When customers come to Allied Plastics for thermoformed parts or packaging solutions, Allied’s engineers strive for more than just a superior-quality finished product. At Allied Plastics, the engineering team also seeks out innovative solutions to help customers reduce cost.
In some instances, reducing cost comes down to how a given plastic product is designed. The key is making sure the finished product is well-supported in the right areas — without unnecessarily adding material where no value is created.
“We recognize that removing material does remove strength, such as when opting for a thinner plastic,” says Cory Greene, a senior design engineer at Allied Plastics. “However, that strength can often be restored by adding some structure to the finished product. For instance, we could add some ribbing instead of going for a smooth surface. Maybe we can bond two thinner pieces of plastic together instead of using a single thicker piece. Case in point, a tube with two 1/8-inch walls is stronger than a 1/4-inch-thick bar.”
Another example to help illustrate this concept is a wheel well cover for an on-road or off-road vehicle. Greene says you need that product to be strong where it attaches to the vehicle. “We can explore using a thinner, less expensive material,” Greene says. “But we may want to add four brackets where it attaches so it can stand up to vibration and torque.”
More efficient packaging reduces shipping costs
Allied Plastics engineers also seek innovative solutions for the wide range of packaging-type products the company produces. According to Greene, there is only so much a product engineer can do with respect to the general dimensions of a given product. Product density is where innovation can happen. “The better the density, the cheaper the shipping costs for our client,” Greene points out.
Take a plastic shipping pallet, for example. Two factors drive product design:
- Maximize density on a trailer. This is why the 45×48-inch pallet size is so popular; you can fit two side-by-side on a trailer.
- Seamlessly incorporate into production operation. A 45×48 pallet is ideal because a forklift can easily handle it. Plus, this size of pallet doesn’t take up too much space along an assembly line.
As popular as the 45×48 pallet is, Greene points out that size ultimately depends on a given client’s needs. Sometimes a part is larger, such as a steering gear linkage, where you might need a 60-inch pallet. This is where the concept of “density” can play an influential role in cost control.
For example, let’s say an OEM wants to have some brake calipers shipped from Mexico to Detroit. Allied Plastics engineers know the dimensions of the caliper, and proceed to design a packaging tray around those dimensions.
“As value engineers, our other job is to determine how many calipers can be safely packaged within that ideal 45×48 footprint,” Greene adds. “If we can find a way to fit 20 calipers in a single tray, and our competitor can only fit 15, that gives us an advantage because our customer’s shipping loop becomes considerably less expensive.”
Here’s another example of how density can provide an advantage. A shock tower for a vehicle suspension system has a somewhat bell-shaped housing. It is also rather tall at roughly 10 or 11 inches. Under typical circumstances, four parts can fit in a single tray. Then, because a shock tower is so tall, only four trays can be stacked in a pack because the maximum stacking height is 50 inches, which allows for double-stacking in a trailer.
Greene says some innovative engineering came up with a solution. A hole was cut in the tray directly beneath the bell shape of the shock tower. When stacking trays, the part below would go through the hole in the tray above and into the bell shape of the part above. This “shortened” each layer. So instead of four trays per pack, Allied Plastics’ packaging solution delivered seven trays per pack. “This increased density immensely,” Greene says. “Now our customer could ship 28 shock towers in a pack instead of just 16 — without having to increase the footprint on the trailer.”
One of the other considerations Allied Plastics engineers have to look at is what they call “stacking features.” The trays Allied Plastics thermoforms nest within each other for good density when shipped empty.
“We produce what are known as closed-loop trays, which means they will be returned to the parts supplier by the OEM that received them,” Greene explains. “Generally, a good return ratio is 3:1, which means one truckload of product should return three truckloads of empty pallets. This also helps our customer reduce shipping costs.”
One of Allied Plastics’ engineers handles most of the concept and proposal work that comes in, often with consultation from colleagues. The company’s unique Idea Center is an open-floor work environment that brings key personnel together from engineering, tooling and quality control to deliver creative solutions more efficiently than ever.
“It is not uncommon for someone to just stand up and say, ‘I have an idea and could use another opinion,’” Greene relates. “We all have some different experiences and perspectives, and can help each other find those innovative solutions our clients will benefit from.”
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