Issue: May 2006


United Plastics Group Opens Third China Facility in Suzhou



Designed for lean manufacturing, the new plant includes clean room and white room areas

by Alan Tran

United Plastics Group announced the formal opening of its third facility in China, located in the Suzhou EPZ (export processing zone) industrial area. Designed after a 24 month evaluation of best practices in value-added contract manufacturing and molding, the new, 115,800 square foot plant was built in response to rising Fortune 100 customer demand for China based, value-added custom manufacturing. The facility includes production in Class 100,000 clean room and white room environments. Also housed are plant management, tooling, program/ production engineering, decorating and quality testing. All told, more than US $10 million will be invested in the facility.

"Suzhou EPZ delivers on our vision to provide customers with a one stop source for consistently high-quality manufacturing worldwide -- including tooling, molding, decorating to full contract manufacturing capabilities," said Richard R. Harris, CEO. "Our aim is to site local, low-cost production around the world, all working to the highest standards of quality and program execution. This allows our global customers to enjoy the benefits of direct, well-coordinated output that meets or exceeds their cost and product performance goals."

Certified for ISO9002 / TS 16949

Certified for ISO9002 and TS 16949 processes, Suzhou EPZ can accommodate complex production and assembly for medical, automotive, electrical and consumer products. With plans for some 60 molding machines ranging from 35-610 tons, the new plant can accommodate more than 1,000 employees and is equipped for 24/7 operation. (An Adobe PDF plant tour is available on United Plastics Group's Web site, at http://www.unitedplasticsgroup.com/locations/Suzhou1.PDF .)

The entire manufacturing area consists of white room molding and assembly, providing an ideal environment for the rapidly-growing array of products that demand contaminant-free production. Additionally, the class 100,000 clean room has the flexibility to be expanded when needed.

White and clean room production, a given in medical and electronics manufacturing, has grown increasingly important for automotive and consumer products as they embody ever-higher levels of sophistication and functionality.

Best-of-breed design

Of the plant's design process, Tom Opielowski, Vice President Asia and Chairman, UPG China, said: "We gathered and evaluated best practices both within United Plastics Group and our competitors. Our objective in Suzhou EPZ was to change the game in China with showcase quality output, housed in a state-of-the-art facility. The fact that it's in a low-cost setting can only enhance its value to our customers."

Quadruples capacity

Begun in June, 2005, Suzhou EPZ more than triples United Plastics Group's manufacturing square footage in China while more than quadrupling capacity. An earlier plant, opened in 2002, is an 18-machine, 25,000 square foot custom manufacturing facility a few miles away. Both facilities benefit from United Plastics Group's centrally-managed global supplier network.

United Plastics Group has paid special attention to staffing its China operations by structuring jobs with well-defined advancement opportunities, as well as by tying into Suzhou area educational and job training programs. The available labor pool is unusually well educated; Suzhou itself boasts 13 institutions of higher learning and 85 technical and vocational schools. In addition, there are more than 200 colleges and universities in surrounding Jiangsu Province and nearby Shanghai, with some one million students enrolled in the region.

"We've taken a number of steps to make sure our people are the best we can find," said Opielowski. "We don't soft-pedal the fact that the work is hard, but we emphasize how and why people can get ahead by working for us. As a result, we're an employer of choice in the area."

Rigorous supply chain management

In addition to this emphasis on staffing, United Plastics Group also focused on supply chain and program management for the new facility, resulting in tight integration into United Plastic Group's global lean manufacturing management. Using this approach, United Plastics Group has assessed and where appropriate qualified more than 300 vendors to help ensure ready access to everything from painting and plating, to circuit boards, LCD displays, and other critical parts and components. The net effect of this centralized supply chain and program execution is a highly stable system that allows customers to mix and match elements as they optimize logistics and costs of their products.

Helping in this optimized supply chain effort is the new plant's export processing zone (EPZ) status, designed to foster international investment and trade operation. An EPZ is exempt from taxes and duties on all materials and components brought into the plant from outside of China, as well as goods exported from the plant. The Suzhou EPZ, officially called the Suzhou National New and Hi-Tech Industrial Development Zone, offers a well developed infrastructure in a protected geographic area. United Plastic Group's new facility is in a recently-constructed portion of the Suzhou EPZ.

World-class tooling

A final contributor to optimum production is the ready availability of world-class tooling from United Plastics Group's third China facility, the 32,000 square foot United Tooling Group tooling plant. United Tooling Group supplies high quality/low cost tooling to United Plastics Group worldwide production plants and also to facilities operated by other companies. Across all three China facilities, United Plastics Group employs approximately 350 people. That figure is expected to rise to around 500 by year end.

The company has just ended a record year for earnings, the second consecutive year of positive growth. The new plant joins two UPG facilities in Mexico, where the second Mexican plant was inaugurated in February, 2006; one in Europe; and five in the US. All are coordinated through an advanced, customizable project management system (UPG Central) that includes Web-based collaboration, monitoring and project control, administered from corporate headquarters.

United Plastics Group http://www.unitedplasticsgroup.com/ is a full service manufacturer of precision plastics products and value-added services for the consumer, medical, automotive, electronics and industrial market segments. UPG operates lean manufacturing, ISO/TS16949:2002 registered facilities in the United States, Mexico, Europe and China.

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