Innovation, Design & Engineering Applications Center
Allied Plastics has been delivering innovative plastic thermoforming and vacuum formed solutions to a wide range of industries since 1995. As the company grew over the years, adding employees and expanding facilities, it became inherently difficult to maintain the close-knit working environment of the company’s earlier years.
“It was getting harder for our engineers to get together and bounce ideas around,” says Cory Buxengard, Engineering Manager at Allied Plastics. “You could squeeze a few people into a cubicle for a discussion, but that was about it. At the same time, it wasn’t convenient to review projects with production or tooling personnel. Our ability to collaborate was starting to suffer.”
The owners of the company, Tim Neal and Steve Wieder, set out to find a solution. They quickly found one.
The newest addition to the facility had a mezzanine that was largely unutilized. This space was immediately converted into an open floorplan-type working environment. The IDEA Center was born, which is an acronym for Innovation, Design & Engineering Applications.
All key players working in unison
The IDEA Center is now home to the following personnel:
- Tooling department manager
- Quality control technicians
- Project managers
- Document Control Specialists
- CNC programmer
By having this cross-functional team in a centralized working space, Allied Plastics has been able to react faster to customer demands — delivering creative solutions more efficiently than ever.
“Engineers now have a better understanding of how their work can affect others downstream,” Buxengard says. For example, if an engineer wants to make a design change, it is now extremely easy to consult with the tooling manager to determine how to implement that change in a way that it can be done efficiently by the tooling department. “An engineer no longer has to walk halfway through the plant to try and track someone down,” Buxengard says.
The close-knit, collaborative environment of the IDEA Center has not only helped boost efficiency and employee morale, but it has also improved product quality and speed of delivery.
“The quality control department is more integrated with the engineers now,” Buxengard says. “Quality control has a better idea of what an engineer’s intent is with a product; what is and isn’t important with respect to design and function. They’ve gained a clearer understanding of how to inspect for quality, including collaboration on fixtures and jigs to assist them in their jobs. There are so many avenues to allow things to come together now — simply by having us grouped together in the IDEA Center.”
Tools and technology help leverage the talent
While the IDEA Center is primarily about bringing key personnel together from different areas of the company, there have also been some investments to help make the cross-functional team more versatile and productive. For instance, the company has invested in a 3D printer.
“Sometimes our customers do not have a product sample for us to make test fits into the trays we make,” Buxengard points out. “Now we can use our 3D printer to replicate what is physically going to go into our tray so we can validate part fit before shipping something off to the customer for review. This value added service helps to avoid project delays and cost.”
Roughly half of Allied Plastics’ projects are industrial packaging-type products such as shipping trays and pallets. The other half of projects are products for companies in various industries ranging from automotive and agriculture to medical and recreation.
Regardless of the product or industry, the open workspace of the IDEA Center allows for a very hands-on approach. For instance, if a customer is looking for a shipping solution for one of its products, the customer will often send Allied Plastics a sample.
“We typically get a 3D model of the customer’s part,” Buxengard says. The customer also provides details on things such as the desired packaging density and footprint so it can be properly loaded on a truck or placed in the available space on an assembly line.
“Our concept engineer takes all of that information, along with the 3D model, to do a layout,” Buxengard continues. “From there we know the length, width and depth of the tray, along with the weight of the product. We can then calculate material costs and determine cycle times for our Estimating department so they can accurately quote the project to the customer”.
The sooner Allied Plastics can accurately convey that information, the better … for both Allied Plastics and the customer. The IDEA Center has helped immensely in this regard. Likewise, communication and collaboration have been greatly enhanced. The end result has been a cohesive and more productive group of employees, and higher-quality products with faster speed to market.
And just think, all it took was converting an underutilized, second-floor mezzanine into a hustling, bustling think tank of innovation.
To connect with our sales team, or someone from our IDEA Center, Contact Us today.