As NPE 2018 draws ever closer, the majority of the plastics industry in the U.S., and even the world over, are putting the final touches on their marketing and tradeshow booths and assorted items as they prepare to print, package, crate, ship, tow, haul and ultimately descend on Orlando, Florida. For exhibitors, the tradeshow is undeniably their best opportunity to showcase their latest and greatest technology, products and applications to respond to the ever evolving demands and changes in the industry. For molders, this proverbial bazaar of goods and services is in many ways their best opportunity to see all industry contributors (machinery, tooling, auxiliaries, raw materials, parts & services) lined up in the same place. The every-3-year-show has allowed molders their best chance at catching the preeminent in the current technology cycle as well as the next generation to come.
However, for first-time attendees or even attendees on their fifteenth time, there are definitely a number of ways to approach a show as massive and diverse as this one has become. A typical compare and contrast between vendors is likely to be the usual approach for molders attempting to make sense of the menagerie of machinery. As you begin to size up companies, from one to the next, there are a number of things you should consider (or keep in the back of your mind) as you navigate past the buzz words and marketing hype.
Here are 5 things you should consider when evaluating machine manufacturers at NPE 2018.
Most molders walking into NPE will not have a creditor, bank or financial group lined up to purchase or even considering purchasing new machinery. As a result a number of molding machinery manufacturers will usually have banks or other creditors lined up to offer support. However, just seeing a financial group attach their name/logo to a booth isn’t enough these days. Be sure to investigate what additional incentives these groups or banks can offer (i.e., used machinery trade-ins, capital write off information and even deferred payments). With new tax cuts and capital expenditure policies in play in the U.S., be sure you partner with manufacturers and financial organizations that can help you get the most of your money.
#2 Machine Lifecycle
It’s fair to say, and probably overtly obvious, that a large portion of injection machine manufacturers are looking to sell their latest wares at NPE 2018. However for molders, one key element that should be considered as part of your conversations and investigations over the course of the week, is to discover what will be the plan for that machine after you’ve purchased and taken receipt of it. What sort of preventative maintenance plans or schedules are offered as either part of your warranty or in addition to it? Short of purchasing a new machine to replace the previous every other year, what sort of technologies, innovations and systems do they have in place to support and promote the longevity of the machine?
Do they offer additional training, technical manuals, unique parts catalogs built specific to your machine? Do they offer rebuild and retrofit services for that same machine when technology needs to be updated? Understandably so, that’s a lot of questions and hopefully answers are quick to come by. Also, as you begin comparing machine manufacturers keep in mind the intended and designed lifespan that some manufacturers have for their machinery. Not all machinery is built to last, so be careful that your short term gains from cheaper upfront costs don’t cause problems in the longer perspective of a machine. Which leads me to the next point.
#3 Uptime, Not Just Cycle Time
Molders and most NPE 2018 attendees will have the somewhat un-enviable task of separating fact from fiction, hype from hyperventilation and verity from vaporware. Considering Orlando’s proximity to a large body of “salt” filled liquid be sure to use said salt at your discretion while looking beyond the typical hyperbole and more at the facts and figures that showcase what a machine can do. Normally the technical specification documents provided would suffice in providing the broader context and capability for a machine. However, attendees would be remiss if they didn’t look beyond the cycle times and start considering the potential uptime. While a forecast of potential uptime maybe difficult to provide for every application it’s also important to consider the construction and makeup of the machinery. Is the design and makeup of the machine congruent with other machinery on your plant floor? Does it look as if it will last longer than the new customer contract you just solidified or will you be replacing it in 3 to 5 years? Or less?
The crux of the matter, is that the single largest cost to molders is a down machine. Does the new machine supplier provide immediate response to service failures? Does the perspective supplier have 95% or better guaranteed parts in stock and shipment within 24 hours of notification? What will this new supplier bring to the table besides a cycle time?
Time is money, period. Getting what you need, when you need it matters. Aside from the highly customized machinery that can be found from some companies across the industry, getting stock or even slightly customized stock machinery shouldn’t be difficult. Molders today are no longer buying new machinery on speculation. Instead they place orders as soon as they get a P.O. from their customer. As a result the usual sales cycle and typical conversations that lead to new machinery purchases are greatly compressed. This can be problematic for some molders to get the resources they need without considerable delay to their timelines. Be sure to find out how fast your supplier can get you, the right machinery for your application. Is 2-3 weeks for small to mid-tonnage injection machinery an acceptable timeframe? What about 8 weeks or so for a mid to large tonnage machine? Make sure your supplier can meet your time so you can keep making money.
It’s probably fair to say that a vast majority of machinery manufacturers will be showcasing their version of an Internet of Things (IoT) or “4.0” connected system. If the K Show in 2017 was any indication, it was only a matter of time until the same aforementioned topic would echo and reverberate at NPE this year. In fact, most major plastics industry periodicals have been elaborating on the number of manufacturers that are planning to discuss/unveil their technology leading up to the show. While an apples to apples comparison of these new technologies may be difficult, one element or question should remain constant. Will this technology help your business? The Milacron Machine Minute has shared some thoughts on this topic previously. The following is an excerpt from that edition:
5 things to consider when considering or investing in IoT/4.0 services:
- Security – What sort of vulnerabilities do you currently have? Will the new system and its resulting applications address those data security issues?
- New Business Models – What change will this new system promote or create for your organization? Will you be ready for such a change?
- Value Proposition – What sort of value proposition will this IoT/4.0 solution bring to my current operation? Will it increase my efficiency and improve my equipment utilization?
- Data Analysis – Will the IoT/4.0 solution provide real-time data analysis? Will it offer additional insights into the machine and fleet operations? Will it work with current machines as well as new or just new machinery?
- Best Practices – Will the solution provide actionable intelligence for all levels of your organization?
Honorable Mention: Application/Engineered Solutions
The honorable mention for this list of NPE 2018 considerations is the simple task of looking at machine manufacturers not just by their well branded booths and marketing collateral but rather by application. Most, if not all, injection manufacturers will claim expertise and experience in almost all facets of the plastics industry segmentations (i.e., packaging, automotive, medical, consumer goods, construction etc.). Sometimes in reviewing those claims it can be difficult to separate experience from exaggeration. So what is a molder to do?
One rather simple manner to determine if the manufacturer can provide what you need is to discuss approach. What is the approach the machine manufacturer takes in discussing and understanding your needs and then in prescribing an application or engineered solution (either pre-configured or customized) for your business model?
All hype aside NPE 2018 will likely be an eye opening experience for many molders regardless of your tenure in the industry. With new brands, services and technologies being showcased, important industry topics needing to addressed, and the likely showcasing of machines BIG and small there is arguably more to do than time available. Be sure to make the most of your time.
Also, be sure to visit the Milacron booth in May (Booth #W2703). If you need a guest pass for NPE 2018. Go here to get yours. http://www.npeguestpass.org/759