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Plant Design: Sussex IM builds plant with environmental considerations

Issue: September 2017

As an injection molder, Sussex IM is used to handling complex parts and big projects. In some ways, building a new plant called on the same skills.

“We designed and built with both efficiencies and expansion in mind,” Sussex IM CEO Keith Everson said of the firm’s new, 87,000-square-foot building.

The Sussex, Wis., company, led by CEO Keith Everson, recently completed a new, 87,000-square-foot building near its 40-year-old facility. It has prepped the 20-acre lot and structure to be able to efficiently add another 70,000 square feet.

In planning the facility, which has not yet begun molding operations, Sussex took special consideration of the environment and employee safety. For factories undertaking such a project, a greenfield expansion comes with plenty of challenges. They include site selection; dealing with local jurisdictions on items such as access; availability of skilled and unskilled labor; and local taxes and regulations. All of that should be considered before the first shovel of dirt is turned.

“We just became landlocked and couldn’t expand anymore,” Everson said. The original plant still is the “mother ship,” he noted. It is sized at 125,000 square feet on 14 acres.

“We see some new products that we are working on that have some great growth possibilities,” he said. “We have to be ahead with the facilities and the growth. It’s not ‘build it and they will come.’ ”

The facility has 3,000 square feet of office space and was built to accommodate logistics operations. The company ships finished products directly to retailers, said John Berg, director of marketing for Sussex.

“We just don’t make little widgets,” Everson said. “We literally are shipping finished, packaged products. We have to lay things out differently than it was 20 years ago.”

Sussex plans to maximize the site’s efficiency by running programs that are flexible in terms of how the production cells can be arranged.

“It is expensive to frequently rearrange molding presses to accommodate the additional space needs of a new project,” Berg said. “More often than not, a custom molder will lay out a new cell to fit an existing press environment because they cannot easily — physically or financially — shut down and move a number of other presses to make more room. Our new facility gives us planning options for improvement. Once we get to the point where it is so filled with manufacturing activities that we start to see capacity restraints, we can easily expand.”

At present, the new Sussex IM facility is being used for high-volume packaging and distribution services. The company’s plans include building an ISO 8 clean room and launching optimized turnkey manufacturing and product-validation cells.

Sussex still is trying to determine the volume of material that will be processed through the new site. The company deals with 130 to 140 grades of resin. It does not have rail access so it uses tankers and silos. The original plant houses 65 injection molding presses ranging from 25 tons to 955 tons of clamping force, with 10 presses that are capable of two-shot molding. Sussex also has one blow molding machine for making water bottles.

“We will be moving some of them over to our new facility,” Everson said.

One of the current manufacturing cells that Sussex feels is suited for eventual transfer is a two-stage process to create an athletic hydration bottle assembly. In process one, Sussex uses a robotic transfer injection molding method to create a dispensing cap with molded-in soft touch grip and internal seal. An inline automation system completes assembly by installing a valve and retention ring component. Process two integrates an injection molding machine, via a six-axis robot, with an accumulator head blow molding machine. Injection molded soft touch side grips are inserted into the blow mold along with an in-mold decorating film.

The final assembly is automatically vision inspected and leak tested.

“We measure the current total real estate devoted to the complete manufacture of the product as 980 square feet,” he said. “The additional elbow room of our new facility allows us to consider re-engineering the layout of the system based on the needs of the cell. It enables us, for example, to devote more space for in-and-out access for material handling. If we can optimize the process in any way with more layout flexibility and that means we need another 200 square feet, we can now commit the floor space.”


One of the key decsions with the new building was the ceiling height. Because it was expanded in phases, the original building has a variety of ceiling heights, from 20 to 25 feet, Everson said.

The new facility has a consistent ceiling height of 30 feet. This was important for several reasons, chief among those to accommodate an ISO Class 8 clean room for contract manufacturing and packaging products for Sussex’s health-care industry clients. Sussex plans to complete construction of the clean room early next year.

The ceiling height gives Sussex much more flexibility with the clean room and air systems. “When we were looking at putting a clean room in our existing facility, it just made more sense to put it into the new site versus trying to retrofit an older facility,” Everson said.

The ceiling height also allows for extended storage of finished goods and raw material inventory, Berg said.


Any manufacturer knows that space is expensive. Maximizing square footage is key, officials said.

“Clearly, a manufacturer like this, when we sit down with them, we’ll always want to maximize square footage on the building,” said Terry Koth, director of operations with Design 2 Construct, the design and construction firm that worked with Sussex. “This plant was no different. We had no less than a half a dozen iterations to figure out how to get the best square footage.”

A work cell features a combination of metal-insert, two-shot injection molding with several downstream value-added operations..

Everson’s goal was to become more efficient and also to allow for the square footage that will be needed for the fulfillment services it offers to its customers.

“We have always done cell manufacturing,” Everson said. “We have always done our assembly and automation at our presses. The presses and automation seem to be getting more complex. You need more space, and that is what we were able to do with this greenfield startup that we have.”

The space for the complex cells was carefully planned with automation and safety in mind. Individual press sizes involved in the manufacturing cell are a key driver to the final floor space needs. The new site will house more involved and expansive cells that integrate distinct production and value- added processes with product validation and final packaging operations. The company envisions a range of different space requirements for the cells, starting from less than 1,000 square feet to double or triple that as project requirements and budgets dictate.

“Our No. 1 priority is safety,” Everson said. “I want everyone to come to work healthy and to leave healthy. We have bigger areas for guarding and more complex assemblies. We are molding the product, and it comes off the line so that it is ready to be hung on a retail shelf.”

To accommodate expansion, the building has special features, Koth said. “We used high-efficiency insulated wall panels along the entire west wall,” he said, noting that they are 30 feet tall and 3 inches thick with a 24-gauge metal skin. “That is the wall that would be part of the new expansion when that goes. That was done in order to make expansion much easier. It was cost-effective, too.”

Due to use of the precast panels, Sussex also can add mezzanines as needed.

“We have done that, we will do that, and that is another reason we did a higher ceiling,” Everson said of using mezzanines. “That is definitely a trend. It is a much more efficient way of using your space.”

Officials also designed for safety on the outside of the facility. To help prevent accidents, the loading docks are located away from parking lots used by employees.

“When these trucks are coming into the facility, they divert and go to the right; any employee or visitor goes left,” Koth said. “The design keeps them separated, which is important for safety.”


The environmental considerations for the project were critical, officials said, and carefully thought-out for both the exterior and interior. The precast panels that make up 75 percent of the exterior walls have a no-thermal-break design with continuous insulation. The HVAC system is a rotational air system that is more efficient than traditional rooftop units. The company uses LED high-efficiency lighting throughout the building and double-pane, Low-E glass for energy efficiency.

The site borders wetlands, which the company protected by constructing two detention ponds that prevent flooding while limiting soil erosion and storm-water runoff.

Two integrated injection molding machines produce top and bottom housings for a specialty container. The two components are brought together via robotic end-of-arm tooling and placed on reorientation fixtures to accommodate hot-stamp decorating, assembly and validation processes.

Officials also wanted to find a way to economically use the bedrock that was blasted away during construction. Construction workers had to deal with bedrock that was jutting out of the ground. “The entire site is on bedrock,” Koth said. “We had very little soil at all, and in some places the rock was projected. With massive bedrock, you have to blast it.”

Koth said the company turned its experience with the bedrock from a negative into a positive. Contruction workers crushed the rock on site, which eliminated the need for trucking it out of the location. And, the company used it as the stone base under the building and parking lots.

When it came to environmental considerations, Sussex wanted to be a good neighbor, Everson said.

The village of Sussex has a tree policy that supports the community’s efforts to retain its rural character, Berg said. The trees that were cleared for the building, driveway, loading dock areas and parking lot needed to be replaced within the village at a cost up to the value of the trees removed, which was $100,000. Sussex planted 127 trees on the new lot and on the corporate headquarters and manufacturing facility lot.

“It’s all part of our culture,” he said. “We try to treat people the way we want to be treated. We try to have a nice-looking campus. If we have a bunch of trees in between us and our neighbors, it’s almost as if they do not know we are here.

“We want to use resources in our area; we do not want to stick out like a sore thumb; we want to blend in. That’s really the drive, just being a good neighbor,” he said.

Angie DeRosa, managing editor


For more information

Design 2 Construct Development Corp.,
Jackson, Wis., 262-677-9933,  www.design2construct.com

Sussex IM,
Sussex, Wis., 262-246-8022, www.sussexim.com