Founded in 1968, Value Plastics may have been one of the first lights-out molding operations in the plastics industry. In its early years, the owner and his family lived on the second floor of the factory to answer machinery malfunction alarms at night. Today the company, now known as the Nordson Medical Fluid Management Manufacturing Facility, operates from a state-of-the-art plant where 48 unattended injection molding machines and a complement of robots are molding, assembling and packaging 1.2 million parts every day in a huge clean room. No one needs to live upstairs in the 2-year-old, 115,000-square-foot plant in Loveland, Colo. The current managers lock the doors and leave every evening and don’t bother with remote monitors, pagers, iPad links or other devices to tell them there is a malfunction.
The heart of the plant is a 37,000-square-foot Class 8 (Class 100,000) clean room that has space for as many as 56 molding machines, robots and assembly and automated packaging operations. The 48 electric machines currently in place consist of 47 Fanuc Roboshot presses ranging from 17 tons to 198 tons of clamping force, although most are 55-ton models. There is one Engel press. Sprue pickers and other robots are from Yushin. Most of the servo robots have dual-telescoping-arm units with a servo wrist.
The lifeblood for the clean-room operation is a sophisticated materials-handling system from Piovan. “We designed our material- handling system to meet our business needs,” plant manager Ray Townsend said. “It allows us to run lights out, which is the key to our business. “Lights-out manufacturing is a mind-set for processing,” Townsend said. “It starts with picking the right equipment, then following a super-good preventive maintenance program with tight tolerances on everything, then training on all the equipment to make sure everyone knows how it works. Part design and tool design are also key to our success to support the lights-out environment. “When everything comes together and you have a solid, validated process, you don’t have much tweaking to do. Everything just runs,” he said. The plant is set up on the philosophy that if a part is rejected, it is kicked out, and the machine resets itself and keeps running. If many are rejected or there is a problem with the molding machine, the machine shuts down while others keep running. “Everything is recorded, so we can figure it out in the morning,” Townsend said. Process production is monitored by Linki, a system specific to Fanuc/Cincinnati Milacron Roboshot machines. It is integrated with Nordson Medical’s enterprise resource planning (ERP) system from IFS Americas, Itasca, Ill. The ERP system provides a wide range of custom production reports that are accessed through the company intranet. An integrated plant control system from Johnson Controls monitors production systems like chilled-water units and air compressors, and the Piovan system watches materials-handling equipment.
Nordson Corp., based in Westlake, Ohio, acquired Value Plastics in 2011, then located in Fort Collins, Colo. There was no room to expand in Fort Collins, so in 2014 Nordson broke ground on the state-of-the-art plant in Loveland. The first molding machines were moved into the new plant in the fall of 2015. Nordson Medical has space to build two more plants of the same size on the Loveland site. Townsend said the previous plant had a custom materials-handling system built about 20 years ago by Motan. “It was ahead of its time,” he said. “It went through a number of improvements over the years, and we came to rely on the ability to pull any material from any hopper to any machine.” When it came time to design a materials-handling system for the Loveland plant, Townsend said he was unimpressed by the systems he was shown. “We wanted to be able to deliver material from any hopper to any machine in an automated way with absolutely no manual intervention,” Townsend said. “The suppliers kept telling me they couldn’t do that.”
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