Friday, September 4th, 2015

So Much Water, So Close to Home: With In-Person Meetings, How Far You Travel is Less Important than the Simple Fact that You Traveled at All

At any given time, business travel is a relatively reliable indicator of economic health. Sure, it’s an oversimplification, and more of a reflection of economic solidity and optimism than a cause of either, but the truth is that businesses send their employees to travel when times are good, and they cut back when times aren’t. For instance, according to the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA), business travel spending declined sharply during the recession in 2008 and 2009, and improved with the overall economic outlook, reflecting the fact that companies spend more to make face-to-face meetings happen in times of plenty than they do in times of famine.

SouthRegionNetworkingPhoto

Attendees at the 2014 SPI South Regional Networking Reception.

That’s a shame though, because it’s through face-to-face meetings that good business gets done. A 2013 report by the U.S. Travel Association found that, when asked about the effects of business travel budget cutbacks, only four percent of respondents whose companies reduced business travel spending since 2007 stated that those cutback aided company performance, while 57 percent said that those reductions in business travel hurt their company’s performance. The same report found that business travelers believe 42 percent of their customers would eventually be lost without in-person meetings, and that prospects are nearly twice as likely to become customers with an in-person meeting than without one.

The point is that how far you travel matters less than the fact that you traveled, and that’s as true for visits to existing customers as it is to visits of prospects and even fellow industry colleagues. The face-to-face meeting is still the best way to connect with other professionals in business, whether the aim is developing a new lead, a new resource, a new supplier or simply a new contact with whom to trade ideas and strategies. Events that bring together industry professionals in such a way are like members-only events that everyone’s invited to; everyone who attends has something in common with everyone else in the room, because all of them understand that it’s only through in-person meetings that you can start to build the trust necessary for a lasting, mutually-beneficial  business relationship.

Attendees at an SPI Regional Event.

Attendees at an SPI Regional Event.

The fact that there’s no directly proportional relationship between miles flown and quality of visit means that whenever companies and plastics professionals have a chance to take advantage of an event in their neck of the woods, they should do so whenever the opportunity presents itself. That’s why SPI started hosting smaller meetings for members and plastics companies operating in each of its four regions (West, Midwest, South and Northeast). These programs are designed to make it easier for SPI members to benefit from the kind of quality that only face-to-face meetings can provide, without having to exhaust their travel budgets. And while the guest list at these events might be smaller, the programming that goes along with each of them still delivers a great deal of value, even beyond networking opportunities. Most regional lunches and dinners are hosted at the facilities of SPI member companies and many of them include plant tours, giving attendees the chance to learn more about their industry and the best practices employed by some of the biggest, most innovative names in plastics. Additionally, many regional meetings include a timely industry update from SPI President and CEO Bill Carteaux, as well as the chance to have a direct dialogue with Carteaux and other industry and SPI leaders. They give attendees the chance not just to develop new business relationships and their own professional network, but also to increase their involvement with their trade association: SPI listens intently to its members and it’s often through conversations at these regional programs where the organization acquires the vital insight it requires to drive its grassroots outreach and advocacy programs. As much as these programs offer attendees a chance to change their professional lives, they also offer them the chance to change the face of their industry by making their voice heard and empowering SPI’s efforts to support and promote the U.S. plastics industry.

The point is, even when the recession gave cash-strapped companies a reason to cut back on business travel, this strategy is pennywise and pound-foolish. This is even more the case now that the recession has ended and the U.S. plastics industry is thriving, not to mention the fact that SPI’s regional events make it possible for professionals to get big benefits right in their backyards. To learn more about SPI’s Fall slate of regional programming, click here.

Wednesday, September 2nd, 2015

How to Increase Capacity Without Adding Plants and Equipment

By Glenn Nowak, Vice President of Sales at IQMS

Glenn Nowak, IQMS

Glenn Nowak, IQMS

The theme of this year’s Global Plastics Summit, “On the Brink of New Capacity,” just happens to be a topic that we help our manufacturers solve frequently.  As the economy continues to experience an upturn, more and more manufacturers begin seeking ways to increase capacity without adding floor space, equipment or personnel.

There are two common routes manufacturers take when faced with a surge in demand. The first is to maintain status quo with current business processes and operations, while adding new work centers, employees and square footage to handle the increase. The alternate route is to dial up all existing resources as efficiently as possible first, prior to expanding. With the second option, the ultimate goal would be 100 percent utilization of what you already have, before adding on more.

To have as efficient an operation as possible, you need a shop floor with no downtime or waste – A finely tuned plant that finishes one job and immediately begins the next, with the proper tools, operators and materials prepped and ready to deploy. This is no small order. How can you make the right job, with the right tools and right quantities, all flow together at the right time?

The answer is a comprehensive ERP and MES solution capable of automating your shop floor. Comprehensive is the key word here. While integration of third-party programs into a core ERP system can work, it is fraught with challenges such as duplicate data entry, information delays and silos, interface issues and customization expenses.

The key to increasing capacity is to have an end-to-end solution that covers every aspect of your business, from ERP to MES, MRP, financials, order management, WMS, CRM and more. This single source solution is what makes every aspect of your business visible, traceable and incredibly efficient.

A few of the areas that a comprehensive ERP solution can help you increase capacity include:

  • A process monitoring module that links directly to work centers and high value production equipment at the PLC/sensor level to collect and relay process parameters immediately to an ERP solution for analysis, allowing you to greatly improve efficiency, productivity and accountability
  • Finite scheduling and dispatch list tools that automatically analyze which operators and work centers are the most efficient. By smart loading your work centers based on historical performance data, you ensure that you are optimally using your assets
  • Automated work order tools that create ideal production order batch quantities through minimum and maximum run sizes, multiples of designations and time fences to eliminate unnecessary teardowns and resets and optimize production runs
  • Manufacturing-specific BOMs and routing workflows that offer 30-plus different manufacturing types, with fields and features specific to each process. A software system that also offers multi-level BOMs, displays equipment and labor requirements and contains the flexibility to schedule processes that are work center, assembly line, application based or a combination of many types will also help you increase capacity
  • Intelligent material resource planning (MRP) tools, such as safety stock features that automatically generate purchase orders when common inventory items run low, increase your inventory turns rate and ensure you keep just the minimum quantity on-hand
  • A maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) module can help you avoid costly unscheduled downtime by first automatically gathering usage data and tracking where the tool or equipment is used throughout your shop floor. Then, based on automatic alerts that remind you of upcoming and pending maintenance, generate work orders and schedule labor and materials for planned maintenance when you have the parts and bandwidth to take the machine offline.

A need to increase in capacity is a good problem for any manufacturer to have. But rather than investing in new personnel, machines and floor space to handle the boost, manufacturers should first consider if automating their plants to 100 percent capacity with a comprehensive ERP and MES solution isn’t a less expensive and more flexible approach to adding capacity.

Friday, May 22nd, 2015

Millennials in Plastics

A guest post by Michael Stark, divisional manager, material handling and auxiliaries at Wittmann Battenfeld, Inc. and chairman of SPI’s Future Leaders in Plastics (FLiP). Originally published on LinkedIn.

FLiP_logo-2Where did they go? With a decade of traveling for and working in the plastics industry under my own millennial belt, I must say, my peers are hard to find and I start to wonder why. Was it our upbringing and a bias towards an office job developing the next app for our phones? Or trading dollars and cents at some financial organization? Were those careers considered “sexier” for us? Did baby boomers raise us to turn our backs on manufacturing?

I look back at my own introduction into plastics—a summer internship through a family member at a plastics manufacturer. At the time I thought “it’s a job and the money is good.” I really had no idea what this industry was. On day one of this internship, I found myself standing in front of a sub-ten second cycling, over one thousand-ton machine, producing over one hundred parts per cycle. I will never forget the sound, the sight, and the feeling I had. The hair stood up on my arms; goose bumps from watching. It was tons of steel, moving fast, with complex automation and programming, an awe inspiring display of mechanics, chemistry, and thermodynamics. Since that day I have been addicted to this industry, in which I have spent over the last decade building my career, and what a great career it’s been.  If it were not for the family member that got me the internship, I would have never have had the exposure, never had this career.

I’ve asked the few millennial peers I’ve met in this industry and it’s the same story—it was a family member, a friend, or a family business that led them to plastics. I say thank you for those who got us into this industry, because we enjoy it. But in the same breath, your recruiting effort fell short by a long shot; it didn’t do enough.

Michael Stark, SPI FLiP Chairman

Michael Stark, SPI FLiP Chairman and Divisional Manager, Material Handling and Auxiliaries at Wittmann Battenfeld, Inc.

I just read an article about Millennials representing over one third our labor pool; overcoming Gen X’ers and the now retiring baby boomers. But in the plastics industry I just don’t see it. What I see is a significant labor shortage that is eminent in the next decade, and what’s to be done about it? Offshore our efforts even more? What ever happened to the excitement of making something tangible for a living in this country? Did our parents leave this out of our upbringing? If building and programming highly complex robotics is not “sexy”, if producing lifesaving medical components and devices, cutting edge light weight cars, biodegradable materials, or the next big consumer product is not “sexy” to at least some of us Millennials, then what is?

So where did all my fellow Millennials go? Why did you not consider this industry? Did you not know it existed? Because if so, we as an industry need to fix that and fast.

Trust me, it is not a dark and dingy industry. If that’s your reason, then you need to see it for yourself. Or perhaps I’ll film a movie “The Wolf of Plastics” to bring the sexy back. We need skilled people, technical people, business people, and everything in between. We need younger generations to bring the spirit back to making things. We need you.

Thursday, April 16th, 2015

Arizona Plastic-Bag Bill a Necessary Step toward Limiting Needlessly Burdensome Regulatory Complexity

FPA_2012_winner-Hilex-Poly-KrogerLast year the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) estimated that the federal regulatory compliance burden for U.S. manufacturing companies exceeds $2 trillion on an annual basis. That’s a staggering figure on its own, but it pales in comparison to what the total eventually would be if every company had to comply with standards, laws and regulations that varied from locality to locality.

The last Census estimated that there were just over 77,000 local governments in the U.S. (excl. school districts). If the cost of compliance for manufacturers is $2 trillion now, what would it be if every one of those local governments grafted their own regulatory scheme on top of what’s already present at the state and federal levels?

Encouraging new opportunities for manufacturing growth in this country will require our legislators to think not merely of taxes, but of new regulations as well. “America’s regulatory framework is in need of a serious reboot,” SPI President and CEO William Carteaux said in the wake of the NAM report. “Comprehensive reform is necessary to allow the nation’s manufacturers to grow their businesses, hire more workers and keep America competitive abroad.”

“A modern regulatory regime based on scientific, technological and economic realities, rather than outdated facts, emotion and hearsay, will ensure the safety of workers, consumers and the environment while still fostering the innovation and job growth that manufacturing is poised to unleash,” he added.

Tailoring this regime to create adequate protections for individuals without overburdening manufacturers with redundancies, needless complications and laws based on bad science will require thoughtful analysis, enactment and implementation, not the broad-stroke, more-is-always-more approach that seems to be popular among so many activists. To this point, Arizona Senate Bill 1241, signed into law this week by Gov. Doug Ducey, is a small but meaningful victory in the battle against baseless overregulation and arbitrary statutes that make compliance a minefield for businesses.Bag2Bag-in-store-160w

By ensuring that the authority to regulate packaging and auxiliary containers rests in state capitols and not in the hands of local governments, SB 1241 certifies that businesses will have to comply with only one set of regulations in Arizona, rather than 432 different sets: one for each local government in the state (excl. school districts). It’s a pro-business bill that precludes the creation of a patchwork of new regulations. More than that, by heading off potential regulatory threats, businesses can plan for the future without worrying that new, increasingly segmented regulations could inhibit them. SB 1241 is a sign that Arizona understands how important that certainty is to business when making investments and moving forward. By providing that certainty, they’ve made it easier for companies to concentrate more on growing their business and creating jobs and less on future compliance challenges. Hopefully other states will follow in Arizona’s footsteps.

Tuesday, March 10th, 2015

NPE2015 Preview: A Sneak Peek at the Pursuing Zero Waste Fashion Show

Just one of the 13 different dress designs made from recycled plastics that will be displayed on the runway at the Pursuing Zero Waste Fashion Show at NPE2015.

Just one of the dress designs made from recycled, reused or repurposed plastics that will be modeled on the runway at the Pursuing Zero Waste Fashion Show at NPE2015.

Vinyl sheet protectors, yoga mats, plastic beads—not exactly the cashmeres, linens, silks and cottons one might normally think of when it comes to fashionable fabrics, but the results speak for themselves.

The Pursuing Zero Waste Fashion Show will kick off NPE: The International Plastics Showcase, produced by SPI: The Plastics Industry Trade Association, later this month. This week the NPE and SPI teams happily offered a sneak preview of just one of the designs (see photo) that will be modeled on the runway during the Fashion Show, which will take place at 8:30 a.m. in West Hall C on Monday, March 23 at the start of the five-day NPE2015 exposition at the Orange County Convention Center (OCCC) in Orlando, Fla.

Students of the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) designed and created the garments (and their accessories) using recycled, reused or repurposed plastics as part of a partnership program with SPI. After they make their debut at the Fashion Show, the students’ creations will be on display in the Zero Waste Zone, a special sector of the NPE exhibit floor in the South Hall of the OCCC devoted to the plastics industry’s mandate to reduce, reuse or recycle its materials.

In addition to the garments created from previously-used plastics, the fashion show will also include a design created with 3D-printing technology by a SCAD student using bioplastics from Green Dot (located on NPE show floor, booth S19200 in the Sustainability Pavilion, part of the Zero Waste Zone). It will be one of 13 outfits shown, as well as a number of dazzling accessories also created with recycled, reused or repurposed plastics.

“We found the students at SCAD to be not only talented and creative but also very involved with environmental issues,” said Brad Williams, director of marketing and sales for SPI. “Their designs are vivid demonstrations that recycled plastics can gain new lives in many forms—both as purely utilitarian goods and as objects of beauty. The Pursuing Zero Waste Fashion Show at NPE2015 will add a new dimension to our industry mandate to reduce, reuse, and recycle the valuable materials that make up our products.”