We strive to be more than the manufacturer of record. We want to be the go-to source for our customers – the supply partner that proactively seeks design-for-manufacturing enhancements, process improvements and technology integration that significantly impact the program. Here are a few examples of challenging projects our customers brought to Sussex IM, and how we worked together to successfully hit their launch window.
Under intense deadline pressure, create a design solution for an iconic maker of household cleaning products that blunts a powerful competitive threat, reduces unit costs, and delivers a durable,aesthetically appealing design
CASE STUDY: INVENTIVE SOLUTION ENHANCES RETAIL APPEAL, DELIVERS BREAKTHROUGH SALES
One of the world’s leading makers of innovative home cleaning products had a problem. Its NPD program had slotted a launch for a breakthrough tool to revolutionize one of the most reviled homemaker chores: toilet bowl cleaning.
To our customer’s dismay, its toilet cleaning system was beaten to market by an archrival. The competitor’s product had powerful appeal, but largely because there was nothing else like it on the market – yet.
The customer’s original design solution wisely targeted the competitor’s Achilles heel. “Brand X’s” toilet cleaning system included disposable refills – but they were not flushable.
With speed-to-market an imperative, the customer came to us with its proposed design. It incorporated a flushable and septic-safe cleaning pad. Such a design had built-in razor-and-razorblade trade appeal that would keep consumers coming back for pad refills, year after year.
But while the arc-shaped cleaning tool was sleek and elegant, there were key elements that needed refinement. The design needed revision in order to slash tooling lead times and shave unit costs to maintain a competitive price point. Further, it had to deliver durability, quality, ease of assembly and good looks. Such attributes are required in this age of ruthless competition and shelf space scarcity.
Under the relentless pressure of a go—no-go timetable that was measured in weeks, our team dug in. What consumer-friendly alternatives were there to the previously-proposed screw-together design? What construction and material options were available, given the complex, albeit ergonomically pleasing, arc-like handle shape? How could design be optimized to enhance packaging efficiency and attain the retail grail. That is, an optimized revenue-to-square foot ratio?
The Sussex team of Keith Everson, President & CEO; Ed Fabiszak, Sales Manager; and Bill Pfister, Tooling Manager, analyzed the proposed design. Areas of improvement, in terms of visual, tactile, functional and operational considerations, were identified.
Design for Six Sigma (DFSS) methodology helped minimize process problems from the outset and optimize process efficiency.
A key issue was the six-piece screw-together design. More pieces mean more cost and more work for the consumer, along with the potential for compromised durability.
Another issue: each “flapper” – the piece that actually gripped the cleaning refill – was originally designed as a separate piece, held in place with screws.
And then there was the question of maintaining color uniformity within each individual piece, given the multi-part arc design.
Our team proposed a streamlined four-piece construction for the curved handle assembly, which would reduce tooling lead time and unit costs. Ultrasonic welding would be incorporated.
Conventional wisdom was that the welded approach was difficult, if not nearly impossible. With this technique, high-frequency ultrasonic acoustic vibrations are applied, under pressure, to create a sturdy, solid weld – without screws, bolts or adhesives.
This would allow for a secure and compact design that could be easily, quickly and securely assembled by even the busiest consumer – and that would appeal to profit-minded retailers seeking optimal on-shelf profitability.
In essence, it would permit the consumer to snap together two handle pieces until the tabs locked, for hassle-free, permanent assembly.
SussexIM’s welded design had to withstand an anticipated five-year lifecycle. The optimal design solution was a result of the team’s deep understanding of in-home consumer behavior, shaped through ethnography and shop-a-longs. How do consumers actually use such products? Where are these cleaning products stored in the bathroom?
SussexIM’s accumulated knowledge led to the design of rigorous repetitive-motion product testing. In addition, the customer’s ran product torture tests that rivaled procedures used by leading automakers and other big-ticket branded products.
The team soon discovered that their revised design solutions would easily withstand five years of consumer punishment. Swirl tests. Impact tests. Torque tests. The design withstood everything the team threw at it.
Another example of the team’s direction was the pad retention mechanism, or “gripper,” cleverly integrated into the cleaning brush wand. The original design was slick, but expensive.
SussexIM expertise with living hinge design resulted in a secure and user-friendly textured “jaws” solution that held the cleaning pad firmly, and released the pad effortlessly. The product flappers were no longer held in place with screws, thus eliminating parts.
In addition, the team developed a sliding button mechanism, which allowed easy pad release. Lock/unlock was accomplished with a secure, audible “click.”
To ensure perfect match in color for each multi-part piece, two eight by eight family molds were configured, with three weld stations around each press.
Prototypes were ready in just eight weeks. The process proved the efficacy of the ultrasonic welding approach. Production was fast-tracked.
Ultimately, the team’s enhanced design of the completed piece was a success in many vital ways. Yes, it was number-two to market. But pad refills outsold the competition and product production was 24/7.
A new product category was invented.
Unit costs were minimized by reducing the number of parts and intelligent selection of materials and production techniques. The compact unit assembles to a full-sized 19 inches, yet was efficiently packaged to maximize on-shelf revenues and meet the measurement requirements of leading big box stores.
At the same time, the revised product was packed with features that enhanced perceived value for the consumer. In this way, long-term, rapid retail turns were ensured.
In the home, the product has proven to be durable, effective and cosmetically superior to old-fashioned “Johnny Mops” and lesser “non-flushable” toilet cleaning systems.
For the SussexIM customer, the reduced unit costs and overall trade and consumer success of the product resulted in years of multi-million unit sales of the clean-pad kit, with revenues further amplified by the number of cleansing pad refills sold.
The product is completely made in the U.S.A. Taking all factors – including materiel transportation and mold making – into consideration, the cost to produce this household product in centrally located Sussex, Wisconsin, with skilled U.S. labor, beat quotes from vendors around the world.
“Our solution led to a highly successful household product,” says Sales Manager Fabiszak. “And we are proud to have developed the revised design under intense deadline pressure, with our skilled U.S. workforce, right here in Sussex. As a result, our customer quickly launched a superior product that blunted competitive threats, sold exceedingly well in the long-term and further reinforced the company’s positioning as innovative, trusted makers of household cleaning products.”
Adds President and CEO Everson, “This was another example of our collaborative approach, which results in breakthrough product solutions. In tandem with our customer, and under difficult marketplace pressures, we identified, validated and executed on improvements that resulted in a product that makes the lives of consumers easier, enhances retailer profitability and delivers year-in and year-out for our customer.
“The success of our work speaks to our company’s passion for plastics, and I could not possibly be prouder of our entire team,” Everson said.
This breakthrough household cleaning product remains an industry success story, with 15 million sales of the brush/insert kits alone, to date. Such volumes sparked sales of 100 million refill packs.
Based upon tabulations from the customer’s meticulously monitored consumer hotline, there has not been one reported failure – in more than six years. Line extensions have been successfully introduced, with more on the way.
The effort enjoyed the quickest development time of any product in the customer’s history.
Sussex IM continues as a go-to supplier for this industry innovator.
Health & Hygiene
Provide a worldwide leader in hand care and hygiene solutions with high-quality, nimble – and cost-efficient – U.S. injection molding capability.
CASE STUDY: HELPING A GLOBAL HYGIENE SOLUTIONS LEADER “CLEAN UP” A SERIOUS DEMAND SPIKE
Renowned as an industry innovator, this global leader in the production and marketing of skin health and hygiene solutions for commercial use found itself in a bind.
The company’s hand sanitizer dispensers, considered an industry reference, had been sourced in China – until the production status quo was dramatically interrupted by a seasonal influenza outbreak. While these occur from year-to-year, this particular epidemic led to a sudden and sustained surge in demand for the company’s hand sanitizing systems. It was a spike, on steroids. And the repercussions reverberated straight down their supply chain.
The customer was forced to rush overseas production. Punishing – and accelerated — air freight expenses led management to rethink sourcing options. Costs had to come down, and fast. Yet production quality AND delivery times could not be comprised, given the company’s brand heritage and dedication to quality.
U.S. injection-molding was seen as a possible solution. But (a) wouldn’t that be even moreexpensive and, (b), which company to select?
Enter the Sussex IM team of Keith Everson, President & CEO; Ed Fabiszak, Sales Manager; Jim Naatz, Project Engineer and William Pfister, Tooling Manager. The combined tenure of the team exceeds (INSERT METRIC) years.
The customer agreed to meet the team and visit the Sussex facility, where they would learn more about the company’s suite of services. This includes custom injection-molding solutions that are second-to-none, honed over three decades of industry experience.
Explains Everson, “For us, molding is where it all starts, and molding is in our company’s DNA.” Everson was one of the first engineers Sussex IM hired three decades ago. He ran engineering and sales before becoming president and his family owned a tool-and-die business. “In order to make a good injection molded part,” he says, “you have to start with a good mold.”
Sussex IM has all the latest automation technology and lean manufacturing practices. One side benefit of lean manufacturing is plant cleanliness, which impressed the prospective customer’s team during their walk-around. In addition, the visitors noted the company’s staff of automation engineers – automation is designed and built in-house.
Recalls Tooling Manager Pfister: “We showed them what the system was going to look like, right on the shop floor. We knew how many operators we’d have, their placement, how it would be assembled.
“Their tools were great, the molds were fine. Our cycles were twice as fast as the Chinese.” The cycle speed also caught the eye of the customer team, Pfister says.
Adds Project Engineer Naatz: “Our design-through-distribution approach with our Six Sigma capability ensures optimal process outputs. By bringing their team here, they could see exactly what we wanted to do, and how we proposed to do it.”
In terms of the quotation process, Sussex IM utilizes a detailed review with built-in checks and balances across functions. Explains Sales Manager Ed Fabiszak: “We ensure a quality outcome for ourselves and our customer. We examine every angle of the process. And we ask the tough questions. So we are prepared for any eventuality.”
“When you look at the total delivered cost – U.S. versus Chinese production – the Sussex IM solution is a very attractive proposition,” says Sales Manager Fabiszak. “Offshore labor costs keep sneaking up, and air freight remains exorbitant. We’ve aggressively reduced our costs while in other parts of the world, costs continue to rise.”
The Sussex IM team won the assignment. The company built new tooling for the myriad product SKUs and began manufacturing, pad printing and assembly in the U.S.
Onerous overseas air freight costs have been eliminated and the expense of rush orders and excessive lead times has been slashed.
In addition, the transfer of production to Sussex IM unlocks opportunities for this customer to sell to domestic customers that require Made In USA sourcing, such as government institutions. The future demand spikes that are sure to follow, whether caused by seasonal illness scares or other short term phenomena, are covered.
Even more important is the service, support and overall assurance provided by Sussex IM sourcing. In terms of logistics, the company is within easy travelling distance of its customer. “Easy access is important to the relationship building process, as is the fact that we can get everything we need right here: a tool, texturing, engraving, repairing,” Fabiszak adds. “We can get it done, quickly and efficiently, right here. And the quality is built-in.”
Concludes President and CEO Everson, “For custom molding and assembly, we showed them that our company, here in Sussex, Wisconsin, is the low-cost provider of choice – and that our skilled workforce, in combination with our lean manufacturing techniques and institutional knowledge saves money, time and headaches.”
Sussex IM is now an ongoing supplier for this industry innovator, as future generations of hand-sanitizing systems are developed.
Develop a U.S.-sourced, turnkey design solution for a mass market mosquito lantern that cuts supply chain costs, bests the pricing of Pacific Rim makers, delivers on the brand’s peerless DQR reputation and delights retailers.
CASE STUDY: INNOVATIVE, PRECISION SOLUTION DELIVERS A MOSQUITO LANTERN CONSUMERS LOVE
Call them mücke, zancudos or les moucherons – mosquitoes are an annoyance. There are 176 species recognized in the United States alone and each one seems intent on spoiling our leisure time and driving us to distraction. Worse, some are capable of transmitting serious disease, such as malaria, yellow fever and West Nile virus.
Existing mosquito repellents are, largely, imperfect solutions. The scent of citronella equally repels both guests and mosquitoes; these torches lose effectiveness once the wind kicks up. Ditto coils and sprays. Zappers kill more moths than anything else, despite the satisfaction of hearing that definitive zzzzzzt! sound.
A leading household product manufacturer had been sourcing a lantern-shaped product, which was quite popular. The compact product covers a small candle that burns under a chemically permeated strip. The candle heats the strip, which releases vapors and keeps mosquitos away from a 15 by 15 foot area for four hours, without annoying odors.
The lantern is reusable and consumers can repurchase refills, which results in an appealing razor-razor blades sales model.
Due to the nature of the market segment, demand remains tied to the regional severity of the mosquito hatch in any given season, and production levels, therefore, fluctuate.
SussexIM was called upon to help supply product during a period of overflow demand and quickly saw areas for improvement, in product design and manufacture.
In our analysis, we were convinced that we could offer a better design – one that represented a turn-key solution, versus the existing contract packaging model – that could shorten supply chains, please retailers, encourage repeat consumer purchase and beat offshore pricing, after all cost factors were considered.
With the need to reach the market before the next big buying cycle, the customer put us to the test.
A SussexIM team of all key stakeholders was quickly assembled, including company representatives from tooling, sales, automation, design, finance and more.
The team studied the product from a variety of viewpoints, analyzed the current production scheme, and how it was sold at retail and used by the consumer. This lantern could be created in a more efficient flow and packaged in a way that made it more appealing to space-starved retailers – without compromising its core competencies, such as durability, flame retardance, resistance to tipping and ability to repel mosquitos.
And, in addition to the piece’s sturdiness and functionality, it could still be made to look attractive in consumers’ backyards.
The SussexIM team sensed an opportunity to grow far beyond “second molder” status with this brand owner and become the provider of a value-added, integrated solution. Areas of improvement, in terms of product design and manufacturing and assembly processes, were identified.
The team got in touch with its inner poka-yoke capabilities. Work began.
Poka-yoke is a Japanese term for the battery of lean manufacturing techniques that enable equipment operators to avoid mistakes and smooth processes.
Such mechanisms save time and money and breed new levels of production efficiency, in three ways. In mass production systems, poka-yoke (or, “mistake-proofing”) can identify product defects, alert operators to potential problems or determine whether process steps have been followed.
The product design, as originally conceived by the customer, included both a critical metal piece, and molded plastic parts. The metal piece was to be sent to a middle man, to install in the plastics parts from the molder.
The SussexIM lean production, moldable design approach was to create an assembly that included the two molded PP parts in-line, timed to match up with just-in-time metal piece production –the last piece required.
This enabled the production team to fully assemble the product, put it right in the box and ship it to the distribution center – a completed packaged product in 24 seconds, versus holding a warehouse full of components.
No more middle-man. Further, the price was reduced, thanks to newly-found supply chain efficiencies. Fewer hands touching the product, even at a higher cost rate, resulted in significant savings.
Quality was built-in and the new process passed all product testing parameters for tipping, flame resistance, crush resistance and overall durability. Plus, it looked great in consumers’ backyards.
For the SussexIM customer, the reduced unit costs and overall trade and consumer success of the product resulted in (insert cool metric if available).
“Our bold, integrated, in-line solution helped build success for this popular household product,” says Sales Manager Fabiszak. “The new product design was improved and manufacturing and assembly processes streamlined – all under seasonal deadline pressure, with our dedicated U.S. workforce in Sussex, Wisconsin.
“As partners with this customer, we worked together to bring a superior product to market that sells well, is highly regarded by consumers – it really works and looks great – and exemplifies the core brand positioning of this innovative and trusted household product maker.”
Adds President and CEO Keith Everson, “We bring a lot to the table in our collaborations with customers. This is a prime example of our analytical approach, which results in production efficiencies that deliver reduced costs AND enhanced product functionality and overall appeal – to retailers and consumers.”
In the past, consumers have been disappointed by gimmicky mosquito repelling products, from coils, to foggers, to zappers, to the ubiquitous citronella torches.
This product just flat out works and is trusted by consumers. It is carried in all major mass retail channels and delivers on sales: (insert metric) million sales of the lantern kits alone, to date, and (insert metric) million refill packs.
As one online reviewer writes, “This baby is for real. It works fabulously.”
Sussex IM continues as a supplier for this trusted name in consumer household products.