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Abbott Plastics: In Pursuit of Value-Added

Rockford, Illinois distributor/fabricator doubles
its size with a “can do” attitude

By Harry Urban

Abbott’s SCM Sigma 115 CNC panel saw has facilitated the company’s cut-to-size capabilities. The saw features: 4-inch cutting height, 25 horsepower motorized main saw blade, THK movements on the saw blade carriage, double-sided automatic side aligner and a 400 fpm brushless drive saw carriage. The Sigma is available in a front-loading or rear-loading configuration.
One of Abbott Plastics’ brochures describes the firm as a “Can Do” company. Indeed, Abbott represents a classic example of the evolving new breed of distributor/fabricators found throughout the country — those that gladly tackle value-added processing in addition to distribution.

Abbott is successfully adapting to change and addressing the opportunities that have arisen since the company was established in 1980. The Rockford, IL firm, located just south of the Wisconsin border, is in an ideal setting for steady growth. A diverse group of manufacturing customers from light industry to automotive, coupled with Wisconsin’s strong agricultural base, have created a myriad of opportunities for Abbott.
Abbott has been able to take advantage of the Rockford area’s industrial base and also Wisconsin’s food systems economy. For example, its client list includes companies ranging from Sundstrand (aerospace) to some of the large food processors in Wisconsin.

The co-founders are Rockford natives Robert Nelson and Roger Becknell. Prior to launching the company, Nelson and Becknell worked for another Rockford area distributor. “One day we just decided to go out on our own” says Nelson. In the beginning the company was primarily involved in distribution, although it was fabricating vacuum reservoir tanks out of large-diameter PVC pipe. “We’ve always done value-added since the beginning,” says Nelson. “The degree to which we’ve been doing value-added has been growing steadily for the last eight years,” he adds. Nelson says the company’s revenues have also grown steadily — in fact doubled — in that time.

Distributor and Fabricator

Abbott’s business is now divided equally between distribution and fabricating/value-added. It distributes a full line of sheet, plate, rod and tube made from a variety of materials. Most of its business is from within a 70-mile radius of Rockford, with Madison, Milwaukee, Chicago and the Quad Cities its key market.

The facility is 25,000 square feet with 50 employees that work two shifts. Abbott has a smaller branch in Madison that offers the same products and services as the Rockford headquarters.

Stock materials include all engineering plastics such as PVC, Teflon, nylon, Delrin, phenolic sheets and rubber goods. Abbott’s capabilities include automatic screw machining, precision CNC turning, CNC milling, drilling, threading, tapping, routing and sawing. Typical fabricated parts from acrylic, PVC and other materials include point-of-purchase display items, machine guards and shields, and other items, which involve bending, polishing and hand finishing.

The Komo Innova 408 CNC router is a workhorse at the company, running 16 to 17 hours per day on nested parts.
Machining Is Key

The company’s newest piece of equipment is an SCM Sigma 115 CNC panel saw, which was installed in September. “We were lacking in speed and efficiency with our old saw,” says Nelson. “The new saw is great for cutting phenolics, enabling us to do cut-to-size with improved quality of cuts and better tolerances. It’s also a much safer machine for our operators. Jobs that used to take six hours with our old saw can now be accomplished in half an hour.”

According to Nelson, the saw’s design has helped to reduce operator fatigue. A pneumatic blade change feature helps as they stock a number of sawblades categorized by the type of material that they’re cutting. Finally, Nelson said the saw’s multilingual programming capability is a real asset for the company’s Spanish-speaking employees.

Another key piece of machinery is a Komo Innova 408 CNC router. It features a 4- by 8-foot vacuum table and is capable of machining material up to 3 inches thick. Abbott takes advantage of the machine’s nesting capabilities to maximize yield, using Router CIM software for off-line programming. The router is a real workhorse in the operation, running 16 to 17 hours per day, according to Nelson.

Approximately 75 percent of Abbott’s machine work is in routing and milling, while 25 percent is turning. Abbott’s other key equipment includes three Supermax TC2 CNC turning centers, four Milltronics Partner machining centers and two Laguna CNC milling machines. These machines are all generally used for smaller parts.

The company has a full range of basic fabrication equipment for plastic welding, bending and die cutting. A Wegener extrusion welder has “Sped up our overall production with welding,” says Joel Yoakum, who oversees plant operations. Abbott also uses eight Seelye hot air welders for many of its other jobs. The company also performs a lot of low-volume die cutting of thin gauge rubber and nylon on products such as gaskets and electrical insulators.

Quality Control

Reverse engineering and quality control starts with a Mitutoyo bridge style coordinate measuring machine, which is directly linked to a PC. The operator is able to accurately measure and then automatically design a product.

Yoakum said the Mitutoyo has helped to ensure Abbott’s quality control processes. “Our biggest improvement has been in quality,” Yoakum says. “We are taking great strides in making sure that the final product to customer meets customers’ expectations — they demand it. The coordinate measuring machine has helped the situation tremendously.” The machine features a measuring range of 20 inches by 28 inches by 16 inches on a one-piece unobstructed solid granite base. It also has glass scales on each axis with improved rigid air bearings located on all axes.

Maintaining quality control is very important, especially since Abbott typically has 350-400 active jobs in the shop at any one time, Yoakum says. This means accurate tracking of labor and orders is also crucial. Abbott has been using JobBoss Shop Management software for about four years.

“We were using a manual process before that,” says Yoakum. “We kept track of labor on time cards and it was difficult to get a real grasp of what we we’re doing. But as we really started growing in manufacturing, we knew we were going to have to look for software that would grow with us. JobBoss more closely related to what we were doing manually. We set up a small network and eventually we migrated accounts payable and receivable and other modules to work for us.

“JobBoss has had an impact on our business in that it does everything from sales orders to job control to shipping the finished product. There’s more we could be doing, such as fully integrating with budgeting and general ledger. It helps us with our forecasting on shopflow to give the customer more accurate lead time,” he adds.

Looking Ahead

Abbott is working on achieving its ISO 9002 certification. “We’re just around the corner to getting certification. Many of our high tech customers demand quality audits,” Yoakum says.

With regards to Abbott’s future challenges, Nelson says, “One of our challenges is managing customers’ inventories. It’s becoming a more important part of the relationship. Balancing your inventory is always a challenge. You don’t want to have too much, but you have to have enough.”

Nelson says another key focus is staying on top of new technology and plastics materials. “It’s critical for us to know what’s coming,” said Nelson. “The vendors do a good job of keeping us abreast of the equipment and materials.”

Good management, though, will continue to be the key to Abbott’s success in the future, Yoakum says. “Management has been wonderful in allowing us to come up with ideas to build our business. We’re not afraid to try new concepts and we (will continue to) aggressively pursue new technology.”

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Plastics Machining & Fabricating
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