AME: Best Practices
Best Practices Plants: The Mar-Lee Companies
By: Karen Myhaver, MassMEP
Operating from three state-of-the art facilities in Central Massachusetts, the Mar-Lee companies specialize in high quality, technology based, precision injection molding and mold making. Nearly 35 years ago, Mar-Lee began making molds at their first location in Leominster. From the beginning, they put the emphasis on building high quality molds and attribute this focus to their strength in the industry. After all, how good can the end product be if the mold you make it from is only mediocre?
Mar-Lee produces injection molding for the medical, packaging, and consumer products markets.
In the mid 1990's, as the company began to grow and specialize, they purchased two molding facilities in Fitchburg, each named for the focus of their work: Mar-Lee Medical and Mar-Lee Packaging and Consumer Products. The mold making is still done in the original Leominster location. There are 80 employees at the three facilities.
Mar-Lee credits its ability to compete with the overseas market to their highly engineered automation and to the innovative technologies they have developed which actually improve the appearance and function of their products. In packaging, the ability to produce a higher quality product at a lower price means that the customer is able to save money and improve their market share. Other mold makers can not offer these benefits and services. Mar-Lee operates their companies on three core beliefs which also contribute to their success. These beliefs are:
- Success on the mold floor begins with a quality tool.
- Offer customer value thru innovative new technologies.
- Service the customer with a core group of dedicated team members.
Over the years, their solid reputation has brought them clients like Proctor & Gamble, Tupperware, Gillette, Genzyme, Becton-Dickson, Johnson & Johnson, Medtronics, Boston Scientific, and others.
Focus on Innovation
Mar-Lee believes both their present and future success depends on their ability to innovate. They offer engineered intensive value to compete with the overseas economy. A visit to their companies will show you that they practice what they preach. Their technologies go far beyond traditional molding and mold making and include, bio-absorbable molding for medical implants (dissolving pins and screws used in surgeries so no follow up surgery for removal is necessary), and IML which is in mold labeling.
Mar-Lee's "Extreme Automation" has the capability to manufacture a client product so the labels are placed into the molds and actually become part of the product during the molding process. Next, the labeled products are scanned by a camera which inspects them to specifications. The entire process, from molding to labeling to inspection, takes under 10 seconds for 8 pieces! Products that pass inspection are automatically layer packaged and sealed. Rejects (which are very rare) are scrapped. If the system finds three rejects in a row, software automatically shuts the system down until the problem is rectified.
Along with all the advanced mold and mold making processes they have adopted, Mar-Lee also incorporates visual standards and established work flow for their employees to help enhance their job performance. Standard Operating Procedures (SOP), complete with pictures, travel with every job. Employee teams work in customized work cells to decrease waste and improve the product flow thru the processes. Mar-Lee also reduces waste by being a make-to-order operation. They produce to their customer's needs and orders rather than according to a forecast.
People who have been fortunate enough to visit Mar-Lee, "The small company with big capabilities," describe their experience as "very informative" and "very impressive." They remark that Mar-Lee is highly automated, clean, and organized. Visitors are interested to see Mar-Lee at this beginning point in their journey and comment that they seem to be putting the right things in place to help them continue. "They are a great example of how a small company can compete and have the resources they need to produce."
Mar-Lee has done more than just compete. They are actually winning business back from China. The forward thinking that has gotten them to this point has become a necessary way of life at their companies. Their people, their processes, and their innovation have helped Mar-lee realize an average annual growth of 15%. They are adding employees to meet the demand of their clients and constantly creating new ways to improve upon what they do every day!