By Dianna Brodine, vice president, editorial, Plastics Decorating
Revere Plastics Systems is a custom injection-molding company with nine locations in the United States, including its Novi, Michigan, headquarters, and one facility in Canada. An opportunity with a power tool customer led Revere Plastics to consider expansion into Mexico, leading the company to not only purchase a production location in Saltillo but also to introduce pad printing and ink fill capabilities into the facility.
Establishing a facility in Mexico
Revere Plastics is a force in the injection-molding industry, with deep customer relationships in markets such as appliance, automotive, power tools, power sports, industrial and consumer goods. Managing 340 presses across all facilities, ranging from 25 to 3,300 tons, the molder focuses on its strengths in engineering design, on-time delivery and efficient production in a high-volume environment. With a drive to meet the needs of customers by going beyond molding the part, Revere Plastics’ 1,000 employees also add value through decorating and assembly processes, such as hot stamping, pad printing, ultrasonic or vibration welding and heat staking.
Doug Drummond, vice president, sales and marketing, explained, “Revere’s overall objective is to be very valuable to our customers. Injection molding is our core competency, but then we take it a step further and ask how we can use our capabilities to bring more value to our customers?”
Not all Revere facilities host the same molding, decorating and assembly capabilities; instead, each plant has onsite skills and equipment based on the customers served at that location, whether the need is for overmolding, insert molding or decorating. “We want to work with companies who value what we can bring to the table,” Drummond continued. “It’s not just molding a part, putting it in a box and shipping it, but instead adding additional processes that take the part closer to completion.”
In 2019, a relationship was established with a power tool provider that had a specific requirement for pad printing its logos and a desire to move some of its production to Mexico. Initial explorations in the country didn’t work out, but Revere saw the potential and made a commitment. “We told the brand that we valued growing with them, and that we would run the tools in one of our US locations until we were able to establish a facility in Mexico,” Drummond said. “In 2020, we found the facility in Saltillo.”
Saltillo, Mexico, is about 90 minutes to the west of Monterrey, Mexico, connected with major rail and highway transportation lines. The area is known for its automotive manufacturing for companies such as General Motors and Stellantis and has been referred to as the “Detroit of Mexico.” The area has drawn other industries in recent years, including aerospace, heating and cooling, and electronics.
“The plant sits in an industrial park that had expansion options and had a diversified customer base, which made it a good candidate when we were looking at acquiring a location in Saltillo,” Drummond explained.
The Saltillo plant had 23 presses on site and approximately 200 employees, but Revere has expanded the location by converting a warehouse across the street into manufacturing space and expects to double the number of employees as the conversion is finished. The infrastructure needs have been completed, and an additional 18 injection-molding presses should be running by the end of 2023, almost doubling the manufacturing capacity.
“We’ve made a lot of investments to grow that facility and part of that was investing in the decorating capabilities – both pad printing and ink fill,” Drummond said.
Stepping forward with decorating
The first six pad printing machines were installed in mid-2021. “This is a new capability for that facility, so we started from scratch by bringing in the equipment and then training the employees,” Drummond said. “Since we had started production for this customer in our Poplar Bluff, Missouri, plant, we transferred all of the equipment to Saltillo and then asked some of our Poplar Bluff team to provide the initial training.”
Now, five pad printing cells containing two machines each are running one-color production, with throughput at full volume expected to be in excess of two million units per year. Parts are loaded manually into the cell and then locked into place. One operator can run two machines as each side of the two-piece part is decorated. The first hit gives a ‘pop’ of PMS white ink to the raised, molded logo, and the second hit adds a small text area in the same color.
Cycle time is roughly 22 seconds as automation moves the part to different angles to accommodate two hits of ink. The part then is manually removed from the pad printer and put on a conveyor to move through a heated dryer before assembly, where the two sides are welded together. A third pad printing hit on the back of the assembled part finishes the decorating cycle. Before shipping, a piece of clear cellophane is placed over the part to protect the decoration during shipping.
Although Revere Plastics prefers to automate as much of its processes as possible, Drummond explained that the movement needed to decorate, rotate, decorate, assemble and decorate again would be cost-prohibitive. “You can automate anything these days, and the volumes for this part would indicate the use of more automation, but it’s about flexibility, too,” he said. “How long are we going to run this exact same tool? If there’s a design change, how does that affect the automation? And, we want to be able to equip those machines for other potential customers. So, for now, the pad printing process will have a manual component.”
While the raised, molded logo provides a tactile element to the finished part and ensures brand identity even should the ink eventually wear off on a power tool subjected to rough use in a high-touch environment, an ink fill process is used to decorate recessed numbers on the part’s plastic collar. A thin, needle-like applicator fills indented, molded numbers with white ink, ensuring the user can see the numbers during operation. The plastic collar is loaded manually, and then automation takes over as the part is turned so each number (one through 10) can be filled with ink.
Challenges and opportunities in Mexico
Many of the manufacturing challenges in Mexico are similar to those found in the US, said Drummond. “There has been so much manufacturing growth in Saltillo that there’s competition for manufacturing talent,” he explained. “We’ve had to increase wages, just like everybody else, to compete.”
Struggles with the supply chain also are found. Revere’s Saltillo plant does source some resins in country, but most are still shipped from the US. “We’ve had some delays at the border, so we keep a sharp eye on our orders to avoid a two- to four-week delay we aren’t expecting,” he added. Several of the company’s key suppliers have plans for facilities in Mexico, which eventually will reduce transit times and add convenience.
Despite familiar challenges, the acquisition of the Saltillo plant has been a positive addition for Revere. “There’s a perception that labor costs in Mexico are much lower than those in the US, and that’s true to an extent, but location also is an advantage,” said Drummond. “Being closer to our customers is important. We purchased the Saltillo facility because we had a great opportunity with one customer. Now, we are growing with several other customers, too, and we can see a time when more of them will need pad printing.”
Revere’s willingness to invest in Mexico is a competitive advantage. “We see Mexico as an underserved market for injection molding, which will only get worse as more companies increase their on-shoring efforts from Asia,” he explained. “By investing in this environment, not only with molding operations but also with decorating capabilities, it truly sets us apart from the competition.”