Automated IQMS Production Labeling & Mold Tracking
Phase I: Automated Production Label Generation
Plastikos, Inc. operates 30 injection molding machines that range from 50 tons to 220 tons. Each one of the company’s machines is directly integrated into IQMS, which enables the company to manage the production processes from the time that it receives a purchase order until the finished product is shipped to the customer. Plastikos relies on IQMS to capture and store vital customer, order, production process, quality inspection, shipping, maintenance, supplier and financial data for use by all members of its team on a daily basis.
One of the relatively recent major IQMS-based projects that Plastikos implemented was to automate the generation of its production labels (i.e. customer, purchase order, part number, raw material, material lot, box quantity, date+time molded stamp, etc.) at each injection molding machine through the integration of the molding machine, part scale, label printer and IQMS data – collectively called the Press Label Station.
Historically, all of the information for each of Plastikos’ production labels was first hand-written on every box of finished production on the production floor, then manually keyed into the old label generation software in the shipping department, and finally affixed to the box. This manual process was cumbersome, inefficient, led to errors in the box quantities and resulted in incorrect/inaccurate box labels. Moreover, Plastikos received an extremely embarrassing SCAR (Supplier Corrective Action Report, i.e. an external customer reject) due to mislabeled product on multiple occasions. In fact, on average, 7% of Plastikos’ external SCARs (i.e. external customer rejects) were due to mislabeled or incorrectly labeled product.
The mislabeled product/incorrect label rejects were the most frustrating because the Plastikos team had successfully completed all of the difficult steps – i.e. preparing and setting up the mold, mixing and drying the raw material, establishing the scientific molding process, inspecting the initial start-up parts, completing all of the periodic in-process inspections, providing the corresponding engineering production support – all of those difficult steps were completed correctly, only to come up short when it came to correctly labeling the finished product. Plastikos’ General Manager succinctly equated it to “sending our customer Cheerios in a Frosted Flakes box. The Cheerios are perfectly good, but in the morning when the customer pours them out in his cereal bowl, he is not happy because he wanted Frosted Flakes for breakfast.”
The leadership team at Plastikos knew that there was a much better way to complete the relatively simple, yet important, task of correctly labeling its finished product, which leveraged IQMS. A cross-functional project team from the leadership, IT, quality and production departments worked together to design, develop and rigorously test the custom Press Label Stations. After a few months of hard work, the Press Label Stations were rolled-out to all 27 injection molding machines at Plastikos.
The Press Label stations automatically pull all of the customer-required shipping information from the IQMS database, molding machine and part scale in order to print a customer-specific label. The successful implementation of the Press Label Stations has resulted in increased efficiency on the production floor by completely eliminating multiple manual steps from the process. Additionally, Plastikos eliminated the need to rework and/or re-label any boxes that contained inaccurate label information.
As this continuous improvement project demonstrates, Plastikos’ utilization of IQMS, coupled with a custom technology integration effort, saves valuable time and production resources, and also completely eliminates the risk of a customer reject or SCAR (Supplier Corrective Action Report) due to an incorrectly labeled box. In fact, Plastikos has not received a single (0%) external customer reject for a mislabeled or incorrectly labeled box since the implementation of its Press Label Stations (compared to the prior historical average of 7%).
Recently, Plastikos rolled out an enhancement to its Press Label Stations to automatically compare and validate the part weight of a sample part to the APW data that is stored in the part’s IQMS BOM. In instances where there is a discrepancy between the sample and the IQMS data, members of Plastikos’ quality team are instantaneously alerted to review, confirm and/or correct the data as necessary. This additional validation feature has resulted in more accurate inventory management, more efficient production scheduling and more effective just-in-time raw material purchasing at Plastikos.
1.2: Phase II: Automated Real-Time Dispositioning at the Press
After the successful completion of Phase I of the Automated IQMS Production Labeling & Mold Tracking project, Plastikos’ team turned its attention to its dispositioning processes. Historically, Plastikos’ Scheduling Manager would schedule an order (i.e. 100,000 piece order) in IQMS and the members of the quality team would manually update (disposition) the actual good parts produced at the end of each shift (three times per day) as well as when an order was complete. The manual dispositioning process was required because a member of Plastikos’ quality team had to verify the actual parts that were produced during a given timeframe prior to updating the corresponding inventory numbers. The actual parts produced took into account any in-process scrap, which any ERP system would otherwise not be aware of.
Once again, the Plastikos team realized that there had to be a better, more efficient way to complete this process. The solution resided on the foundation of its Press Label Stations, which had been in production for approximately one year at the time Plastikos kicked-off the Automated Real-Time Dispositioning project and IQMS.
Members of Plastikos’ IT, manufacturing and leadership teams partnered with IQMS to refine the calculation methodology and expand the direct interface that between the Press Label Stations and the IQMS database. These software changes and process refinements enabled the Press Label Stations to provide an accurate real-time production count (cycled every five minutes) at all 30 presses and then automatically disposition that data to update the company’s inventory numbers in IQMS.
Plastikos’ team successfully implemented Phase II (Automated Real-Time Dispositioning at the Press) of the project after a rigorous testing effort. Plastikos was able to leverage technology to completely eliminate the historic manual disposition steps, which increased the efficiency of its molding floors and also dramatically improved the accuracy and reliability of its production and inventory data. Plastikos’ scheduling and manufacturing teams are now better able to monitor, plan and refine their day-to-day production schedule. In turn, Plastikos is now able to fulfill its customers’ orders more quickly, more effectively manage its just-in-time inventory levels and realize higher profitability, a true win for all of the company’s customers, the team, and Plastikos!
1.3: Phase III: Automated Mold Tracking via Barcode Labeling
The final phase (Phase III: Automated Mold Tracking through Barcode Labeling) of the Automated IQMS Production Labeling & Mold Tracking project focused upstream on Plastikos’ molds and production tooling. A cross-functional team that was composed of key representatives from Plastikos’ tool room, IT, production and leadership departments worked together to automate the tracking of 700+ customers molds at Plastikos.
At Plastikos, a given mold can be in any one of 65 rack locations in its mold vault, in one of Plastikos’ 30 presses, in the tool room or at Micro Mold – well over 90 potential locations. Historically, the physical location of a mold was tracked manually (e.g. mold vault rack locations we reorganized by customer), and as is inherent with any manual process, the actual physical location of all of the 700+ molds frequently did not match the corresponding manual paperwork. This manual mold tracking process was very costly to Plastikos in the form of wasted employee time to track down a “misplaced” mold, lost press production time while employees located a mold, and risked longer customer lead times and/or missed delivery dates.
Plastikos’ tool room and manufacturing team found it to be increasingly difficult to manually manage this process as Plastikos’ customer portfolio continued to grow, which translated into an ever-growing number of molds that the company maintained and ran for its customers. Plastikos’ tool room manager led this phase of the project to fit each mold at Plastikos with a semi-permanent custom barcoded tag, which is based on the mold’s unique Plastikos mold number. The company’s team also worked with IQMS to establish the supporting business processes and integration with the IQMS database. Plastikos adopted many of its existing raw material tracking processes, in which the company scans raw material from an initial location (frequently the warehouse) to its destination.
Today, a process technician or changeover technician scans a mold from its current/initial location to its destination, which could be a specific molding machine, the tool room, Micro Mold, etc. The successful implementation of the Automated Mold Tracking project enables Plastikos to quickly and effectively locate any mold’s current physical location and also review the movement history of that tool. The added historical IQMS data has enabled members of Plastikos’ production and engineering team to identify molds that may be in need of additional engineering or tooling work in an effort to address a historic quality issue or improve its historic production efficiency. Additionally, members of Plastikos’ engineering and tool room team are now able to better define and subsequently refine the company’s internal preventative maintenance schedules on a tool-specific basis.
1.4 Project Outcomes & Return on Investment (ROI)
Plastikos invested a total of $214,200 in the Automated IQMS Production Labeling & Mold Tracking project, which includes both capital and internal labor investments that were required to complete the three phases of this project.
Plastikos has conservatively realized a quantified savings of more than $770,000 to date, which equates to a 359% return on investment (ROI). Moreover, these savings and the corresponding ROI continue to build with every order that we run in production.
Additionally, the Automated IQMS Production Labeling & Mold Tracking project has resulted in the following qualitative benefits (which are not explicitly factored into the calculations above) to Plastikos and to its customers:
- Improved product quality and PPM metric: Plastikos has received zero customer rejects (0 PPM) due to mislabeled or incorrectly labeled product with more than 571 million parts shipped since the Press Label Station implementation.
- Shorter lead times/improved production order turn-around time: Plastikos’ improved production floor, quality and tool room efficiencies enables the Plastikos team to fulfill its customers’ production orders more quickly and thus afford a higher level of service.
- Longer mold/tool uptime: Better data availability, accuracy and analysis enables the Plastikos team to more effectively manage its customers’ molds and to develop customized preventative maintenance schedules to keep the tools running longer in production.
- Reduced internal scrap rates: Plastikos’ customized preventative maintenance schedules translates into more optimally running tools in production with a lower corresponding internal scrap rate.
- Improved customer service: Plastikos’ customers are no at risk of receiving mislabeled or incorrectly labeled product, which in turn has reduced their internal scrap rates and improved their internal production/assembly efficiencies.
About Plastikos, Inc.:
Plastikos, Inc., the 2010 Processor of the Year, is a premier custom injection molder that specializes in the development and manufacturing of highly engineered, tight-tolerance, thermoplastic components. Together with its sister company, Micro Mold Co., Inc., Plastikos’ mission is the following: Micro Mold Co., Inc. & Plastikos, Inc. strive to be the world’s leading provider of tooling and plastic products to its customers. The company’s goal to be the No. 1 tooling and plastics processor requires outstanding customer service, technical abilities, quality, delivery, efficiency and cleanliness.
Plastikos seeks to Make the Impossible.
Read more about Micro Mold Co. and Plastikos' history.