Canadian Plastics

Lean Manufacturing Thrives at Kodak

Avant-garde thinking and vintage machinery meet at Kodak Canada's Plastics Department. This in-house precision molding operation uses 20- and 30-year-old injection molding machines within a production environment governed by lean manufacturing con...

November 1, 2004   Canadian Plastics

Avant-garde thinking and vintage machinery meet at Kodak Canada’s Plastics Department. This in-house precision molding operation uses 20- and 30-year-old injection molding machines within a production environment governed by lean manufacturing concepts and just-in-time deliveries. Kodak’s molding operation also has the distinction of being one of very few globally that is housed above grade. It’s on the third floor of a facility that also holds manufacturing and assembly operations for microfilm production.

The only inventory that this captive molding operation carries for its high volume product lines is what’s on its way from the molding machines to the assembly area one floor below. This direct feed “flow line” concept was introduced for Kodak’s consumer film production, and has since been adapted to the microfilm finishing operation. The containers and reels for microfilm are delivered by open conveyor to the assembly area, where spoolers put film on the reels and package the finished reels in the flip-top containers. From there, the microfilm for export is packed in boxes and shipped to Rochester, NY, Kodak’s global distribution centre.

Bob Kuzminski says the plant completes the transformation from resin pellet to ready-to-ship microfilm cassette in about an hour. Kuzminski is manufacturing manager of Kodak’s Imagelink Media unit which includes the molding operations.

The plastics department has 17 machines, ranging in size from 200 to 400 tons. They are mostly Reed-Prentice machines, with some Van Dorns and two Farrells. With dedicated maintenance personnel and upgrades to the control features, they continue to turn out consistent products and maintain tight tolerances.


The molding operation currently makes a variety of reels, cores, cassettes, flip-top containers and other components for film rolls. It has also made camera lenses, gears, and other miscellaneous components in the past. It uses mostly polyethylene, polystyrene and polypropylene, fed from three silos (two for polystyrene, one for polypropylene). In-house blending is used to add black color concentrate as needed.

Microfilm is generally used for archival purposes, so its durability is paramount. Kodak’s microfilm is expected to last 500 years. “The container must not let any light or moisture penetrate, even though it may be opened and closed many times, or exposed to temperature and humidity changes. There can be no warping or bowing of the rectangular containers, no pinholes or cracks, no thin areas that may let light penetrate and no marks that can leave an impression on the film,” explains Gary Gilchrist, quality control operator.

Measurements are taken in the quality control lab every two hours to verify dimensions, plus test for opacity and the function of the flip-top lid. Because of the extensive use of SPC, the quality checks function almost an audit, says Gilchrist.

Lean thinking helps deal with change

Kodak has a very well-developed lean manufacturing system, which dates back to 1998. Called the Kodak Operating System, it incorporates many tools that are familiar to plastics operations: continuous improvement programs, just-in-time manufacturing, Six Sigma, kaizen projects, kanbans. They all drive the company to focus on the customer and the value that they create for the customer, while driving waste out of the process.

It is this foundation of lean manufacturing principles that Kuzminski thinks will make Kodak’s plastics department competitive as it looks to expand its contract molding for outside customers.

“We have molding capacity available,” says Kuzminski, “and the precedent for taking on contract work has already been set. Kodak Canada has been making plastic parts for external clients for some time.”

“I have faith in our Kodak Operating System. That’s what allows us to deal quickly and efficiently with starting up new parts, and color and material changeovers.”

As Gilchrist puts it: “We’re good, we’re fast and we’re accurate.”

On the process control side, the machines’ PLCs are continuously being upgraded. The facility does not have in-house design capability, but the mold and machine maintenance departments are top notch. As well, Kodak runs an extensive preventative maintenance program.

Although Kodak’s heritage is in photography, the company has adapted to the changing market, and is now largely involved in digital imaging. The Toronto manufacturing site has been in operation since 1913. There are historical plaques on site noting the role some of the buildings played in housing World War I troops. Yet it is now a major producer of Kodak inkjet paper for worldwide markets, and has the global production mandate for microfilm.

The Toronto operation has a stand-alone plastic recycling facility on site, where it processes molding scrap and used film containers from retail photo processing operations. Scrap parts are reground and extruded to pellet form, before being added back into the raw materials stream.

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