part quality issue, we can trace every step of the production process, from the machine it ran on, to the settings and specifications that press was running at the time, the actuals of the process from the plastic’s perspective, the material lots used to make the parts and much more. We have a complete record of every input used to create them and can quickly determine where variability may have entered the process,” Held emphasizes.
He shared a hypothetical example: “Let’s say a customer complains that some parts they received from us were brittle. With our recordkeeping practices, we can go back and look at what day that part was run, what shift, and on what press. From there, we can look at the processing and manufacturing data during that run to see if any variation occurred. We can explore hypotheses and see if the data supports them,” he indicates.
“If it turned out to be a material issue, we can run physical tests to determine if there are any issues with that material lot. The data we collect helps us get to the root cause of the problem quickly – and to take steps to mitigate that risk in the future for our customers,” he adds.
Maximizing operational efficiencies
In addition to helping customers manage part quality issues and product recalls efficiently, New Berlin Plastics’ intense, data-driven approach helps it to be a top-tier supplier under a broad range of circumstances.
“It helps us to be as efficient as possible as a supplier,” Held points out. “It’s a key element of our commitment to continuous improvement and predictable outcomes.”
He cites a recent example of a part that was experiencing a higher than normal scrap rate. He sat down with a cross-functional internal team to analyze production data for the last month to determine what could be causing the problem.
“It turned out to be a flat, coin-shaped insert that the automation system was having trouble picking up from a transfer table. The inserts were so flat that when the robotic fingers tried to pick them, they would sometimes flip, causing a failed pick. As a result, some parts were being molded without inserts. They failed the quality check and were rejected by our automation system. Once we saw this in the data, we were able to brainstorm ways to prevent this problem,” he recalls.
Planning for the future
NBP’s rigorous approach to traceability and recordkeeping has earned the respect of OEMs across a variety of industries, helping protect their customers against product recalls that can be expensive and time-consuming. Held believes it will also serve the company well as it expands into the out-of-body medical device market.
“Obviously, that industry is very concerned about product liability. Patients’ lives may be on the line. We believe our track record of success in producing mission-critical parts using a world-class approach to data collection and analysis is a perfect fit with the needs of medical device OEMs,” Held concludes.
Our investments are focused on you
Learn now NBP’s approach to traceability and recordkeeping is part of the company’s bigger commitment to reinvesting in people, process and technology.