The March 23 article ``U.S. mold builders battle international competition'' prompted this view from the other side of the border.
While the increase in mold builders in the Windsor, Ontario, area sounded impressive, the data given was on shops listed as mold-related work suppliers, including machine shops and molders, model builders and designers.
The increase was in listings and not the number of mold builders. Indeed, Canada has also seen a number of mold builders go under over the years.
Instead, what the focus of interest should be is how we all, Canadian and U.S. mold makers, can work together in the next few years to continue to assert our position in the global market.
In the ear1y 1980s, the Asian invasion of the automobile market prompted that industry to reassess its market, its products and consumers' attitudes. As a result, North American cars improved dramatically in quality. Today, vehicles from this continent have a far stronger share of the global market.
Cooperation at the time played a major role. In the Windsor area, workers and customers alike sported stickers saying ``Buy the cars your neighbours helped to build,'' and the patriotic North American spirit took over. Would it be time for a similar attitude in the mold market?
The image of the Canadian mold maker taking advantage of the strong U.S. dollar is only half true. Let us not forget that the Canadian mold maker has to import the machinery on which he builds his molds. Usually the supplier is U.S.- based — Cincinnati Milacron, Sharnoa, Makino and Charmilles typically come to mind.
Also, the material used for the molds usually is imported from the States. D-M-E and Incoe heaters and manifolds are just two of the many items installed in molds from Canada. All are paid for in the stronger currency: yours. So, who would be losing if stronger import barriers were erected on your side of the border?
The only item where Canadian value is added in the ``Molds Made in Canada'' would be the labor and quality section.
I was very pleased at NPE '97 to be told repeatedly by visitors to our Canadian Association of Moldmakers booth that they had been to other places offshore like Taiwan and Europe, and while prices seemed incredible at the time, the end product did not reflect value in its cost. One visitor had to rebuild a whole mold. Another lost the profits on required overseas travel.
Time, travel, quality and communication seemed to be great factors in the decision to come back to Canadian suppliers. I admit, it made me proud at the time. Surprisingly, the Canadian molds are not always cheaper, although they offer excellent value. Because of a skilled-trades shortage, our labor prices are equal if not higher than in the United States, even with the exchange rate. Our taxes are higher than south of our border, and our social benefits require a bigger share paid by employers.
In short, mold makers are pretty equal on both sides of the border.
We have seen the problem: There is competition on other continents. And we should look at it from a continental point of view, rather than a small regional (read ``domestic'') one. Our economics are tied too closely to each other to accept a different view. Our next step should be the consideration of what we could offer our customers to convince them to stay within North America.
The answer would probably be quality, time and value.
We need to ensure sufficient labor within our ranks to supply these three products.
We need to train the next generation of mold builders on the best equipment and ensure they know the latest techniques. We also need to instill in them high ethical standards concerning the quality required to compete globally.
We also have to learn what offshore competition does to become so strong.
Cooperation among competitors is evident. Many countries are home to competing companies who work together rather than fight each other.
I first noticed this in the early 1980s when I looked for a car and saw strong similarities between the makes of three Japanese small cars. Certain components of the body were the same shape, adapting well to the other proprietary lines of the cars.
Imagine costs saved by manufacturers in the design and tooling for the cars. Savings passed on to the consumer and forged a wedge into the Western markets.
Is something similar possible in Canada and the United States? Such cooperation not just between firms but between our two countries can yield tremendous strengths we will need in the future to remain alive. And cooperation does not mean taking over and dominating the other, but rather working together, developing mutual strength and using the partners' advantages in a combined effort to continue to produce the best molds in the world — made in North America.
Kroes is executive director of the Canadian Association of Moldmakers in Windsor, Ontario.