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New moulding machines boost process stability

17 October 2017

Trend Technologies Ireland, a contract moulder of devices for the medical and life sciences sectors, and automotive components for some of the world’s leading vehicle brands, has opened its third ISO Class 7 (10,000) cleanroom at its manufacturing facility in Mullingar. Investment at the site included a number of Sumitomo (SHI) Demag 50t IntElect machines that have enabled the company to boost process stability and achieve shorter production runs

Trend’s site in Ireland is the company’s ‘Centre of Excellence’ for injection moulding. Tom Kelly, Trend’s manufacturing manager, explains: “The Irish and UK medical device sector is in a sustained growth phase. We are in the process of building another cleanroom which, when complete, will expand our cleanroom manufacturing capacity by an additional 400m2. This is in response to the positive outlook for the sector and the increasing demand for high quality medical device components.”  

Items moulded on site by Trend form part of Class I, IIA, IIB and III medical devices and include wound care products, diagnostic laboratory consumables, ventilator housings, surgical handles and stent delivery sub-components. Most of these are highly customised, so when investing in new cleanroom machinery Trend focused on equipment that would automate process stability and increase product integrity. 

This isn’t Trend’s first foray into all-electric machines – it installed its first over a decade ago – but senior processing engineer, Trevor Thornton, says the Sumitomo (SHI) Demag IntElect’s are proving to be particularly flexible and reliable. The manufacturing site also has 32 Demag hydraulic machines.

“We knew that all-electric machines are more energy efficient and better for repeatability,” says Thornton. “Yet, given that we can mould larger products that weigh from 1kg right down to 0.025g, geometrical tolerances can be extremely tight.” 

To accomplish the combination of precision and repeatability, Trend makes full use of the activeLock technology installed on each IntElect. “We use it on every product moulded and activeLock saves us an awful lot of bother when dealing with such small shot weights. It means we don’t have to run any decompression, which can draw air into the melt. This ultimately reduces rejects.” 

The Trend team is equally complimentary about the IntElect’s machine sequencing and how straightforward it is to programme, even with little operator experience. Thornton explains: “Even seemingly simple components can be complex to mould. Having a HMI interface that integrates fully with the moulding system, water heaters and the robots, saves us a considerable amount of programming time. For non-standard items, we can programme in-house within a couple of hours versus several weeks. This enables us to be more responsive, achieve faster changeover times and meet evolving market demands.” 

Tom Kelly comments: “With the continuing implementation of Lean Manufacturing and continuous improvement, there’s been a definite shift towards shorter runs. As a result we are accommodating more moulds and faster changeovers. This is only made possible by complete equipment standardisation and the connectivity of the machines and associated ancillary equipment. This is an evolving and improving process that can only be made possible by working with aligned suppliers.”

Thornton notes: “We implement Scientific Injection Moulding (SIM) principles on a daily basis and can say it’s in our DNA as part of how we set up our processes. The adoption of SIM has been made significantly easier with the repeatability and flexibility of the IntElect machines, both in our Mullingar facility and at our other global sites. This has enabled Trend to build and seamlessly transfer tools between sites, reducing part and process variation and project delivery lead time.“

Industry 4:0 is firmly on Trend’s radar and the company has been approached by Sumitomo (SHI) Demag’s UK MD, Nigel Flowers to participate in a predictive maintenance trial: “By connecting machines back to our service management system and using data generated by Trend and other customers, we aim to reach a point where we can pre-empt when a unit might fail and identify trends to help our customers avoid unplanned stoppages. Our goal is to give customers zero machine downtime.”

Already, the technology is improving the company’s 24-hour breakdown response time by 80%, as well as increasing first time fix rates to over 90%.

“This type of forward thinking support, coupled with the accessibility to the right specialist when needed is why we partnered with Sumitomo (SHI) Demag for our cleanroom investments,” says Kelly. “When we requested a twin-shot expert, one came from Germany. And while machine programming rarely requires input from an engineer, we know that someone is always ready to help when we pick up the phone. In order to give our customers the best quality, value and service we align ourselves with suppliers who share our driven business outlook and commitment to quality and customer service.”