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Case Study
Maier Manufacturing

Maier Manufacturing increased its productivity by 76 percent and output by 43 percent using Solar Products’ infrared panel heaters.


Maier Manufacturing is a medium-sized thermoforming operation that specializes in replacement parts for motorcycles and all-terrain vehicles. In business since 1972, they have 55 employees working in 45,000 square feet of office, manufacturing and warehouse space. Their products are marketed from a catalog to dealers throughout the United States.


Maier has two double station thermoforming units and two single station units.

The platen sizes vary from 32″ x 48″ up to 48″ x 75″.

The Problem

Sales were increasing, and Maier could not keep up with normal production. (This is a problem every manufacturer would like to have.)

Because of the increasing demand, overtime work was turning into a second shift. Maier was forced into choosing among three options:

  1. Purchase a new machine with a $100,000 price tag
  2. Change the operation to run a full second shift
  3. Retrofit the existing machinery to increase productivity

A new machine would not only have cost $100,000 to purchase but would have required additional labor to operate, power to run, floor space, and maintenance time. The second shift option would have required additional labor personnel, increased supervision, and increased overhead costs.

The Solution

After weighing the advantages and disadvantages of the available options, the decision was made to retrofit the equipment. The retrofit would consist primarily of changing the heaters, controls and power-switching devices. After having a past experience with a Heartland thermoforming machine, Maier Mfg. knew that productivity could be significantly increased with Solar Products’ panel heaters instead of the existing metal-sheathed tubular heaters. The heaters were sized at 15 watts/in2 for a total of 108 kW. The old heaters produced 50 kW total for both the top and bottom heaters. The old heaters were cycling between 80 and 100 percent, whereas the new heaters cycle between 30 and 60 percent.

The decision was made to increase the power available in the event that more power was required for future products or materials. The control system selected was a Cutler-Hammer programmable logic controller model D-100A with 32 outputs for individual zones. The timer/counter access module assists in quick and easy programming of the heater cycle times. The power switching devices were upgraded from mechanical contractors to mercury relays, very commonly used for sheet fed equipment.

The complete upgrade cost $15,000. This included top and bottom heaters with a mounting frame, a PLC with a touch screen, an electrical enclosure, 32 mercury relays, control cabinet wiring, a new high voltage power feed to equipment, 120 hours of labor, a larger vacuum tank and the additional work required for a project such as this.


The Results

The ABS and Polyethylene sheet heating time was reduced by an average 84%. What used to take five days could now be done in about three days. Although the available power more than doubled, the actual power usage was reduced by 10%. An additional benefit was a more even heat distribution over the sheet. As a result, the forming and stretch is also more uniform, ensuring less material stretch marks. The old heaters had a rejection rate due to uneven heating, but that was eliminated with the new heaters.


The Bottom Line

Maier Manufacturing realized a total return on their retrofitting investment in only nine months and on heater investment in less than four months. Their machine output capacity increased by 43%, and there was no need for overtime, a second shift, or new equipment purchases. The result was an amazing 76% increase in productivity.

The increase in productivity is based on the fact that the production of sheets of ABS went from 45 to 80 sheets per day — a 77.7% increase — and the production of polyethylene went from 40 to 70 sheets a day — a 75% increase. This represents a 76.26% increase in productivity on average.

A 43% increase in machine output derives from the fact that what used to take five days can now be done in 2.84 days, resulting in 43% more available machine time. Total ROI is based on a retrofitting cost of $15,000, a $62.21/day reduction in labor cost and a $13.33/day reduction in electrical cost. Electrical rate is 0.07834 kW/hour. The calculations is as follows: $15,000/($62.21 + $13.33/day)=198.5 days to recoup the initial investment or approximately 9 months, assuming a 40-hour work week. Your actual savings may vary depending on local utility rates, labor costs and retrofit costs.

Even More Benefits

The ROI was calculated using a reduction in electrical usage and labor. Several items not used in the ROI calculation that do pertain include the:

  • Increase in profit on manufactured parts due to lower production costs
  • Availability of more machine time
  • Reduction in reject parts and related material and time savings.

The end result is that the actual return on investment is much better than has been shown.

Additional benefits of panel heaters over metal-sheathed elements are:

  • Better zoning for better part quality
  • No cleaning or changing reflectors
  • Efficiency does not degrade with panel heaters over time.