Case Study – Solving reshoring challenges for Singer Instruments
24th September 2019 –
The UK is experiencing a significant rise in the reshoring of contract manufacturing, as well as a rise in the exporting of UK based injection moulded expertise to suppliers on the continent. As companies continue to navigate the hidden costs of outsourcing, combined with quality issues and complex supply chain dynamics, the case for reshoring tooling and manufacturing to the UK has grown stronger.
“…It’s an often-repeated myth that the UK doesn’t make things anymore. The reality is that we are still the ninth largest manufacturing nation in the world and the sector plays a vital role as an employer, exporter and innovator. British-made goods are celebrated and sought-after around the world, with manufacturing accounting for 44% of all the UK’s overseas sales…” https://www.reshoringuk.co.uk/
Offshore manufacturing of plastic injection moulded parts can be less expensive than partnering with a domestic manufacturer, but only initially. With that immediate gain comes an inevitable loss: the visibility into who is manufacturing your parts – and how they’re doing it.
Without a clear understanding into your subcontractor’s processes and materials, it’s difficult to guarantee the quality of a product. In the long term, these seemingly minor issues can work their way up the supply chain and cause significant problems for your business and reputation. Therefore, many companies are reshoring plastics manufacturing to domestic partners upon whose practices and processes they can rely.
For over 80 years Singer Instruments has been dedicated to supplying instrumentation that enables lab research to be carried out more easily. So, when they encountered quality issues from their overseas manufacturing partner in 2015, and following several attempts to resolve the issues, it became clear that they would need to start to consider reshoring the project back to an injection moulding subcontractor in the UK.
About the Customer
Established in 1934, Singer Instruments has a long-standing track record in developing mechatronic workstations and laboratory automation robotics. Recognised as a global leader in the facilitation and acceleration of genetic and genomic research.
They supply these specialist products to public and private research institutions in multiple facets of biological sciences including Genetics, Neuroscience, Systems Biology, Cancer Biology, Biofuel Engineering and microbiology.
Located on the edge of Exmoor National Park in Somerset, their state-of-the-art capabilities feature virtual prototyping facilities, precision CNC manufacturing and robotic coordinate measurement for quality control. Designing, manufacturing, programming, assembling and QC all their core products from one site.
Singer Instruments had experienced reasonable success with their subcontractor, who were using several modular tools to produce a range of moulded parts for their Synthetic Genetic Array (SGA) analysis devices. Challenged by an ageing injection moulding tool, the subcontractor encountered quality issues with warpage and discolouration on completed parts.
With the warped parts causing handling issues with the laboratory automation robots it soon became clear that production would have to stop. Although attempts were made to understand why the moulder was experiencing these difficulties, operational time differences eventually led to the relationship between customer and supplier breaking down.
Singer Instruments therefore set about searching for a UK injection moulding partner able to embrace the reshoring of an existing tool, combined with a cleanroom manufacturing capability.
By working closely with Singer Instruments through meticulous tool development and validation, Data Plastics were able to offer them continuity of moulded parts supply from a UK based company.
Even after gathering as much information as Singer Instruments could provide on the aging tools, their Canadian supplier had omitted some very important details. When the Canadian tools arrived with Data Plastics, they were missing their original bolsters and to make matters worse had no sight of any processing guides or quality information relating to the products. Specified materials were not obtainable in the UK and, as Data Plastics would discover later, some of the tools were missing.
Localised meetings in person meant that challenges faced during the tool trial stages could be solved in real-time. This meant that Data Plastics’ development engineers and quality manager could build a new log of information for each product quickly and efficiently to exceed the customers’ expectations.
Lee Anderson, Quality Manager for Data Plastics commented; “The inherited tools from Canada were unusual in construction and in many cases caused a restricted moulding process window, making it very difficult to achieve our customers precision and quality requirements.”
Under these circumstances Data Plastics carry out full tool validation utilising an in-depth knowledge of tool trialling and mould process engineering. This made it possible to validate all tooling variances to determine the optimal mould processes that each tool could achieve consistently.
During this validation process faults were identified, and corrective procedures put in place to either repair or refurbish the tooling in order to achieve the required moulding standards. It was also necessary to carry out a materials Validation of an alternative “backup” material to futureproof against material supply or pricing issues.
Lee added; “Although we were originally asked to provide new tooling for the project, we were able to adapt the existing tooling to deliver our customers’ precise parts. Our in-house knowledge and experience make it possible to extend the life of expensive tooling beyond our customers’ expectations, balanced with a realistic understanding of when tooling would need to be replaced.”
Following careful planning, tool work and quality requirement discussions with the customer, Data Plastics’ production team managed to start running tools to meet customer orders whilst maintaining critical cleanliness and packaging requirements. Warping issues on the PlusPlate lid and dish products were resolved with additional tooling requirements limited to a single new moulding tool.
Data Plastics were able to identify what was causing the warping on moulded parts and provide options on how to reduce it in future, adapting the moulding process but still meeting with tight tolerances. The project ran for 24 months ironing out various challenges along the way, however, building a new log of information for each product Data Plastics successfully managed to achieve and exceed customer expectations.
Data Plastics produced around half a million parts for Singer Instruments in 2018. Simon Strong, Procurement Director for Singer Instruments commented; “At Singer Instruments we have ‘a responsibility to science’. Through the consistent delivery of quality components, on-time and competitively priced, Data Plastics plays an important role in ensuring we add value to the science and the scientific community we serve.”
Total Cost of Ownership
Understanding and embracing the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) results in a reduction in subcontract management, production, quality, and transportation costs.
As a UK based manufacturer Data Plastics could offer shorter lead times without reliance on air or sea freight to delay production or delivery. Reducing the impact on the environment resulting from the use of ocean and air freight also reduces a company’s’ carbon footprint.
With a local partner offering design innovation and process engineering support, no language or time difference barriers exist to prevent product development.
Located in the UK, mould tooling processes become more traceable. With careful monitoring of every stage in the manufacturing process the quality of finished parts is controlled.
About Data Plastics
Data Plastics design, tool, manufacture, assemble and pack millions of moulded plastic parts for UK and world-wide customers providing consistent, high quality British moulded parts for a range of industry sectors.
Utilising highly experienced mould process engineers makes it possible to adopt problematic tools on occasion. Combined with a cleanroom moulding and packaging capability Data Plastics can offer a flexible production facility to suit individual customer requirements.
With a team of experienced engineers Data Plastics provide help and assistance at every stage of the project. Whether its CAD design, 3D prototyping and tooling, small batch runs or full manufacture.
Able to solve complex and innovative challenges as well as maintaining older tooling through stringent tool maintenance support. An ideal partner for both new tooling and resource tooling injection moulding.
- Tool Trialling
- Tool Development and Validation
- Mould Process Engineering
- Problematic Tool Adoption
- Cleanroom Moulding & Packaging
- Flexibility in production to suit customer specific requirements