Part One of a Three-Part Series Setting Up Shop

Just as important as creating a solid maintenance plan for molds, is the shop in which the repair takes place.

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Walking into this shop was ... well ... sweet. Half dozen 12-feet long benches, lined up parallel and perfectly spaced and level, gleamed under the abundance of fluorescent lighting. The steel bench tops had a smooth and polished patina that reflected the regular care given them by appreciative maintenance technicians. A couple of the benches held molds in full disassembly, with standing plates spread out and braced, ready for troubleshooting. Underneath the benches were all kinds of neat fixtures, sorted containers of extra bolts, water fittings and mold repair gear arranged in bins and setting on clean shelves decked out in the company colors. Wow. Clean functional shelves.

As I stood in amazement, taking all of this in, it suddenly dawned on me that something very essential was missing … where were the utilities? Those ingredients that bring life to a bench in the form of water, electricity and air? Where were those kinky conduit lines hanging loosely from the very wires they were installed there to protect? Or the ones falling from the ceiling and good only for a place to hang your favorite outdated risqué calendar? And how about the air and water lines to snake around your feet? You know these … every shop has them. Gone ... I was told. Underground.

Every bench in this lavish layout was appointed with air, water and electricity, and fed from below the spotless blue-epoxied cement floor. Each tech could test molds for water or air leaks and electric check all hot runner systems at their own benches, without waiting for the community equipment to become available, or have to drag the mold to different stations to be tested. Now I'm really jealous.

On top of all this, the shop was beautiful. The paint scheme even included the machinist vise mounted on the end of each bench, which was painted to match the monorail overhead hoist system. That's right … monorails … each bench had its own I-beam that spanned the width of the shop. Mounted on each I-beam was an electric two-speed hoist … no community bridge crane here. I couldn't help but to reach up give a hoist a light tug to test the ease of travel … very smooth.

A state-of-the-art ultrasonic wash tank was tucked back into a special cleaning room away from the benches and traffic flow of forklifts and people. So that is how everything remains so clean. Very little scrubbing was performed at the bench.

Elevator music (although I was told that when the guests leave the boom-boxes come out blasting rock and roll) piped over the company loud speaker cast an "office aura" to what is typically a dark, dreary and grimy workspace.

And just when I thought I'd seen it all, mounted overhead on the wall was an air ventilation system that could extend out to all benches and was used to extract the nasty smell of burning plastic when hot runner molds were heated up or tested. That's just sick.

These guys had it made. Looking spiffy in their uniforms and working off cushy floor mats, the only thing broken in this air-conditioned shop was barely a sweat. They happily plied their trade for a company that was run by a general manager who realized the value of maintenance and the impact it had on keeping his business profitable. A closet wrench turner, he knew that great work happens in great shops. His vision is reflected in the care given the 10-year-old manufacturing facility, and proven in the charts that hung in a large oak framed communications board just inside the shop doorway.

The colorful charts displayed critical mold performance and maintenance data so all technicians could see objectives achieved, and new challenges discovered through excellent documentation practices and a strong commitment to continuous improvement. Cavitation goals met, defects eliminated and dollars saved rein-forces the growing idea that a well-planned repair shop can do so much more than just clean molds and put out fires. It is a profit generator stimulated by a source of immense pride among technicians who take their craft seriously. A technician working in this type of atmosphere will naturally rise to a higher level of skill, professional discipline and craftsmanship.

Back to Reality

Mold maintenance doesn't frequently qualify for much more than off the cuff consideration because upper management is typically more concerned with the direct moneymaking applications of manufacturing areas such as production, assembly, cell application, and well, just about everything else.

Walking into most shops always seems to solicit the same basic response in the form of "This is where we got stuck" or "I don't know why we are back in this corner" or "We have a bench here and more in a room over there." My favorite is "My boss says one of these days we are going to get our space refurbished." It must be assumed by upper management that any old space will work just fine for maintenance. Heck, all we need is a rag and some solvent to keep our molds running.

Other shops try to integrate mold repair with mold fabrication or toolrooms building new molds. This normally doesn't work out to well either because the job function is not the same. Building molds and repairing molds do not go hand in hand concerning skills, tools and workflow.

But most are created through space acquisition initiated through the need for immediate expansion. They basically sprang forth overnight without much planning simply out of a need to set a mold down out of the aisle way.

Just as important as creating a solid maintenance plan for molds, is the shop in which the repair takes place. Creating an efficient repair shop must take into consideration the pace of the company (molds pulled/set or received per week) and the varied types of activities that go into repairing and rebuilding specific molds throughout the week.

Many of you (hopefully) will be looking at ways to either improve the workflow or capacity of your mold repair shop or possibly build a new repair shop in your present facility or one located close by. Having the opportunity to visit and work in many shops and plastic manufacturing facilities in and out of the country has introduced me to a few well-planned layouts, and some that were not.

Over the next couple of articles we will discuss shop design in terms of size, layout, traffic, workflow, typical tools, (both hand and power), good bench design, hoist systems and more.

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Part Two of a Three-Part Series Setting Up Shop

Determining repair shop space requirements.