How a leading manufacturer of plastic caps & lids transitioned to smarter plastics processing
The Mold-Rite Plastics (MRP) plant in Plattsburgh, NY, makes caps; millions and millions of caps, including the child-resistant caps for pharmaceutical bottles and the flip-top caps for liquid dispensing bottles like those used for hand-sanitizing solutions. Todd Duprey, Automation Supervisor, oversees a molding operation that has 90 molding machines running on a 24-hour, 7-day schedule.
MRP Plattsburgh also has about 56 plastics blenders, which are used to mix virgin material, color and, often, up to 25% regrind. Most of them are older, legacy units, but over the last two years, Mold-Rite (MRP) acquired eight Conair blenders, with two more scheduled to be delivered soon. All are connected to SmartServices™, the Conair Industry 4.0 solution for auxiliary equipment monitoring, management, and analysis. Duprey describes the set up as “unbelievably awesome.”
To understand why he is so excited about his Conair blenders and SmartServices, you have to understand the way things used to be and, in much of his plant, the way things still are.
Overcoming Lost Productive Machine Time
“With one of my old-style blenders,” Duprey says, “if it ran out of color, for instance, it would alarm and it would shut down. A light would go off and sometimes an operator would know about it. Sometimes they wouldn’t. Sometimes we couldn’t get a process tech over there or we couldn’t get the right person to address the problem. And it would leave things down for a while. This is especially a problem at night, when we don’t have as many people working. So very often, I’d have to deal with it the next morning and it’s not always easy because everything is recorded on an SD memory card. So in order for me to track any information on a specific machine, I would have to pull the SD card, download it to my desktop and then cipher through all the information. It’s not very user friendly.”
An even bigger problem is what happens if a blender runs out of a component and the problem is not addressed in a timely manner, that machine will be running scrap parts and losing money in material and lost productive machine time.
Connecting Blenders to the Industrial Internet of Things
With SmartServices, everything is simplified. Duprey identifies key performance indicators (KPIs) and programs them into the system. He can choose any KPI – the amount of color being fed to a blender, for instance – and set a custom performance threshold. Whenever the conditions move outside of that performance threshold, the SmartServices portal alerts team members so that appropriate action can be taken.
“Until now,” Duprey continues, “I’ve had it set up to send me an email every time we have an alarm, even in the middle of the night. I can log in through my laptop, without leaving home, see what the problem is and address it.” If necessary, Duprey can log into the blender control remotely to check set points and actual readings and even make changes.
Reacting Quickly to Prevent Downtime
Now that he’s gotten more familiar and comfortable with the system, Duprey has begun to involve other plant personnel in the troubleshooting process.
“Now I have the system shooting emails out to plant supervisors and production leads on the floor. They’ll get an email the instant we run out color or for whatever reason it alarms. So they’re going to be able to identify it on the spot and address it before the press actually shuts down. We have a reservoir underneath each blender that holds about an hour’s worth of material so we’ve got an hour to react. That’s awesome because it gives us an hour to get somebody over there to fix the problem before it actually causes us downtime.”
Tracking Down Quality Issues
As good as the system is, however, some off-color product (what Duprey calls ‘lights and darks’) can still get shipped. This generates a Customer Action Report and he needs to find out what happened. Since all shipments are time/date stamped, this is easy. Using the SmartServices portal, Duprey can quickly go back into the system history and identify which blender had a problem and determine exactly when and for how long.
The SmartServices portal also has the ability to track how much of various materials are being processed and confirm that the ratios of virgin, regrind and colorant are as they should be. Correlating total throughput with total parts produced provides a check on the accuracy of quoting and allows MRP to be more accurate in its estimates.
The system will become even more valuable when a data management component, similar to SQL, is built in to SmartServices to track this kind of data and consolidate it in a single database that can easily be mined for all sorts of production and material-usage reports. As more equipment is connected to the system, Duprey expects his IT department to make much greater use of those features all through SmartServices.
Scaling Up the Connected Factory
Mold-Rite is also planning to add a Conair FLX 128 Plus material handling system. The system will have 17 loaders, mainly for machine hopper loading, providing him with a flexible system that uses a combination of centralized I/O and expansion modules, all interconnected via industrial Ethernet. At its heart will be a color touchscreen controller that uses descriptive icons for easy navigation. Whether selecting equipment interconnections or adjusting load time, monitoring and managing resin movement, it’s all easy and intuitive.
“That’s really what I’m looking forward to,” Duprey says. “I’ll be able to get reports on each receiver and, if something goes into alarm I’ll know exactly where it is. With my current system, if a valve gets stuck, all I know is that I’ve lost vacuum in the system and I have to check every receiver to see where the problem is. With the FLX system, I won’t have that problem and that alone will save me hours and hours of time.”
In the near future, he’ll be able to connect his FLX system into SmartServices and have the same centralized monitoring, control and data-gathering capabilities that he has on his Conair blenders.
“That’s definitely where I’m trying to take our company,” Duprey concludes. “I want things smart. I want traceability. I want to be able get useful information out of our systems. I want to get our systems to really work for us and Conair is the company helping us get there.”