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Processor Report

A technology powerhouse in the making The world’s largest producer of melamine tableware, Thailandbased Srithai Superware is setting itself up for a new role – that of a technology powerhouse in the Thai plastics industry. The 46year old moulder has undergone a transformation by having revamped its production process to include automation and hightech machinery. PRA spoke to its project consultant Marcus Sutch, from Matrix Technology Specialists, to find out more about the reengineering process.

its operations, but with limited success. Hence, Sanan had to face a lot of in-built skepticism. To counter this, he made trips all over the country to speak to and meet company employees (4,000 at the last count), to ease the process of automation and change. “The objective of the process was to add globally Srithai’s Chairman Sanan Angubolkul recognised capabilities intends to “revolutionise” the company into a “leading innovator” to Srithai’s portfolio, not just to lay staff off. Yes, Srithai has lost about 500 of its employees over the past two years. However, this is a result of the attrition process,” explained Marcus Sutch, Managing Director of Matrix. “Now with the new level of efficiency, Srithai’s order books are full and over the last nine months, while other plants have either closed down or laid off staff due to the global downturn, all the Srithai staff had a job to come to,” adds Sutch, who was previously heading Canadian injection moulding machinery maker Husky Injection Molding’s Asian operations. Admitting that competition had been tough and margins thin, Sutch reports that Srithai’s plastic operations had its best fiscal results in the first quarter of this year. “The company expects higher revenues in the second and third quarters, against the backdrop of 85% capacity utilisation,” he added. All this comes about as a result of Srithai having invested US$30 million over the past two years into upgrading machines “Srithai engages Matrix on a and installing automation. project basis and we commit and company, which transfer know-how to the company,” The explained Marcus Sutch of the exports 25% of its output consultancy’s involvement in the to 98 countries, expects to reengineering process achieve US$150 million in sales this year, an increase of 3% over last year.

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household name in melamineware, the iconic Srithai is already well-known in the Thai plastics industry. Now, the company is setting a new trend – by implementing energy management systems. By having automated and upgraded 40% of its moulding operations, Srithai says it is using 60% less energy at its so-called Electric Park moulding facility. In fact, so proud is the company of its achievements that it invites representatives from other companies to visit its facilities. The lobby of its Amata facility displays a photograph of an important visitor that it had recently, from a member of the Thai royal family. This, in a country rooted to the royal family, has edged the company’s standing further. Nevertheless, the transformation did not take place overnight for the public-listed company, which has built its foundation on its melamineware produced at its Korat facility. It started about 30 months ago when its Chairman, Sanan Angubolkul, decided to engage a Hong Kong-based consultancy, Matrix Technology Specialists, a company focused on operational and turnkey systems engineering, to revamp Srithai’s operations. It was a bold move since Srithai had in the past tried to reengineer 5

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Processor Report Its business is split between the melamineware and plastics product manufacturing comprising furniture, pallets, crates, containers, automotive components and closures. Apart from the Korat plant, the company has

and an entire moulding section is dedicated to all-electrics, utilising Toyo and Fanuc models that are equipped with Star Seiki and ABB robotics. “About 30 of these machines are in cell operations, with robots on 90% of the machinery,” said Sutch. The upgrading work in the facility entailed cleaning it up, introducing “a lot of automation”, refurbishing large machinery in the 2,200 to 3,500 tonne range and increasing manufacturing space (warehousing space was taken over for moulding). The company’s Chairman was adamant that Srithai build its strategy on sustainable profitable growth. “We believed that some of the machines were still in good condition. We looked at the equipment available and turned it around so that it could run more profitably and efficiently. It was all about reusing the assets available more efficiently,” said Sutch, adding that this thinking is known in the company as “sunset to sunrise”. Another highlight of the efficiency programme is the ability of the production cells to mould different types of products. “By re-capitalising existing machinery and developing flexible cells, which are configurable to various applications, Srithai has been able to competitively enter new markets. The production cells cater to a variety of products so that Srithai is able to fully utilise its capital investments every day,” says Sutch, adding that a joint Srithai/Matrix team monitors operating margins of the

The company says it has highly flexible systems that cater to the production of a variety of products

facilities in Suksawat, Bangpoo and Amata, all of which produce OEM plastics and Srithai branded products. It also has melamine and plastics factories in Vietnam, China and Indonesia. According to Sutch, the reengineering entailed a threepart process that involved eliminating inefficiencies, consolidating operations and converting batch processing. In the consolidation process, the OEM automotive parts manufacture at the Suksawat plant was moved to Amata, with the former expanding its marketing/distribution activities. Efficiency programmes The Amata facility has a total area of 46,000 sq m, of which 30,000 sq m is used for manufacturing a range of OEM and Srithai branded products. It houses 128 injection moulding machines ranging from 50-3,500 tonnes. More than 50 new machines have been installed, including Husky models,

Part of the transformation process involved cleaning up the Amata facility to look “brand new”

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Processor Report The beverage closure and container business, which is operated in accordance to good manufacturing practice or GMP, is fully automated. “Srithai has the capacity to produce around 1 billion closures/year,” says Sutch of the unit that was started up this January. It is an overnight success story as Sutch says the packaging unit is performing to full capacity, adding that Srithai is looking at ordering new PET and closure units. These will start up in the first quarter of 2010.

The fully automated production cell for beverage closures has upped the productivity and output levels

respective businesses. He also noted that many of the new and reengineered business activities are realising the targeted margin improvements. One of the moulding operations, which utilises seven 300 tonne Husky Hylectric machines, produces battery cases for the automotive industry, a business that Srithai has been in for more than 20 years. “Over the past two years, we have improved productivity by 100% and increased output levels by more than 50% by adding new moulds and hot runners and by automating the post moulding, sizing, punching and printing processes,” he added. Some of the efficiency programmes that have been undertaken include implementing Husky’s Tandem system on the Quadloc machines to double machine output by allowing the simultaneous use of two standard single face moulds, in a similar manner to a stack mould configuration. “Matrix managed the project and designed the work stations for the production of garden furniture and beverage crates on the 1,350 tonne and 2,700 tonne Quadlocs,” said Sutch. The automation process, meanwhile, is being undertaken in stages and with the Amata facility almost completed next will be the Korat facility, where again ABB robots will be a feature in the automation programme.

The IML Flex System, which changes moulds and labels in an hour, was designed by Matrix and mould supplier StackTeck Systems

Some of the all-electric, automated production cells for the packaging containers feature an IML system incorporating a mould and label changeover jointly innovated by Matrix and Canadian mould supplier StackTeck Systems. Known as the IML Flex system, it will soon be available on a platform with rollers for easy movement to other production cells. Matsui supplied the auxiliary equipment including vacuum loaders, chillers, dosers and PET dryers. Shown here is the energy-saving dehumidifying dryer that uses an adsorbent to remove the moisture content in the environment and dries the resin within the hopper with heated dehumidified air

New businesses To remain market focused, Srithai has added on new businesses, which comprise 15% of its total business, like PET preforms, beverage closures, thinwall and inmould labelled (IML) food containers and CD/DVD cases that involve new processes like thinwalling and multi-component moulding.

Besides battery cases and beverage containers, the Flex System will be used in the production of pails. This moulding operation will have 17 moulds to cater to the wide range of pail sizes from 2-20 l. Srithai is also looking at expanding this, with the addition of more machines to total 14 Hylectric 300 and 600 tonne machines for producing pails, at the end of the year.

One of the new businesses is the production of IML beverage containers

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Processor Report Not the end yet “It has been a fantastic journey – for both Srithai and Matrix,” says Sutch of the transformation. “The world crisis has made many companies realise that external intervention is needed to help transform their businesses,” he says, adding that every level of the management of Srithai, from the Board of Directors to the line management, helped drive the change. Having said that he says Srithai has not reached the end of the road yet. “The company is looking at expanding into blow moulding next year,” he says, adding that a team of four consultants from Matrix are stationed at Srithai to coach its operations team. The other hurdle the company has to cross is the implementation of a sevenday working week, from the current six days. “This will mean speaking to employees to deliver the message that the company needs to utilise capacity at 100%, in line with its objective to being a best-in-class moulder.” Other new projects focus on sustainability and Srithai will work with an Australian company, Aqua Guard, to produce plastic water lilies. PTT Chemicals, the country’s largest olefin maker, will supply the specially formulated HDPE material. The Aqua Guard water lilies are actually 1 m size pods and when welded together these can be used for covering surfaces of reservoirs, lakes and dams for combating and reducing up to 80% of normal evaporation. Commercial production is targeted in the first quarter of 2010. The clock is ticking as Srithai’s Chairman, Sanan, is looking at returning the company to its status of a

“leading innovator” in four years, when it celebrates its 50th year in business. “Sanan has an infectious and inspiring passion to revolutionise the business,” says Sutch, adding that Srithai is destined for greater heights again. ◆

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Processor Report  

IMA features issue 2009

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