A Talk with Paul Duval, Process Technology Supervisor at Agilent
Paul Duval oversees molding operations at Agilent in Chicopee, MA. Pellets of polymer resins are transported into molding machines where they are melted and forced, with pressure at high velocity, into a microplate mold. The mold is pulled apart and the new plastic part is ejected out of the mold. New parts are subject to 100 percent inspection to ensure that Agilent’s product specifications are achieved. We asked Paul to explain the ejection molding process used in creating custom microplates more fully.
Describe the scope of the custom microplate molding operation?
We have four closed-loop electric molding machines in-house, running 24/5, producing about 2.5 million custom parts per year. That requires about 150,000 kilograms of approximately a dozen primary polymer resin types. Each run can be anything from hundreds of thousands of pieces over several weeks for a big customer, down to 100 pieces in a few hours for development of a custom project. We have enough infrastructure to almost double our output if necessary! We also run some of our molds for our standard products at nearby facilities. This year we will be integrating additional automation into our molding and inspection processes to improve both our throughput and our quality.
What are the critical aspects of molding microplates?
The most important consideration is to maintain the quality of the output product. The entire molding operation is contained in a class 100K clean room environment, and each new part is visually inspected by the operator. At specified intervals, newly molded parts are measured for dimensional specifications by a quality control technician. Out of specification or specification migration trends are discussed and operation parameters are adjusted to re-optimize the run. It is fantastic to be surrounded by the design engineers and the machine shop! Any degradation in performance, bottlenecks, or stoppage can be addressed with expert capabilities quickly implementing changes that maximize our up time.
How does your team get the job done?
Our focus on creating custom products keeps our team in a constant learning/evaluation mode. Our approach is similar to planning any tactical mission:
- Agree on the goals
- Study the processes
- Control the operation to generate the best possible outcome
- Coordinate scheduling and teamwork—they are the keys to effective utilization of our resources
I am proud of our performance as a team and I am doing everything that I can to support attitudes of continuous improvement and attention to detail. We are the first to evaluate the quality of a new part. Accurately monitoring and reporting process performance is critical to customer satisfaction and ultimately, to company success.
Do you have a method that could be optimized with a custom microplate? We have been serving scientific research and development industries for more than 30 years by creating and supplying microplates for unique applications. For more information, contact us about your next custom microplate project.