Vital for a successful plastics processor: Keeping promises

Written by CyFrame


How many times a year do you have to call your customers to ask for time extension?

How many times a week do you have to move mountains to accommodate your customers JIT requirement?


A customer will buy from your company the first time based on promises made; after that it all depends on how you delivered on those promises. And you will have to prove yourself each time you deliver or there might not be a next time.

A company makes a promise each time it accepts a purchase with a ship date specified. And there’s no doubt that the company has every intention of making those dates. But reality sometimes gets in the way – mistakes, surprises, or simply poor planning can inhibit the ability to meet customer promise dates.

Plastics processors, and their customers, need not be the victims of these challenges to on-time shipment. There are a few basic errors and challenges that are the primary reasons work can’t be completed on time. And they are all preventable.

Challenge: Running out of material

Material shortages can sabotage the best planned production schedule and cause untold damage to productivity and on-time completion. It might seem that material problems would not be a major issue in an industry that often deals with relatively few raw materials and brings them in by the car-load. Nevertheless, running out is an all-too-common problem with several easy to identify causes.

Most plastics processors rely on backflushing for material accounting and reporting because it is difficult if not impossible to record actual usage as it happens.

Backflushing is a system function that deducts the amount of primary material, additives and other inventory assumed to have been used when products are reported as completed. Backflushing can work quite well as long as production completions are reported accurately and on a timely basis. The only way to insure timely and accurate reporting is through automated data collection. Your inventory and MRP/ERP system should support direct reporting through plant-floor touch-screens, bar-code scanners and direct machine interconnection via PLC, with real-time database updating and tracking.

An additional problem with backflushing is its reliance on the bill of materials (primary or alternate recipe, formula) to specify expected usage. Bills do not always include an allowance for waste, start-up waste, or unusual material use (rejects and other quality issues). The backflushed amount is “standard” usage according to the bill. Plant floor workers must be incented to report this extra usage as it occurs to keep inventory records accurate.

Don’t forget that work stoppages can occur from a lack of seemingly insignificant parts and materials. Lack of enough caps, inserts, labels, sleeves, cartons or other ancillary components can stop on-time completion and shipment as much as running out of pellets. And sometimes the needed component is actually on-hand but just can’t be located in time to keep production moving on schedule. All inventory must be tracked continuously, using the appropriate technology for real-time accuracy (bar-codes, touch screens, lift-truck-mounted displays and devices) with appropriate validation processes like cycle counting.

Recipe or bill of material changes can also throw off your inventory availability as the system may be decrementing the wrong material, throwing off inventory record for both the old material and the new material. Engineering and work order changes must alert purchasing of new inventory requirements automatically and purchase priorities must be set in order to provide enough advance notice to get sufficient materials into stock before they are needed. Alternate recipes (substitutions) also pose a threat to accurate inventory accounting and planning. When alternates are used, be sure that the correct usage is reported to the tracking system to keep inventory records in line.

Another common cause of shortages is production overruns. There is a common temptation to let the equipment continue to run after the required quantity is completed – to use up the current bin or carboy of material, to finish out the shift (or work until the break or lunch) before tackling the changeover, or due to a feeling that longer runs are more economic. The problem is that material was planned for the scheduled quantity and additional material used should have been saved for the next job. Even if properly reported, the extra material consumption is prone to cause a shortage because replenishment takes time and may not be possible before the next run that needs that material. The solution: continue to plan materials through MRP and monitor safety stock adequacy and unexpected usage while discouraging operators from exceeding the planned quantities.

Challenge: Unanticipated Equipment Downtime

Needless to say, unanticipated equipment down time can throw schedules into chaos and make it impossible to keep customer promises. A program of preventive maintenance can be a significant help in keeping the equipment humming along smoothly but this must be shared and visible to all through the production calendar. It is critical to block out equipment for maintenance in the production schedule so others can plan around those outages in advance. Also be sure that multiple or critical machines are not out of service for maintenance at the same times unless the processes are connected and interdependent, in which case coordinated maintenance schedules would optimize the availability of resources.

Every broken promise is an opportunity for a competitor to step in and take away a business opportunity that should be yours. Customers expect their orders to be fulfilled as ordered, on time and complete. Failure to deliver can quickly destroy years of trust and reliance. Regaining that trust after a failure is always difficult and often impossible.

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