Investing in the future stimulates growth and employment

Systems for centralized feed-in have become standard in the plastic industries. They are actually nothing new. In the case of Erofio Atlântico, the system realized in 2013 demonstrates several special features worth mentioning. Firstly, the company made sizable investments as a countermeasure during a period of economic downturn which turned out to be a successful strategy. Secondly, Erofio opted for an underground pipeline system with filling lines which are beneficial to the entire plant and make access easier for maintenance and upgrades. Thirdly, the entire system for feed-in, processing and metering not only works with standard thermoplasts, but also with more complex technical plastics including PA, PBT, PES, PC and SAN.

30/01/2015

Erofio has made a name for itself thanks to the efforts of Manuel Novo with his personal experience in the area of manufacturing casting moulds since 1964. In 1990 he invested in his own project and founded Erofio – Engenharia e Fabricação de Moldes, S.A. (Erofio – Engineering and Manufacture of Casting Moulds PLC). Ten years later, Manuel Novo decided to focus on the complementarity of moulds and plastics. “We analysed our customer base, we studied the market and established that what our customers needed was - and still is - the plastic part that is injected and ready for assembly. It therefore made sense to invest in injection moulding” reported Mr. Novo to REVIPLAST. The investment was carried out by Erofio Atlântico, a company set up to market casting moulds in the USA and repurposed for the production of injection moulding parts. In 2003, the company already had three injection moulding machines for tests for approving tools, pilots and small batches. The following year, the company invested in a bimaterial injection moulding machine. “To make the qualitative and quantitative leap to serial production, it was necessary to invest in machines with more progressive features and it was necessary to form a competent and motivated technical team, thereby gaining customers’ trust. Whenever customers visited us, they ascertained that besides our planning and production capacity for tools, we also had injection technology that was the same or better than what they used themselves.”
Erofio’s options in the plant are quite clear: in tool manufacturing, the machinery of the latest generation of DMG (Deckel Maho) dominate; in injection, ENGEL machines are most prevalent. Erofio was a pioneer in investing in constant five-axis machines and in additive metal sintering technology. In injection moulding, the company now has clamping forces of 25 to 1,100 tonnes including six machines with bi-injection and a variety of special configurations.

Investment as a countermeasure
The decision to invest was made as a countermeasure at a time when the global market was experiencing a significant crisis in the automobile sector. “In fact, we never got to the point where we suffered under the impact of this crisis. We had a widespread customer base, we were not solely dependent on one sector or on a small number of customers. And we considered it the right time to invest. In the years from 2010 to 2012, we created 40 new jobs, we invested in new systems and new machines. The strategy demonstrated that we had made the right decision: invoicing rose to 2.9 million euros.”
Erofio’s customer base is spread across the automobile sectors (48% of tools, 8% of moulded parts), electrical household devices (39% of tools, 79% of moulded parts), electronics (7% of tools, 6% of moulded parts). Through its partnership with the SEB group, Erofio works for brands such as Rowenta, Tefal, Moulinex and Electrolux. Together with the ITW group, it covers brands such as BMW, Mercedes, Volkswagen, Audi, Ford and Peugeot.
Putting the strategy into practice led to investments of 8.5 million euros and new systems. Both companies moved to facilities covering an area of 15,500 m2 where the tool and injection systems are located side by side. A complete new design enabled these new systems to contribute to a more efficient plant layout. The tool and injection system are set up next to each other with an area in between for additional services (laboratory, printing, etc.). The project includes supply corridors across the entire site. “We wanted to reap the benefits from our brand new building. These corridors enabled us to install, modify and expand all our connections for water, energy, data and raw materials. The ease of circulation has clear advantages for any maintenance operations. Everything is accessible and maintenance or modification operations do not interfere with the plant’s operation and production,” said Mr Novo.

Central feed-in with technical plastics

The supply corridors were crucial for investment in the central feed-in. The usual scene of air pipelines cannot be seen at Erofio because all connections are located underground.
We decided on the technology of motan-colortronic with technical support by Plasequip, the brand’s on-site representative. “For this option, we banked on the brand’s good references and our trust in Plasequip. I should mention that we were very demanding regarding this system which complies with our own rules deviating from the standard. Besides the adaptation of the system to our construction based on the supply corridors, the system had to meet the targets for productivity and cost-efficiency” explained Mr Novo.  
 “All central systems have to be adapted to the raw materials”, explained Mr Acácio Lourenço from Plasequip of REVIPLAST. “In Erofio’s case the system for working with technical plastics with special properties such as sensitivity to temperature or humidity was adapted. Some machines are coated with two materials in addition to the dye, requiring a higher level of accuracy when metering and when drying. For this system, Erofio opted for the top product in motan-colortronic’s range. With the system for drying and transporting at “cruising speed”, not only can Erofio benefit from the advantages of automation and centralisation, but also from a significant saving in energy thanks to the technological development of the controls for the drying systems.”

Finished tools for the machine
When we asked Mr Novo whether he sees himself as a “toolmaker who also does injection moulding”, or as a “manufacturer of parts who starts with moulds”, his answer could not be more characteristic:
“Neither one nor the other. They are two different companies but the culture is the same. Whenever we deliver a tool, it has the quality we would demand as a parts manufacturer. And whenever we deliver parts, they have the integrated technology of tools. It has been the case for a long time now that this separation between tools and plastics no longer makes sense, if indeed it had ever made sense. I think that Portuguese industries are at the top in terms of skill and quality both in one area and in the other. And it is Portuguese companies that have shown that this division between plastics and tools does not make sense. We have always viewed the combination of the two skills as a Portuguese competitive advantage.”
Erofio uses Cimatron software for tool project planning. The entire management of tool production is supported by an internally developed IT application. REVIPLAST is at a presentation of this software with real examples which is led by Miguel Marcelino, the director of Erofio tool production. The application details each project with all of the technical parameters, with drawings and schedules for planning and supervision and does not depend on data entry. “Our software outstrips any and all other software available on the market because it meets our requirements and because it is continuously improved. We have a software development team that supports usage and continues to improve the application based on user suggestions. This improvement process is integrated into the software itself”, explained Miguel Marcelino. Thanks to this software and modern machinery, Erofio was able to distribute various components of the tool to various points on the machine system, thereby reducing execution times for the tools to a minimum.
“We have a rule at Erofio”, explains Manuel Novo. “If we have the best machines, we have to profit from them. The parts have to come out of the machine with the dimensions defined in the plan so that they can be assembled without also having to work them manually. To fulfil this rule, we have to invest rigorously in technology. Funds are tight and so they cannot be wasted on machines that are cheaper but not sufficiently trustworthy and also do not enable tools of the necessary quality to be manufactured. The same applies to injection moulding. In the market segments in which we operate, there is only one way to guarantee consistent high quality: providing the appropriate technology.”

Development
The production of technical parts is not limited to carrying out projects presented by customers. Erofio also puts its experience in injection moulding of technical plastics at the service of its customers’ needs. The planning and development department at Erofio has demonstrated the ability of optimising parts and developing solutions and alternatives with advantages for customers. A practical example of this ability is the case involving a part for a kitchen robot of a well-known brand. It was a transparent part made from a technical plastic at a very high kg price. Erofio redesigned the part to be manufactured with bimaterial injection moulding and combined the transparent part with an opaque part injected with a material that cost much less. The customer received and accepted a much more economical solution which also meets the requirements for mechanical and thermal resistance and transparency.

Employment
“We are not immune to the crises on the market nor are we immune to an economic recession but we knew how to react, and this is not just thanks to management but also our employees. The decisions we made and the investments we made would not have been successful without the dedication and merit of those working in our company”, explained Mr Novo. “We have never seen investment as a solution to reducing jobs. And we have never tried to reduce costs of our workforce. What we require is continual improvement and productivity. Employees are the backbone and the most important factor for Erofio’s success. It is not possible to serve customers well without a motivated team. Therefore, we try to remunerate our employees according to merit and development.” At Erofio, investment was accompanied each year by an increase in employment. “Usually a division is made between family management and professional management. At Erofio, we have both. Within the family we are demanding, always trying to set an example. The professional manner in which we deal with our employees does not prevent us from viewing them as family. Ultimately a company should be that, too” concludes Manuel Novo.

 

Author and photos by:
Carlos da Silva Campos
reviplast
revista da indústria de plásticos
Odivelas / Portugal