Master Manufacturing by Karen Phelps
Master Manufacturing’s key staff has nearly 100 years combined experience in the industry.
“Staff loyalty has been excellent with all staff being retained at the change of ownership and some continuing their employment to the present time,” explains managing director Clive Butler.
Master Manufacturing Ltd is a small privately owned plastic injection moulding company, which specializes in small engineering componentry. The company was originally formed as a backyard operation in the mid 70’s. Present owner and equal shareholders Clive and Lyn Butler bought the company in 1989.
Mr Butler says the company’s basic philosophy has always been to focus on manufacturing small items, which he thinks have benefits in terms of storage issues and the fact that they are easily handled and quick to make:
“We identified this as a niche market and over the years have built up our client base and increased our manufacturing capacity to cope with demand,” he explains.
Lead times are usually 3-4 weeks and the company produces around 3 million items per month from their extensive product range, which includes over 700 items. Products include engineering components (brackets, bearings), curtain runners, electrical components, caps (screw, aerosol), closures, educational game components, hooks and doorstops. The company also offers a design and tool making service.
Master Manufacturing’s client base extends throughout New Zealand and includes larger clients such as Fisher and Paykel, Holdfast Manufacturing, Masport, NZ Window Shades, Active Components, Aerosol Products, Arandee and Micron. Since the mid 1990’s the company has also exported caps to Sydney based companies Cormack and Pax and wall togglers to Japan and the USA.
“We try to have a personal approach with our clients and meet their individual needs. In the case of exporting our pricing is still highly competitive even taking into account transporting issues,” explains Mr Butler.
The company currently employs a total of 15 staff including management, technicians and general machine operators. The manufacturing capability is serviced by 18 machines of up to 50 tonne clamp pressure.
“These machines include four fully looped computer controlled Engel moulding machines,” explains Mr Butler.
The factory operates a dry air system to hopper dryers and in addition Master Manufacturing has desiccant dryers for specialized materials. There is also a tool room used strictly for repairs and maintenance consisting of a lathe, mill and surface grinder. A small section of the factory has been set up to re-granulate waste materials for recycling. In 1994 Master Manufacturing achieved ISO 9002 certification.
“Some of our moulding machines are set up for unscrewing dies. We also have facilities to water treat nylon mouldings. Our sorting and packing area is set up for assembling small parts.”
He says the company has grown 34% in the last year:
“Concentration for the future is to continue to produce quality product at a competitive price.”
CHANGES IN INDUSTRY
The biggest changes in the plastics industry concern new high tech materials, says Master Manufacturing Ltd’s managing director Clive Butler.
His company uses a full range of plastic materials in their custom injection moulding operation from commodity plastics such as low-density polyethylene and polypropylene to more exotic materials such as PTFE impregnated nylon and polycarbonate PBT alloy.
He thinks high heat materials and electroplating are among the most exciting discoveries:
“These plastics have a melting point of over 300 degrees Celsius. Electroplating of plastic parts to resemble metal has the advantage of allowing more intricate designs in addition to being lightweight and low cost.”
The current company policy is to continue to specialize in the smaller end of the injection moulding market with a continuing upgrade of machinery to encompass the latest technology. At the moment over 50% of profits are reinvested back into the company and Mr Butler is presently looking at purchasing significant new machinery over the next year.
Master Manufacturing only began blow moulding 12 months ago when they purchased a $150,000 machine but it already accounts for nearly 5% of business and demand just keeps growing.
“We make a lot of caps and customers kept asking us why we didn’t make the bottles as well. I’m trying to build niche areas in blow moulding rather than taking work off other manufacturers,” explains Mr Butler who says his company is securing a great deal of clients requiring smaller product runs in this area.
As a result the company has been forced to expand their premises by taking over 4,000 square feet of space in an adjacent building. Mr Butler says the area will initially be used for storage and injection moulding machinery but he hopes to eventually make it into a dedicated blow moulding shop. Mr Butler says the last expansion occurred in 1993 a change of premises was made to a larger and more suitable factory.
The blow moulding machine works by producing a tube of plastic which has a mould clamped around it. Air is then inserted into the middle, which blows the plastic out onto the chilled mould. Master Manufacturing is capable of producing bottles up to one litre in size. The company is currently concentrating on streamlining the operation by changing dies as quickly as possible in order to move from one product to the next.
Mr Butler predicts blow moulding is a real growth area and will eventually account for 20-30% of his business over the next 5-8 years and so he is currently securing quotes for new blow moulding machinery to meet the demand.
“I think we have a good reputation for injection moulding and that’s why people are starting to request we do their blow moulding as well.”
Plastics industry apprentices are on the rise, says Clive Butler, Master Manufacturing Ltd’s managing director and chairman of the Plastics Industry Training Organisation. A recent survey has indicated the plastics industry needs to be training 130 apprentices at any one time in order to maintain current industry levels. There are presently 75 apprentices training throughout the country, an increase of 16 since the start of the year. Mr Butler says this is largely due to a concerted campaign to promote the industry and encourage new apprentices, starting at school level as part of the Gateway scheme run by the government, which started as a pilot scheme in South Auckland and has now extended to other areas:
“Training is absolutely essential in the industry. We need to make teachers realise apprenticeships are an excellent way of gaining qualifications and a good wage at the end of it without running up large student loans. The scheme involves having students from schools come in to see what we do.”
He says at present reaction by schools has been “indifferent”:
“I think they probably have a lack of knowledge of the plastics industry and we have a lot of work to do promoting it.”
He says modern apprenticeships are based on skill levels rather than time but Mr Butler expects it would take 3 years minimum to complete an apprenticeship in the plastics industry. He hopes that eventually students will be able to gain learning units as part of the school curriculum to make the transition to gaining an apprenticeship even easier. One of the problems at present is encouraging companies to take on apprentices:
“They have the perception it will cost them a lot but in reality it doesn’t.”