Business is slow for many mold makers on the East Coast and in the Midwest, possibly because 1996 is an election year but also because the economy isn't doing as well as predicted. ``We're quoting more now than ever, sometimes two or three new molds a day, but people aren't buying,'' said C. Andrew Rosenholm, a principal in family-owned OAR Mold Works.
To offset the slump in mold-building projects, Rosenholm began seeking out maintenance and repair work from major original equipment manufacturers that have in-house molding but lack maintenance and repair capabilities.
``One of the things we do a lot of is mold repair, but not every mold shop wants to do repair,'' Rosenholm explained.
He started focusing on repair work last year, when mold building dropped off. Today, it is a major part of his company's business.
Recently, Rosenholm contracted with a manufacturer of power tools to do all of the firm's mold maintenance, repair and sampling of its 150 molds. Rosenholm has one full-time person coordinating the effort with the OEM. OAR charges for time and materials only and does not quote individual jobs, which saves time when an emergency repair is needed.
``You have to have a trusting relationship with the OEM to work this way so that they have confidence that you're honest,'' he said
The OEM pays for the repairs on a credit card, which is how the company tracks everything.
OAR deals almost exclusively with OEMs because the trend is for OEMs to eliminate in-house mold-repair functions to save money.
Also, many OEMs don't want to invest in the equipment it takes to do repair. To do repair work right, a shop still needs expensive mold-making equipment, Rosenholm said.
``But it's hard to justify the equipment if it's only running part of the time.''
OAR is equipped with computer numerically controlled machinery, but has all its manual equipment as well, including eight pantograph machines. ``We can still do the little jobs economically, but with 20 production employees, 15 of those journeymen mold makers, we can handle everything from start to finish,'' Rosenholm said.
Several trends among OEM customers is helping create work for OAR. To save money, many OEMs revive old molds to make new parts, rather than spend money on new molds.
Rosenholm said one customer went hunting through old molds they had stored on the shelf, and found two they could modify to create a new products.
Additionally, Rosenholm gets many molds that need engineering changes as product changes are needed.
And, he sees quite a few Chinese and Portuguese-built molds that need rebuilding.
OAR's repair jobs do not take long, so scheduling time lines are short.
It is also a good training ground for OAR's apprentices who get first-hand experience with every phase of mold making and molding, because they also participate in the sampling of the mold after repairs are made.
One drawback to doing a lot of repair work is boredom of the mold makers.
``I rotate people on and off of it to keep them from getting bored,'' Rosenholm said.
Rosenholm hopes that his customers like his repair work so much, they will buy new molds from OAR in the future.
``We're not straying away from building new molds, because a shop needs to build new molds to keep that edge in technology,'' Rosenholm emphasized. ``But repair is a good way to expand business and provides great fill-in work.''