Many years ago I toured the Erie Plastics factory in Corry, Pa, which is in northwestern Pennsylvania, close to the New York border. I had heard that Erie Plastics was a leader in multi-cavitation and stack molding. CEO P. C. Hoop (don’t call me Paul) Roche showed me closure tools with well over 100 cavities for closures. It was a poorly kept secret that Erie was a major supplier to Procter & Gamble over a very long time period. Erie participated in the design and manufacturing of the Folgers AromaSeal canister, as well as closures for Pringles cans and Downy Fabric Softener bottles. According to various news and employee reports on the Web, P&G had warned Erie Plastics it was going to pull the contracts three or four years ago. Engineers at Erie redoubled efforts to boost productivity and improve the economics of their processes. At the end of February about 40 percent of Erie Plastics’ employees were laid off, stunning many of them. Northwestern Pennsylvania is already taking a beating from the economy. The Tech Group laid off 250 employees at the end of last year, and closed a mold making plant in Erie, PA. Bitter employees are blaming management at Erie Plastics, and one blogger even blamed Barack Obama.
The truth is laid-off employees have a very poor view of what was going on. P&G is in a global struggle for business and wants the best-possible costs and designs for its products. Presumably, P&G found a supplier it preferred, but had no immediate comment. I doubt the new supplier is Chinese because of reports concerning lack of sophistication and quality among domestic Chinese toolmakers. There’s still lots of hype from companies pushing Chinese tools, but proceed with caution.
Hoop Roche is the last person I would blame. The last time I saw him was last year at the Plastic Parts Innovation Conference in Memphis, TN. He was pushing a new proprietary technology from Erie Plastics called Pop ‘N Shake, which allows ingredients such as vitamins or medicines to be mixed right in the bottle. It’s a clever attempt to keep the business going. .It combines design ingenuity with high cavitation tooling and hot runner manifold know-how. Hoop joined Erie Plastics in 1972 as a sales engineer, and acquired the company in 1991. In his blog about Erie Plastics there is no update on the layoffs or the P&G contracts. He does give some hints of the troubles though: In a Christmas message on Dec. 23, Hoop lists these issues:
“• Challenging pricing driven by substantial industry over-capacity.
• Fiercely demanding customers ever confident that there is “another 20%” to be wrung out through negotiations, electronic auctions and allowing the competitive enterprise system to do its job.
• The never-ending quest to improve quality, output and productivity.
• Unremitting pressure on profit margins.”
All certainly true. I’ve writtenextensively about the P&G purchasing approach, and I know their corporate results are benefiting from a tough proactive system. They are not at all the leaders in the blitz to electronic auctions that began in 1999. Much to the contrary, they put a strong emphasis on design and quality, while also demanding the best possible prices. I have no knowledge of what happened with the Erie Plastics business, but I would not be at all surprised if the closure business is moving to Europe, despite the current disadvantage in currencies.
A recent report sponsored by the American Chemistry Council (ACC) focuses on emerging gasification technologies for converting waste into energy and fuel on a large scale and saving it from the landfill. Some of that waste includes non-recycled plastic.
Capping a 30-year quest, GE Aviation has broken ground on the first high-volume factory for producing commercial jet engine components from ceramic matrix composites. The plant will produce high-pressure turbine shrouds for the LEAP Turbofan engine.
Seismic shifts in 3D printing materials include an optimization method that reduces the material needed to print an object by 85 percent, research designed to create new, stronger materials, and a new ASTM standard for their mechanical properties.
A recent study finds that 3D printing is both cheaper and greener than traditional factory-based mass manufacturing and distribution. At least, it's true for making consumer plastic products on open-source, low-cost RepRap printers.
For industrial control applications, or even a simple assembly line, that machine can go almost 24/7 without a break. But what happens when the task is a little more complex? That’s where the “smart” machine would come in. The smart machine is one that has some simple (or complex in some cases) processing capability to be able to adapt to changing conditions. Such machines are suited for a host of applications, including automotive, aerospace, defense, medical, computers and electronics, telecommunications, consumer goods, and so on. This discussion will examine what’s possible with smart machines, and what tradeoffs need to be made to implement such a solution.