ClariProd offers streamlined machine monitoring

June 17, 2024
The technology, developed by the owners of injection molding shop Windmill Plastics, is designed for ease of use and affordability.

By Karen Hanna 


You’ve tackled labor costs and the worker shortage with new robots on every machine. Now what? 

At Windmill Plastics in Knowlton, Quebec, an unexpected cost accompanied all the efficiencies of a big investment in robots: There were no longer eyes on all those machines to be sure they were performing up to snuff. To combat that problem, the molding shop’s leaders have come up with a new cloud-based technology, called ClariProd, to monitor machines.  

“If there isn’t a human right there looking at the production line, [the company] has no way of automatically knowing if they’re running slow, or they’re down. That’s your No. 1 biggest opportunity for driving greater profitability and operations, just recovering those lost seconds in your cycle time and also recovering minutes of downtime, that you're leaving on the table,” said Frank Desrosiers, president of Windmill Plastics, who with his brother, Erik Desrosiers, co-founded ClariProd, a new business to sell the product of the same name. 

Available commercially in the U.S. for a couple months, the technology consists of hardware that captures signals from the mold when it opens and closes. Dashboards use that data to show how injection molding machines (IMMs) set up with the hardware are running. Users also can input when they reject parts and why.  

Most recently, the company added a feature allowing users to input optimal part weight and track variances. 

If molding performance falls below established thresholds, the ClariProd system issues alerts. In a display in the NPE booth of Absolute Haitian Corp., green icons on a ClariProd dashboard signaled that everything was running A-OK.  

The ClariProd technology is designed for ease of use on any IMM of any vintage. Devices on the machine take about 10 minutes to set up, the software, about an hour, Frank Desrosiers said. Beta testing is underway on a version for extruders. 

“Our theory is there’s a lot of money being lost in your cycle time being off and your machine not running when it’s supposed to,” said Erik Desrosiers, VP and GM of Windmill Plastics. 

Accommodating automation 

Frank Desrosiers, who'd had a career in data analytics and business consulting, purchased Windmill Plastics in 2012 along with his brother, allowing the men to raise their families near where they had grown up. They began investing in automation just a few years later. 

“Everything was paper-based and not very modern at that point,” Frank Desrosiers said.  

Over time, the company invested in Haitian machines, because, as he explained, “It was really the right equipment for our applications at the right price, with impeccable service.”  

Windmill Plastics currently employs about 85 people, with shifts around the clock making home goods such as shovels, pails and storage totes. Its customers are housewares brands that do business with retail giants like Home Depot and Walmart — companies with unrelenting schedules. 

If suppliers miss delivery deadlines, “there’s potentially large penalties attached,” Frank Desrosiers said. 

But, with robots assuming stations at the IMMs, fewer Windmill Plastics operators spent their time watching as each part came off. 

“We were putting automation on each press, and, so, we've got less people on the floor. ... The machines go down, and then sometimes for 10, 15, 20 minutes, no one’s there, and you’re losing extremely valuable minutes,” with no one noticing there’s a problem, Frank Desrosiers said. 

Company leaders began exploring ways to better monitor their machines, but the search for a solution mirrored Goldilocks’ trial-and-error approach to porridge. Cost-effective solutions were built on old platforms and not designed with injection molders in mind; meanwhile, other packages were so feature-rich, they were expensive and too complicated for a company with no IT department of its own.  

“Other solutions which were really press-based required us to change up PLCs and standardize the data because, like many manufacturers, we have many brands of presses for many years. And so that was just crazy-expensive,” Frank Desrosiers said. 

In some cases, such solutions could cost as much as $20,000 per machine.  

Fortunately, Windmill Plastics had technical capacity on its side; the business is a joint venture with CDiD, which supplies ERP packages, and CFM Robotics. also based in Quebec.  

All that expertise provided a nurturing environment for the birth of ClariProd. 

“I think that’s one thing that really makes us unique,” Frank Desrosiers said. “We are one of the few solutions that were built shop floor up. The team here at Windmill, they are the R&D facility; this is where we run any new features, test them, get our teams to react to how they’re interacting with it.” 

Cultural shift 

Just as automating brought unexpected results for Windmill Plastics, so too has data collection. As the company’s paper logs became a thing of the past, a cultural shift has taken hold, and the company’s customers are taking notice.  

According to Frank Desrosiers, Windmill Plastics estimates it saves $2,000 per machine per month because it now can maintain optimal cycle times. By running parts as quickly as possible, it also can accept more jobs — a goal of the Desrosiers from the start. 

"We were learning how all this worked and more focused on bringing in more business, and eventually we maxed out our capacity,” Frank Desrosiers said. “And I realized, well, one way to get a bunch of capacity inexpensively is to grow it internally, operate better and free up more additional time to run.”  

Knowing when machines are underperforming has unlocked new possibilities at Windmill Plastics. While workers used to assess shifts and machines with anecdotes about who showed up or who called off, or which presses leaked the most, now, they have data to support business decisions.  

“We had a sheet that people would write their rejects on, and then in the morning, we would compile all that information. And we would often have our production meeting around 10:30 in the morning, because it took that long to compile all the info from all the presses,” Frank Desrosiers said. “Whereas now, at 7:30, the shift teams are in for transition, and at 7:31, we’re having a meeting with the latest and greatest data.” 

With that information, the focus at Windmill Plastics has moved beyond just tracking machine downtime. Now, workers throughout the company have informed discussions about performance, across machines and shifts. The data can even underscore arguments about whether to replace an aging press. 

By providing access to evidence, rather than anecdotes, the ClariProd system has created a new sense throughout the shop that it’s on a journey of improvement

“It’s something that you can’t quantify in terms of your ROI, the impact that having the information has on culture in your business, right? It’s really hard to discuss any of those variables if you don’t have the data. But, once you have the data, you’re able to have a meaningful conversation with all your teams,” Frank Desrosiers said. 

He enjoys a new satisfaction from seeing workers have those types of conversations and make decisions based on them. 

But the discussions aren’t just internal. 

Pressured to fulfill their contracts further downstream, Windmill Plastics’ customers, too, have benefited from the company’s new emphasis on data visibility. 

“You can tell the customer in actual concrete terms, ‘This job is running well, I’m at 90 percent efficiency, quality looks great. We’re not scrapping a lot of parts,’ ” Frank Desrosiers said. “... You can share that info with a customer, which I think inspires a lot of confidence. Definitely, I have yet to meet a customer that wasn’t impressed with the dashboards.” 

Expanding beyond Windmill Plastics 

On the Tuesday after NPE closed, Frank Desrosiers was busy looking over new leads, anxious to uncover other molders that could benefit from ClariProd. 

Compared with the complete process-monitoring systems touted by IMM makers at their booths throughout NPE, ClariProd has fewer bells and whistles, but the Desrosiers view its simplicity as an advantage. It’s easy to install and operate, working on any machine at a price that could be accessible for smaller shops.  

Frank Desrosiers conceded that he’s anxious to build upon the number of outside molders who have already installed ClariProd; right now, it stands at around a dozen.  

Desrosiers said ClariProd estimates that fewer than 20 percent of molders currently are connected to any data-monitoring system. Most still track downtime and rejects on paper — just as Windmill Plastics did when he and his brother purchased the molding shop.  

Compatible with any machine — or even the hodgepodge of machines common across plants — ClariProd could find a home in many plants. At least that’s the vision.  

“Obviously, for smaller molders, the idea of a centralized system with a big upfront spend doesn’t make any sense, right? It doesn’t scale well. When you have to buy your own server, for example, to store your data and host the entire system, if you’re trying to connect web controllers, that makes no sense. ... So yeah, we are obviously for those customers, ideally well-suited,” Frank Desrosiers said. 

But that’s not all, he said. 

“We’re getting a lot of interest from larger organizations in the 20-, 30-, 40-, 50-machine range, just because often as they’ve gotten bigger over time and maybe different ownership, they’ve changed brands of presses.” 

At NPE, where some IMM makers showed off capabilities to monitor hundreds of pieces of data at once, a technology for tracking just a few offered the premise of simplicity.  

“The low-hanging fruit for 95 percent of the operations out there is just monitoring the production side of it,” Frank Desrosiers said. “Process monitoring, you have all those parameters on the PLC of the press. But Step 1 is actually knowing that you’re running slower, that you’re down." 


ClariProd, Knowlton, Quebec, 

About the Author

Karen Hanna | Senior Staff Reporter

Senior Staff Reporter Karen Hanna covers injection molding, molds and tooling, processors, workforce and other topics, and writes features including In Other Words and Problem Solved for Plastics Machinery & Manufacturing, Plastics Recycling and The Journal of Blow Molding. She has more than 15 years of experience in daily and magazine journalism.