SOUTH ELGIN, Ill.—About 100 people attended the Machinery and Planning Inc. (better known as Maplan) Days of Technology for three days of technical presentations and training.
But the event also marked the grand opening of the new South Elgin facility for Maplan, a member of Maplan Group. The new facility is 40 percent larger than the company's previous facility, National Sales Director John Mohl Sr. said.
The timeline of the move from the company's previous facility, also in South Elgin, was very compressed, Mohl Sr. said. Maplan still had a facility constructed from when it was part of the Starlinger Group in Hanover Park, Ill., but that was built with Starlinger's specifications in mind. The location wasn't a fit for Maplan's future plans, though the possibility existed to move back in and make the best of it.
"The contemplation was, 'Do we move in there and compromise that it's not the perfect fit for us, or do we go another direction?' Everything kind of came up right at the end of last year," Mohl Sr. said.
In the interim for 2017, Maplan had been leasing the Hanover Park facility and the tenants decided they wanted to buy the location. That left Maplan looking for another new location for a move sometime by early 2018, he said.
The owner of the South Elgin complex they already were in was adding a new facility to the opposite end, which became available. Maplan worked with them to speed up the time frame to make the facility ready for leasing in time for the Days of Technology event, he said. They were able to make some improvements ahead of time, but only took possession of the facility May 1, with the Days of Technology coming up beginning June 5.
"To put it in perspective, it was basically four weeks," Regional Sales Director John Mohl Jr. said. "We take on average a week to assemble a press, and we had four running presses on top of the rebuild presses, all of the facilities, the infrastructure, the air, the 480 electrical. It was definitely a feat of will."
The new facility is the right fit for Maplan on a few fronts, including having the space to show off the company's capabilities to potential customers, Mohl Sr. said.
"In the last 20 months, Maplan North America has gained 13 new customers, and half of those are new to injection," he said. "So we know looking in our crystal ball that Maplan is in the right position to be gaining new customers, and making an impact for injection molders, including first-time rubber injection molders."
The new location also provides the capabilities to do a wide range of machine rebuilds, whether C-frame or larger vertical presses, Mohl Jr. said.
"It gives us the flexibility, both in the room and working space, the ceiling height," he said.
Maplan wants to make the wider industry aware of its rebuild capabilities with the new facility, Mohl Jr. said.
"For the handful of customers that we've done that for, they love it. We continue to get a second and third rebuild from them, to the 15th and 20th rebuild," he said. "Now we have this facility, and we're ramping up the personnel as well."
The new facility also has room to keep in-stock presses, both fully assembled and pre-graded, shrink-wrapped and ready to be dispatched to the U.S.
Maplan will use the 80-20 rule for stocking, keeping machines that will fit about 80 percent of its customer base and future potential customers, Mohl Sr. said.
"We spent a lot of time interviewing and researching what would be the best fit," he said. "It's a risk, if you stock machines. We carry anywhere from $1.5 to $2 million worth of inventory on the machine side, and you don't want the stuff sitting there any longer than necessary."
Maplan has looked at machine trends to make the best choices about which to keep in stock, Mohl Sr. said. For example, though the 250-ton machine range was a very common size in North America for injection molding, trends have shifted heavier, to the 300-ton range. Similarly, 400-ton machines were the "bread-and-butter size machine," for more than the last 25 years, he said, but that also is shifting upward to make the best use of smaller workspaces. Maplan is stocking their 320-ton and 460-ton ranges to stay ahead of the competition.
"We try to stock the right fit for the current and trending future needs of molders," he said.
Looking to the future, the current South Elgin facility might be a stepping stone toward a new facility within the next three years, Mohl Sr. said.
"This building is a perfect fit for us," he said. "But we would not be surprised if two to three years from now, (Maplan Owners Philippe and Ingrid Soulier) say, 'You're doing well, how about we buy a piece of land and build you a new building?' We can foresee that in our future."
But for the time being, leasing at the South Elgin location is the perfect fit for Maplan, he said. Since the company already had leased within the complex, there's already an excellent history with the location owner.
"We have a good feel for being there for at least two to three years," he said. "If longer, we definitely have the right size that we have three to five years' growth capability before we get too squeezed."
Focus on training
The event opened the new location to attendees—including a ribbon cutting before presentations began—and provided training with presentations, including integrating data collection software, using mold simulation software and improving efficiency. Though Maplan has run Days of Technology events globally, this was the first one that included a third day focused specifically on technical training, Regional Sales Director Ben Puffer said.
"We have great owners that want to not only further the reach of Maplan, but more importantly, to be a help to the industry," Puffer said. "Typically, this is only two days, and we extended it one just to try to give back to the industry."
It can be difficult for companies to let staff use time for training, so the third day was an incentive to put managers' minds at ease, he said.
"Everybody is so busy and short-staffed, people are retiring, and in the summer people want to take vacations," Puffer said. "We knew we had to provide something that would justify for decision-makers in the company or managers to let staff go."
From registration statistics, almost 80 percent of attendees were staying or coming for the third day, he said. People came from both Canada and Mexico, as well as some of the faraway U.S. locales such as Florida.
"That is a huge statement of what our North America industry is needing, that is, training. To understand the processes, the equipment, Industry 4.0, everything," he said. "That was a real justification to us that we understand our industry. And we absolutely will keep that included in our next event and probably even try to build upon that even more."
Maplan also gave the spotlight in presentations to mostly other partners to provide a wider range of resources, including companies like ChemRep Inc., IQMS and Sigma Engineering GmbH, he said.
"We had a lot of things going on to give such a variety of information. Not knowing for sure who all would come or what they would be interested in, we wanted to try to make it like a bazaar," he said. "One person may have connected with only one thing, but if they could connect with that one thing and take it back to possibly revolutionize their company, the event was a success."
Puffer said that diversity of approach was in the presses on display as well, with four unique machines running through the event to represent their various customers: two different types of vertical presses, a horizontal press and a C-frame.
"It was really about coming to learn something. Come be exposed to something maybe you never were before or maybe you didn't understand before," Puffer said.
Maplan is committed to hosting its next Days of Technology at the South Elgin location within another two-year time frame, he said.