Precision machines enabling safety critical moulder to meet COVID-19 medical demands

To meet on-going demands from some of its most strategic commercial safety customers, Hi-Technology Group had already invested in five new 50 tonne Sumitomo (SHI) Demag precision IntElect machines during the last year. The company acknowledges that could not have been better timed. From the start of the Coronavirus pandemic, the precision technical moulder has been operating around the clock, manufacturing in excess of 2 million medical-related components a week.

As part of the medical response effort, night and day Hampshire-based Hi-Technology has been continuously producing parts for powered personal respirators and hoods, intravenous infusion pumps and docking stations, wireless call buttons, medical PPE, stairlifts, and soap/handwash dispensers. Due to the technical nature of many of these components, most are manufactured in the company’s dedicated precision moulding cell. Featuring five 50 tonne IntElect units, in May the Sumitomo (SHI) Demag team assisted once more, rapidly installing another all-electric system, this time a higher-spec 75 tonne IntElect2.

High quality safety critical components form a large part of Hi-Technology’s medical, health and safety, marine, defense and aerospace product portfolio.  From smoke detectors to breathing apparatus and respirators, the company’s latest machine investment gave the team the flexibility to play its part in the global health crisis and support customers in the critical respirator, PPE and medical pump sectors.

Like the rest of the world, Hi-Technology could have never pre-empted the scale of the COVID-19 health crisis. The original investment in all-electric machinery underpinned the Group’s overall expansion strategy, setting it on the trajectory to achieve a world class precision manufacturing operation, as well as deliver against its wider environmental commitment. However, the extra precision production capacity, coupled with the dedication of the entire team in Hampshire and Slovakia, has enabled the precision moulder to respond rapidly and rise to the unprecedented medical supply chain challenge.

Recently recertified to ISO9001: 2015 and ISO 14001 (Environmental Safety Standard), most of the COVID work, including industrial respirators, has been performed in the company’s state-of-the art moulding cell. Housing five IntElect systems, the facility also comprises several other precision, assembly and finishing machines, including heat inserters, pad printers and ultrasonic welding systems.

Given the volume and variety of technical components produced, reaching 3.6 million mouldings ouput in a single week at the height of the health crisis, precision and repeatability is critical. This is where the IntElect excels Sumitomo (SHI) Demag’s Managing Director Nigel Flowers explains. The combination of direct drives plus the IntElect’s advanced toggle system ensures a more stable process. Any changes to force patterns are monitored and instantly dealt with. Because the injection process runs more steadily, the plasticised material flows more consistently into the mould cavities. This in turn helps ensure even weight distribution in each cavity and minimise part rejects.”

Environmental considerations

Having performed several on-site energy studies, reducing consumption and achieving ISO 14001 certification formed part of the strategic rationale for opting for an all-electric system. With a dynamic motor design, the IntElect range offers a 60% reduction in energy consumption, while also significantly increasing production output.

Additionally, lower noise emissions helps with occupational health and safety and protecting workforce welfare. In Hi-Technology’s main moulding facility, dozens of machines are all operating at the same time. The introduction of all-electric machines has made a noticeable difference to the amount of heat generated, as well as noise pollution.

With thousands of tools held on-site, managing the tooling estate and having the in-house skills has also proved expedient when operating at full capacity during the COVID crisis. In addition to tool repairs, the company has carried out fast track tool trials across a range of its Demag machines

Being resourceful

At the height of the medical crisis, Hi-Technology made and distributed 3.6 million mouldings in a single week.  These volumes when operating such a large fleet of machines – almost 60 across three sites - 24 hours a day, has thoroughly tested the Group’s machine reporting and productivity systems.

Developed in-house, performance and production capacity for every machine is monitored in real-time. A simple colour KPI red flags any major production issues, and the management team can keep track of cycle times, output and machine downtime, helping them to adjust and scale production up when required.

Although training has been put on pause during the crisis, Hi-Technology has continued to recruit. The company plans to resume its customised development programme created in collaboration with Sumitomo (SHI) Demag’s Academy team shortly. Recent recruits will also be encouraged to participate in the series of free webinars the Academy is delivering in July

In addition to its UK production plant, Hi-Technology Group has an extensive facility in Slovakia serving European clients and exporting components internationally. Comprising 20 machines, in summer 2019 the Košice plant added to its fleet taking delivery of two Sumitomo (SHI) Demag Servo machines, including a large 280 tonne.

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