Many times I have heard people talking about improving the deliveries of injection molds. Invariably, it seems that the responsibility for completing the tooling as quickly as possible falls upon the tool shop.
Granted, there have been many improvements to the tool and die technology that allows us to manufacture from three-dimensional models supplied by the customer or developed according to their instructions. But there are some other obstacles that disrupt accelerated delivery schedules.
All the technology in the world and all the expensive, computer-operated equipment can´t get the job done any faster if it is already busy. Any tool shop that has an active customer list has a backlog of work.
Many customers who have requested rapid deliveries fail to understand why we can´t just drop everything and work on their project. We have attempted to form tighter partnerships with our customers, especially during product development. That allows us to make suggestions that might simplify the tooling and allows us to reserve time in our schedule to coincide with theirs.
Since our average backlog in the shop is six to eight weeks, it is fortunate that it often takes that long for product models to be completed.
The other impediment to rapid delivery is when a customer requests changes once the machining process has begun; nothing causes more disruption to a well-planned project. Minor changes often can be accommodated, but those that require significant changes to the mold geometry or tool design can be catastrophic.
I don´t know that there is any guaranteed solution to this problem. The best is to be involved in the project as early as possible. We always recommend that our customers have stereolithographic models or rapid-prototyping tooling built to prove their theories and concepts long before we start to build production tooling.
The concept of rapid-delivery tooling is great. In practice, the only way it can work is to form a close partnership and keep channels of communication open at all times. There is the responsibility of both the tool shops and the customers to complete benchmarks in the project cycle — but it scares many disorganized customers when the delivery of their tooling directly coincides with their ability to complete their models as required and to control changes as much as is possible.
Can molds be built in six to eight weeks from the release of the three-dimensional model? We have proven that they can, if the customer is willing to truly be a partner with the tool shop.
Daniel W. Jepson
Jepson Precision Tool Inc.