GRAND HAVEN — By investing in three new injection molding machines in 2018, Anderson Technologies Inc. is betting that Industry 4.0 technologies will counter the effects of a shrinking workforce locally and nationally.
Recently, the Grand Haven-based plastic injection molder spent $2.5 million on new machines and process improvements that will save the company money and time, said Nathan Robinson, engineering manager for the Tier 1 and Tier 2 supplier.
“The fourth industrial revolution will affect different companies in different ways,” Robinson told MiBiz. “We have typically relied on a trained workforce for visual, dimensional and functional inspection and assembly. This workforce is shrinking and it has become a struggle to fully staff our day to day requirements.”
According to the company, the new machinery offers energy savings of up to 50 percent because of the machines’ hydraulic pump technology, which uses higher injection pressure that “allows for the production of thinner-wall products and a better control process.”
“Investing in automation, sensing for part quality and process control will help stabilize the workforce requirement and provide real-time data to make improvements and reduce risk,” Robinson said. “I fear those companies that don’t invest will struggle with the labor shortage and eventually will be non-competitive in the market.”
According to Robinson, the new injection molding machines will allow the company to manufacture thinner parts “without compromising part quality.”
In addition, he said the configuration of the machines allows for larger injection molds to be produced more efficiently.
“This allows for lower burden rates and more economical manufacturing costs,” Robinson said. “Our capital plans for 2019 are focused around automation and efficiency. How do we increase productivity with a reduced manufacturing cost? Robotics and sensing both in our equipment and tooling will be paramount to improve and maintain quality and manufacturing efficiency.”
With its newly expanded capabilities, Anderson Technologies increases its ability to produce polycarbonate products, which include components in the automotive and office furniture industries, Robinson said.
Currently, the new machinery is in use at Anderson Technologies’ 80,000 square-foot facility in Grand Haven, where the company has 90 employees.
“Because of this diversification, we mold numerous engineering- and commodity-based resins based on the application and product requirements,” Robinson said. “Continuous improvement is always on my mind. How do we as an organization stay at the forefront of training, technology and execution?
“If we don’t, we will always be playing defense trying to catch our competition.”
Adapt or die
Through investments in Industry 4.0 technology, which includes collaborative robotics, big data and artificial intelligence, Anderson Technologies is more aligned with the current trends in the manufacturing industry.
That’s according to Tiffany Martinez, business development director for Anderson Technologies.
In other words, “we are coming around to a higher level of technology to support our customers better,” Martinez said.
“We are growing as an injection molding company,” she said. “We are growing for our customers. … We are more integrated with Industry 4.0 technology, which in the plastics industry is a big deal.”
Anderson Technologies’ recent investments in Industry 4.0 technology come as more manufacturers embrace the new advances, according to the findings of a recent study from PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC).
Despite the progression, only two-thirds of companies had “a clear digital vision and strategy to support digital transformation and culture,” with only 27 percent of survey respondents saying “their employees have the required qualifications to master the digital future.”
There’s been “limited progress” over the last two years on adopting Industry 4.0 technologies, according to the PwC report. Yet, if manufacturers “fail to embrace this radical change,” they “will likely struggle to survive.”
Joe Dyer, team leader of manufacturing technology at the Zeeland-based Disher Corp., said it is more common to find Industry 3.0 technology — which is “the automation of single machines and processes” — than it is to find Industry 4.0 technology inside West Michigan factories.
“I’ve been to plants that are 2.0 … but 3.0 is probably the bell curve,” Dyer told MiBiz earlier this year, noting that only “some” have invested enough to reach Industry 4.0. “If I had to, I would put (West Michigan) at (Industry) 3.5.”
In West Michigan, the growth in the adoption rate for new manufacturing technologies stems from recent investments at companies like Anderson Technologies, who are buying into more efficient, data-rich systems while also trying to address a worker shortage, experts said.
According to President Glenn Anderson, for Anderson Technologies, “it is important to remain committed to investing in new machinery and technology.”
“Anderson Technologies is ready to embrace Industry 4.0 technology as we continue to offer injection molding services on the cutting edge,” he said in a statement.