manufacturers, one university and two processors met in Munich to discuss the currently dominant topic of production efficiency. Plastverarbeiter magazine had invited them to an experts‘ discussion in the Süddeutscher Verlag tower block in order to resolve the question of what the machine manufacturers can contribute to efficient production by the processors.
Production efficiency can be portrayed on three levels, Prof. Ansgar Jaeger described in a brief introductory presentation: „the first level begins with the product and its design for plastic and function and it ends with the process selection. On the second level are the selected machinery and equipment technology together with the process technology appropriate to the moulding. Each element must naturally meet the efficiency requirements both individually and in combination. The machine alone is unable to achieve production efficiency if the product design is not right. Furthermore, there is a third level: „this is employees, their internal and external communication, and the business processes such as the mould and tool development or the sampling of new tools.“
What is the significance of production efficiency for you as a processor?
Pfannschmidt: A few years ago, Balda Medical established an efficiency programme involving all employees and processes. With the many levers to improve efficiency, it is important to set the right priorities. One means is the differentiation of measures in terms of efficiency and effectiveness. The focus is initially on effectiveness – as the aim is to produce quality. Only then does efficiency follow. Often, the thought is quickly of how the cycle time can be reduced or how unloading can be sped up. However, as a direct result of these measures it might ultimately no longer be possible to produce high quality with adequate stability. Our employees are encouraged to initially aim for effectiveness then to increase efficiency based on this – across the whole company and the entire value stream.
The injection moulding process plays an important role here but not the only one that matters. We also see production efficiency not as a state but rather as a process. As such, the task is to continuously root out inefficiencies. Efficiency is not achieved per se with the use of the latest machine technology. As a European plastic processer, it is necessary to proceed here in a differentiated, viz product-specific way.Simple and robust system and tool technology integrated into an intelligently co-ordinated overall process can facilitate greater efficiency.
Isenmann: Some of these points are similar for us. At Fleig, we have both tool making and mould construction as well as injection moulding of course. Our customers frequently come with a finished component but often need help to design the part for plastic. The focus is generally on costs: tool costs and series costs for the parts. Here, it is important to consider not only the pure injection moulding process but rather the complete process chain: which component do I have and which requirements are explicitly stated?
Together with the tool, the component is the centrepiece. I can produce quality only if I really have an excellently operated tool. In addition to this, there is the selection of the plastic and only then the optimum design of the injection moulding system in order to achieve a good result. After that, I am able to draw up a summary: have I achieved the set objective? Only now can I look at the production efficiency and consider where there is dormant potential for optimisation, whether in the cycle, in the material or in other factors. What I mean is: production efficiency is a continuous process.
So production efficiency is a continuous process over the entire value added chain. Why then is it specifically the machine manufacturers who have taken up this topic?
Liebig: It has evolved historically – through the topic of energy efficiency. In the past ten years, energy savings have played a major role. From energy, you quickly come to the efficiency of the existing machinery. As machine manufacturers, we have many ideas of how production could be made more efficient. The lifecycle of a plastic part is now considerably shorter than the durability of an injection moulding machine, which today is between 20 and 25 years. Consequently, the focus to improve efficiency is on the existing machinery and, in my opinion, on retrofitting and energy saving. I believe it could be useful if we develop products to adapt the existing machinery.
Bourdon: Of course, every machine manufacturer wants to prove that there is a need in the after-sales business. However, our core business for the foreseeable future will certainly remain in the new machine business. I see two approaches to production efficiency here: on the one hand, the now essential discussion of energy savings; and on the other hand, the fact that all European manufacturers are building machines to last for a very long time. The crucial point is actually the technology development. With a 20-year-old machine, can I still produce in a way that is sensible in terms of energy? Do its parameters still match my requirements at all – key issue: tool installation dimensions? Retrofits or updates are needed here with controls and drives.
Franz: Efficiency is a big issue at Zhafir/Haitian and I agree with the processors: what is needed is the interaction of everyone involved. A machine is efficient only if I can also use it flexibly. Perhaps it is not necessary to find the optimal variant down to the last detail for every product but rather to find the variant with which I can also produce other products as flexibly as possible.
Brettnich: That’s right! Essentially, it is not efficient to put 100 percent into one system in order to achieve the optimum for one product. Efficiency can also mean living with a certain level of compromise. You could focus on the durability of a system or of the products. This also means finding the right building blocks and equipping the system in such a way that I can work with it efficiently over its entire lifetime. Replaceable components naturally form part of this.
Duffner: The more productive a machine is, the worse its energy efficiency. This is a physical correlation: the faster you go, the more potential you have to invest in the process. Of course I can make certain marginal conditions of each sub-process operate with greater energy efficiency or speed: reducing the cycle time and thereby lowering unit costs is also part of efficiency. For efficient production, I need to employ my machine economically as well as using my entire range of machinery economically. The result of this is that one machine might have to work at capacity even if it is actually too large to produce this specific part. In this respect, production efficiency is dependent on many factors and it is an ongoing process that must be considered holistically. Specifically with this in mind, we offer our customers technologies and advice.
Pfannschmidt: After-sales service was mentioned earlier. In my view, a good machine supplier is one who offers maintenance-free machines and not a tight network of service staff. Particularly in medical technology, there is a need for the machines to operate reliably around the clock. Availability is an elementary factor.
Thümen: I would like to address these points. No processor likes doing maintenance. Interest in all-electric solutions takes priority today. The expectation here is often that no maintenance is required. However, even electric solutions need regular maintenance. Modern solutions such as our teleservice are an elegant way to access a machine over the internet in order to plan and reduce unplanned maintenance servicing. This would enable the processor to carry out preventive maintenance. The fact that we help to improve efficiency with this is a good side-effect.
Roth: An injection moulding machine can be compared with a car. Compared with 20 years ago, the proportion of electronics has increased massively, which now makes it possible for us to perform quick diagnostics or remote diagnostics. A web service offers advantages here. We sense increasing acceptance, particularly when the customer no longer perceives a security risk in allowing the machine manufacturer to access the machine from outside.
Fischer: From our perspective, unit costs take centre stage. The on costs are unfortunately considered only as a lower priority. When launching a new product, the focus is clearly on the lowest possible investment costs. However, from our experience it is also very clear: where preventive maintenance is performed, the machines have significantly greater use of capacity – and therefore operate much more efficiently.
Franz: Our machines are constructed to run for as long and as stably as possible. We try to use many standard components particularly in electronic parts and components that can be easily bought anywhere on the market. This reduces the costs both for us initially and for our customers.
Extensive advice is sought on production efficiency, by all stakeholders in the value added chain. Would a machine manufacturers‘ profit centre be appropriate here?
Isenmann: I think it is very important to think outside the box. Today, it would be inconceivable to rely on the know-how of a single specialist, for example from tool making / mould construction or design. We are dependent on all external project workers, from our customers through machine supplier to granulate supplier. Ultimately, this is interaction between internal and external workers.
Bourdon: A profit centre for production efficiency advice? If I am honest, we discussed this several years ago. The processor finds it good if we advise. However, it becomes less attractive when it comes to payment, as even we cannot work for free indefinitely.
Duffner: I can agree with that. For us, the advice is very diverse with respect to production efficiency: design calculations for example with respect to cycle time and energy consumption in the case of new machines form part of the free advice service in sales, whereas further energy comparison measurements on site are generally charged.
Brettnich: There is another aspect too: we machine manufacturers also need input from this advice service in order to continue to develop our machines.
Would a research facility be able to provide an advice service?
Jaeger: I would strongly doubt it. Production efficiency is a holistic and individual issue. Even universities would be able to advise only in principle here. Equally, the machine is only one element in the chain and, moreover, there is also always the neutrality in the space. No, I think neither the university nor the machine manufacturer nor any other manufacturer of peripherals is needed in the case of holistic advice; rather, in my view, it comes down to the processors themselves.
Roth: If the issue of production efficiency is strategically anchored in a company and put into practice then it quickly becomes clear that achievement of the objectives is associated with certain costs. In the case of injection moulding machines, the focus is mainly on the issue of energy efficiency. In comparison with other machines, it is often the specific energy consumption that counts, whereas there is often no comparison of how the machines are designed or offered.
Consultations above and beyond the machine issue are difficult for the machine manufacturer to charge for. The costs incurred for such an advice service are frequently relativised with a view to upcoming investment. Engineering offices or consulting companies have more chance to charge for their service, as only „this service“ is offered and it is not motivated by a „machine order“.
Jaeger: I think the machine manufacturers also do not actually want to sell such as service. Additionally, I would be interested in the opinion of the processors here. Mr Isenmann, is this advice service from a neutral supplier something that you would buy? Or is it not this that you want and are able to do for yourself, specifically for your products, machines and peripherals? I am really advocating having an internal efficiency officer in the company, who pulls the strings.
Isenmann: Our machinery is straightforward and its tonnage goes up to a maximum of 90 tonnes. We have two or three of most of our plants – for flexibility. Our production efficiency is therefore calculated by how much of the plant capacity is used. In the course of this everyday business, we are not necessarily keen to take advice. However, if we are offered an exciting new project, which might use the full capacity of a plant, then we also try to call on external know-how. The machine manufacturer then comes into play here. In advance, we talk to the customer about the project and about the expectations and requirements then we sit around a table with the machine manufacturer, peripherals suppliers and other project stakeholders in order to devise the best possible solution – but this is for the specific project.
Roth: It is not really the core business of the machine manufacturers to establish such a profit centre. Yet, we all need a certain level of customer loyalty. The way this is maintained also includes an advice service, so we cannot establish a lucrative business area here, as both sides benefit from this relationship.
Experts’ discussion, part 2
The second part of the experts’ discussion about production efficiency in injection moulding is about standard and special machines and about the person – key words: communication and training. You can read the second part online.
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