Tuesday, October 13th, 2015

Plastics Reaches Out on Manufacturing Day 2015

The skills gap is a challenge facing manufacturing, and this year the plastics industry opened its doors and made its innovative voice heard to inspire the next generation of manufacturing all-stars to remember that creating things is always cool.

Toshiba Machine

Toshiba Machine

This year was the most plastics-centric Manufacturing Day ever. 35 plastics facilities hosted tours and educational events across SPI’s four regions. More than 600 people passed through the facilities of the Rodon Group, AMA Plastics, Parkinson Technologies, Inc., Toshiba Machine, Yushin America, Wittmann-Battenfeld and MR Mold.  Attendees ranged from young professionals and job seekers to school-age children who got an early chance to see what a career in manufacturing looks like in today’s world.

The Rodon Group

The Rodon Group

For more photos, visit SPI’s Facebook Page here.

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.


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.

Wednesday, August 26th, 2015

Senator Stabenow Shares Roundtable Discussion with Michigan SPI Members

From L to R: Jim Lammers, President of Dart Container Corporation, U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and Bill Carteaux, SPI President and CEO.

From L to R: Jim Lammers, President of Dart Container Corporation, U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and Bill Carteaux, SPI President and CEO.

Twelve executives of SPI member companies in Michigan met on August 18 with U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) at the headquarters of Dart Container Corporation in Mason, Michigan (see more photos here). Held in a roundtable format, the discussion provided Senator Stabenow and SPI members the opportunity for a dialogue on issues of mutual concern. Stabenow is an early cosponsor of SPI-backed S. 697, TSCA reform legislation awaiting a Senate floor vote. She reaffirmed her support for the legislation and told the SPI members that the bill has the votes to pass. Separately, all agreed that finding skilled workers is one of the major concerns for the industry and for manufacturing in general. The Senator urged industry members to work with school districts to provide equipment and expertise to help redefine careers in manufacturing at the high school level. Other issues facing the companies represented were federal regulatory overreach, the need for modernization of the nation’s infrastructure including the electrical grid, and the uncertainty of waiting for yearly renewals of the Sec. 179 small business expensing and “bonus depreciation” tax provisions. With regard to infrastructure, the Senator commented on her support for a long-term reauthorization of the federal Highway Trust Fund as well as her recent committee vote on energy legislation. Long a supporter of tax credits for manufacturing, Senator Stabenow wants to push for the permanent extension of Sec. 179 and bonus depreciation. In July, she voted for legislation that would provide two-year extensions until December 31, 2016, for certain tax credits including research and development, Sec. 179 and bonus depreciation.

Thursday, August 13th, 2015

What Got Buried in the Plastic Bag News The Last Two Weeks

The media makes a regular habit of writing articles about plastic bag bans and taxes, but details regarding the negative effects of these ordinances on residents, retailers and other businesses – and the often anti-democratic means by which these measures are enacted – tend to get buried below the fold. Here’s what you might’ve missed in the past couple of weeks:

Plastic-Bags-Closeup-260w-Chicago, Illinois implemented its bag ban on August 1, and a few articles took note of the negative effects this ordinance has had and will continue to have on local businesses – particularly small ones. An article in Crain’s noted that one area employer, BioStar Films, and its Wheeling, Ill.-based sister company, Aargus Plastics, do approximately 35 percent of their business in Chicago, and that while they’ll be able to adapt to meet the city’s specific requirements, losses will be impossible to avoid. “We are going to have to end up making less product,” the article quotes Scott Starr, Biostar Films and Aargus Plastics vice president, as saying. “If we have to reduce the amount of output, then we are going to end up eventually reducing employees.” Starr also was quoted in a Daily Herald article about the same issues and about the misinformation that has led people to believe that bag bans are good for the environment.

BioStar Films employs about 100 people, so while “big plastic” catches the brunt of the vitriol from bag ban and tax proponents, more attention should be paid to the effects these ordinances have on “small plastic” – the companies that can’t afford to keep their employees on staff because of poorly-considered legislation.

-Roughly 400 miles northwest of Chicago, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, an article ran in the Star Tribune under the byline of its editorial board, urging the City Council to “proceed with caution” on a proposed plastic bag ban. Though the board eventually stated its general support for bag bans, it also highlighted “legitimate concerns” raised by local retailers about a host of issues.  That includes the dangers of local vs. state regulation; increased costs to businesses that lead to increased costs for consumers (paper bags cost far more to provide than plastic); and the not-insignificant fact that “paper bags take more energy to produce.” Even bag ban supporters admit that bag bans have economic and environmental impacts that are not wholly positive.

Bag2Bag-in-store-160w-Elsewhere in the U.S., at least one municipal governing body appeared poised to, if anything, let voters decide whether to enact a local plastic bag ordinance. The Ordinance Committee of the Town Council of Freeport, Maine decided it needed more data – on plastic bags, paper bags and the economic impact of a ban or tax – before deciding whether to move forward with regulation. Additionally, Ordinance Committee Chair Sarah Tracy noted that any ordinance should have the support of residents before becoming law, with The Forecaster quoting Tracy as saying, “I think it’s important to make sure it’s supported by the town.” The Tri-Town Weekly also quoted Tracy as saying that the plastic bags issue is “not a slam dunk” and cited figures provided to the Ordinance Committee by the American Progressive Bag Alliance’s Mindi Mebane, who said, “For one thing…a 2014 Rhode Island study showed that plastic bags account for 1.2 percent of the litter stream in New England. And the Environmental Protection Agency says that plastic bags constitute 0.4 percent of the municipal solid waste in the country,” according to the article.