Alian Plastics: Boosting Production Through Industry 4.0By Alejandro Enríquez | Wed, 05/12/2021 - 06:00
Q: How did Alian Plastics weather the pandemic in 2020?
A: Last year, the world stopped between March and May amid the pandemic. Thanks to our diversification strategy started two years ago, we saw our HVAC and toys segments carry on while automotive was slowing down. After July, the automotive sector came back even stronger. In fact, we gained two new projects during the pandemic, with BMW and Tesla.
Q: What new technologies in the plastic injection sector are helping your business?
A: We recently invested in new machinery related to the recent projects we won. Plastic injection companies use the same brands and technologies; the difference is in the peripheral equipment. A plastic injection machine with an additional robot or robot end-arm can boost productivity levels considerably. Those end-arms are custom-made for specific processes.
Another promising technology is automated storage and supply for the machines, where tubes and automated infrastructure deliver resins to the machines automatically. Today, the process is done manually. That is a technology worth exploring.
More technologies and robots will continue to be incorporated into manufacturing lines. However, those robots and technologies will not displace human capital. We are all looking forward to increasing profitability but not at the expense of the human element. In plastic injection, the expertise that employees acquire is impressive, from molds to maintenance. If we focus on people, it will eventually lead to profitability. Our motto is that, “We take care of our people, so they take care of their people.”
Q: How has the company used data analytics and new technologies to streamline its processes?
A: We have an Industry 4.0 platform that sends alerts every time a machine stops and provides the reason why, whether it is a matter of quality, production, maintenance or another factor. Those automatic alerts help us to react faster and take action toward our common goal to continue improving as a company.
Every month we analyze all our machines and areas that were affected by stoppages to determine the five most problematic and address them. We have seen major improvement through this process.
We also have a variety of dashboards that were developed internally to process all of our information. Through these dashboards, we can merge all major KPIs into a single scorecard within our quality system, IATF:16949, and visualize the information on a mobile or desktop app.
Q: What are the keys to promoting project ownership and outstanding results?
A: The key is the total involvement of operators since they deal with the process every day and can provide valuable insights. They feel they own the project because they enjoy what they do, the organizational structure and the culture behind it.
We create a healthy working environment that promotes respect, companionship and understanding, where we are all equal and heading toward the same objective, even though we have different positions. This has been the key to our success, as different projects have shown. As with any process, these strategies require a certain period to mature. Three years ago, we were not at the point where we are today, so we continue to nourish the seed we planted, which will later prove fruitful for the company.
At all levels, from executives to operators, we feel empowered by the goals of Alian Plastics. Rather than having employees who just follow instructions, we want them to embrace our goals as their own. Human capital is essential in every organization. This year should be even better than the last in terms of taking care of our human capital.
Q: How can employees better embrace new manufacturing technologies?
A: All changes in the manufacturing sector can be seen through the lean manufacturing method. One of the method’s principles is that change will always meet resistance. Every time we implement a new technology there will be resistance. Someone who is used to taking notes or filling in excel sheets will find it difficult to adapt when a new system is implemented. Making them fall in love with new technologies is a process that is complemented by a robust training program.
The key element is to explain why the new system or technology is important and to help employees understand how it will help with the work they do. The basic principle is that technology will not replace their jobs but reduce the amount of manual labor and add more value to the overall operation.
The clearest example is using masks to prevent COVID-19. Many people avoided using masks until they understood the logic behind them. Explaining the why and the reasoning behind it is really important. The environment also fosters technical innovation because our customers are constantly requesting increasingly competitive prices, deliveries, and higher quality and we need to continue incorporating new technologies as the automotive sector demands.
Q: What are your near-term priorities?
A: Last year was excellent for us in terms of deliveries and quality from an operational perspective. Our goal for this year is to surpass those results, taking into account both the initial productive capacity reduction and its later growth. We are going to demonstrate the capabilities of our different teams since production volume this year has increased significantly from 2020.
Alian Plastics is a Tier 2 company specialized in high-tonnage plastic injection and services to optimize production capacities. In the automotive sector, the company has worked with OEM Programs such as Audi, Tesla, Fiat, BMW, Nissan, among others.