Takes on New Form
The addition of two
thermoformers has given NC-based Piedmont Plastics'
Fabricating Division expanded manufacturing
Plastics' Fabrication Division is relatively new to the
thermoforming business but not the
Timerberlake runs a Komo three-axis CNC router to
machine a part which will be later used by
Piedmont's Machining Division in Ware Shoals,
Inc., one of the Southeast's largest plastics distributors,
began in 1968. The company added a Fabrication Division and
a Components Machining Division during the 1990s.
Division, part of $90-million-plus Piedmont Plastics, began
thermoforming two years ago when it moved from the
18,000-square-foot facility at Piedmont's headquarters in
Charlotte, NC, to a 60,000-square-foot plant in nearby Twin
Lakes Business Park.
In branching out,
General Manager James Delark says, "there was a definite
learning curve," not only in working with the new machinery,
but in working on a tighter schedule.
"In this day and
age, people want to keep inventory down to a minimum,"
Delark says. "Everything works on a just-in-time basis. The
customers don't have that extra lead time built in."
important when working with time-sensitive point of purchase
orders, he says. Piedmont makes a lot of POP items &emdash;
from display cases for electronic pagers to self-serve
shelves for snacks. "When a new product comes out, they want
to flood the market with displays," says Delark.
That can make life
hectic in the plastics fabrication business. He cited one
job which included the fabrication and assembly of auto
information kiosks that the dealers used in introducing the
year's new models.
thousands of Chevy dealers across the U.S.," says Delark,
"and they all had parts assembled by Piedmont. So did
dealers of other makes of autos," which were customers of
the same marketing and promotions company that hired
All in all, he
estimates that thousands of parts went out in two-months'
time, put together by a workforce that had swelled to double
its normal 40 to 50 employees.
Other than hiring
temporary help, Piedmont used the same tactics to meet that
challenge that it now uses to handle the 10 to 15 different
projects it pursues daily &emdash; technology.
Precision Machining Division
difference in focus and more than 100 miles
separate Piedmont Plastics'
thermoforming/fabrication and precision machining
divisions. Yet the two often get their materials
from the same source, Piedmont's distribution
division, and occasionally work on the same
distribution division, which cuts and converts 40
percent of what it sells, was begun in 1968 in
Charlotte, NC. In 1990, a fabrication division was
formed. The division added thermoforming
capabilities and has since moved into a separate
facility in nearby Twin Lakes Business Park. In
1994, the precision machining division began in
Ware Shoals, SC.
components machined at Ware Shoals are typically
small, working parts of equipment. Several large
OEMs in the medical equipment and pollution-control
fields are customers of the plant, which has 30
employees working in 12,000 square feet of space
under the direction of General Manager David Cline.
machines to close tolerances, using CNC and manual
mills and lathes. Engineering materials such as
acetal, nylon, PVC, PET, PBT, cast acrylic,
Fluorosint, PEEK and polycarbonate are
recent job, a blood analyzer, is an example of a
project on which the two divisions collaborated.
The Ware Shoals plant made the working parts; the
thermoforming plant contributed a polycarbonate
machine guard and a cover made from polycarbonate
&emdash; Hannah Miller
pride in the fact that it uses technology extensively and
inventively. The company constantly records and evaluates
what is happening at different levels of the process, to
eliminate potential glitches early on in the production
phase, Delark says.
The company relies
heavily on CNC equipment to fabricate the components. Major
pieces of equipment include a Komo three-axis CNC router,
two Quintax five-axis CNC routers and a Fadal four-axis
Forming occurs on
either the MAAC 6-foot by 10-foot single station
vacuum/pressure former or the MAAC three-station rotary
4-foot by 8-foot pressure/vacuum former. For simple bends,
the company uses a C.R. Clarke strip heater. Drying is done
in a Grieve electric oven.
In addition to the
POP displays, the division manufactures guards and covers
for textile, medical and playground equipment, dashboards
and other parts for school buses, and a wide range of other
items including basketball backboards and music stands for
The materials used
at Piedmont are as varied as its products. The company uses
PETG, acrylic, polycarbonate, ABS, styrene, high density
polyethylene, polypropylene and Kydex. The Fabrication
Division buys most of its materials through Piedmont's
distribution arm; it also has the authority to buy directly
from the manufacturer/extruder just as the Distribution
Division does, says Don Williams, product manager for
engineering and high performance materials.
The selection of
the material is dependent upon not only the job, but also
the customer's preference. Sometimes the customer chooses
the plastic; other times Piedmont advises the customer as to
which material would work best, Williams says.
Piedmont recently received an order to manufacture a box to
keep brightly labeled electronic pagers enclosed. According
to Delark, Piedmont suggested using impact-resistant PETG,
which would stand up to a lot of ordinary abuse, he said.
"You would have trouble breaking it with a hammer. It
wouldn't break in transit or in use."
Many of the
products Piedmont makes have to look good as well as perform
to specifications. One cover for textile machinery was made
of ABS instead of its original sheet metal for that reason,
says Keith Joyner, engineering manager. "It's hard to put
styling into a sheet of metal."
heavily on computer technology for transmission and
interpretation of customers' requirements for a part. The
process is not only quick, it is relatively free from error,
"Most of the time,
we don't get drawings anymore," says Joyner. Instead,
they'll get an e-mail: "Please quote 300, 1,000; File is
the computer rendering in either 3-D or 2-D imaging. To
determine an accurate quote, Piedmont will also e-mail the
drawing to the tooling company.
Once the contract
is signed, Piedmont's computers translate the rendering into
operating instructions for factory-floor equipment, using
software designed specifically for that purpose. A little
editing is all that's required, Joyner says.
"I don't have to
draw the part. It's there," adds Joyner. "All we have to do
is determine the sequence of manufacture."
A Faro Arm
coordinate measuring device is used to ensure that the
machined part matches the rendering exactly. The Faro Arm
can also be used to determine precise dimensions of a sample
part submitted by a customer.
In a more
unconventional use of technology, Operations Manager Ron
Cobb also uses a digital camera to record the stages of
manufacture. When they're working on a new project, he and
Joyner can then use e-mail to send the customer both
pictures and comments on the work in progress.
Using arrows to
point to a problem site, Cobb will say, "Hey, we think this
is a potential problem. What do you think?" E-mailing the
pictures also lets them avoid lost time in sending the part
itself, both Delark and Joyner say.
Piedmont made a prototype machine guard for a piece of
medical equipment. There were six places at which the guard
had to interface with the machine, but they didn't line up
properly. In this case, Joyner says, it was the customer who
said, "I'll take a picture of the machine and send it to
With the signing
of each order, Piedmont will draw up a manufacturing
schedule for each project, and a schedule for each machine.
Management meets weekly to see whether things are going as
planned, whether materials have arrived, or if there has
been a mechanical problem.
If materials are
late, Delark says, Piedmont will have its employees work
overtime, or adjust schedules. "If somebody's constantly
late," he says, "we're going to look for another supplier.
It's all part of meeting delivery dates so that customers
can meet theirs," he adds.
tracks the progress of each part as it moves through the
shop. A "shop traveler" information sheet follows a part
through its manufacture, from the time a blank is
thermoformed until the completed part is ready to ship.
At each stage,
employees use factory-floor computers to record the amount
of time they've spent on the part. Management will then
evaluate the final tally to determine how much material and
labor was used "and if we made any money on it," Delark
"That's how you
keep business," Delark says. "Our constant challenge is
adapting to new technology to accomplish that.
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Plastics Machining & Fabricating
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