Since 1986, Westminster, MD, USA-based Strouse Corporation has been designing and developing converted products using pressure sensitive adhesives for the medical, aerospace, industrial engineering, automotive, electronics, and defense industries. Strouse helps companies design solutions that deliver converted adhesive material in the most effective and efficient manner possible. The company saves customers time and money by employing design and manufacturing techniques that reduce labor costs and improve performance of products. This allows customers to get products to market quickly while maintaining the highest quality.
“Any converter can claim to have the right adhesives and say they can cut accurately with tight tolerances,” says Mark Cheatham, director of engineering at Strouse Corporation. “Those are the basics. But what really matters is whether they can go deep into an application and understand its use and purpose.”
This includes understanding the customer’s needs and expectations such as whether a label or product will be automatically applied, attached in a manual production line, or put on by an individual consumer. “Whatever it is, we need to know everything about it, because by knowing the form and function of where and how an adhesive will be used, we can provide a product we know will work properly,” explains Cheatham, an engineer with expert knowledge of tight tolerance rotary die cutting and slitting of various substrates.
Because most of Strouse’s products are customized for specific customer applications, understanding the details and nuances of every product is the first step in every project. The company has a long-tenured team of engineers and product designers who inject what Cheatham calls “the art component,” and products are brought to life using six Delta ModTech machines which are all custom-built to serve a range of needs.
According to Strouse, the company is possessed of a strong problem solving skill set and is very good at building products with the people and materials it has available. In many instances, customers bring the company into the design stages of a product, and Strouse brings Delta ModTech in as early as possible.
Delta ModTech, notes Cheatham, has a way of thinking like a fabricator or converter. “They are true partner and in many ways is another seat in our company. They understand the big picture and are quick to give feedback on the feasibility of a project and take a different approach even though it might not be the usual way of doing a certain function.”
Once the design and development work is done, a product enters the production phase and uses one or more of the six Delta ModTech machines on Strouse’s production floor. The machines, built and installed from 2000 through 2014, were all built to perform specific tasks, yet all work the same way, which the company considers a significant productivity benefit.
Cheatham says, “The HMI (Human Machine Interface) is exactly the same on all the machines, with the older versions being updated as newer software became available. This is especially important for cross-training operators and enabling them to run a full range of jobs.”
Even more important is the feedback provided by the HMI. Jobs are web-fed through the machine, with all parameters specified in the computer. Multiple sensors throughout the machine constantly monitor web tension, precise die positions, cut accuracy and more, comparing programmed specifications to actual production.
“The machine alerts the operator if any part of the job is out of tolerance, or if he or she is making a mistake” explains Cheatham. “That way the operator knows where any adjustments need to be made.”
This ability fills a crucial gap in the converting industry. “No press or machine can simply be loaded up and use the same program you used the last time you ran the job without making a number of adjustments,” he continues. “There’s simply not enough consistency in the raw materials. Having the operator be able to look at the HMI, understand the error and make adjustments is key to making a really excellent product. “
The operator-machine relationship fostered by the HMI also continues off the plant floor. Delta ModTech regularly runs classes for engineers and operators from customers all over the US to provide ongoing training, share knowledge and help them do a better job. Strouse likens this process to a bottom-up trade group that raises the bar on knowledge at the operator level, rather than at the management level.
Listening and understanding
The relationship between Strouse and Delta ModTech is one that has benefited both companies. The ability to reach somebody at Delta ModTech is crucial, and they always take the call.
“They listen,” says Cheatham. He recounts a project in which the pneumatic rewinds used on one machine could not provide the accuracy needed for a certain project. In a call to Delta ModTech he suggested servo rewinds. “Web length is not your friend when it comes to extensible materials,” he recounts. “Stretch happens and pneumatic rewinds couldn’t accommodate the additional draw on that particular project.”
Delta ModTech immediately understood the issue and added servo-driven rewinds that tied back to the HMI, which solved the problem. Strouse was the first to buy the bolt-on servo rewinds.
Strouse’s customers come to them for sophisticated ways of producing products with specialized features; an unusual adhesive, a different reagent, or a graphic on top, all things the company can deliver because of the flexibility of Delta ModTech machines.
“Buyers are naturally concerned about cost. However, when our customers understand that we can do more to a part in one pass, more closely match their needs, and often solve a problem they didn’t know they had, they then understand the value,” affirms Cheatham. “That makes a better product and Strouse a trusted source, and demonstrates that cost-effective solutions are better than cheaper ones.”