The mold-making industry is at a crossroads, whether we´re aware of it or not. It is ironic that the results of our labor can run millions of parts before needing an overhaul, but our industry appears to be so fragile that the next downturn in the market could force a significant number of mold makers out of business. This downsizing will occur as a result of the way that we manage industry challenges and the operational philosophies that are employed to address customer needs.
When a customer steps up its requirements of mold makers, the common answer for many shops is to look at computers and machinery. Or when customers look for increased efficiencies, many in the mold-making industry have a tendency to say, "We´re doing the best we can; we´ve already made improvements," or, "We know what we are doing; we´ve been doing this for years." As a result, they take a problem and compound it in their minds. The operating methods of the past must be renewed into a new paradigm of continuous improvement for the future.
What is wrong with customers that desire lower costs, and why shouldn´t they expect to be profitable? Similarly, mold makers are in business to be profitable, and we owe it to ourselves as responsible business owners to manage our businesses accordingly. So do we sit back and complain about it while we watch our businesses deteriorate? Do we blame the customers or outside influences for doing this to us? Or do we accept the challenge and do something proactive about it?
It´s fairly obvious that the latest computers and productive machinery are some of the necessary investments that a successful mold shop must make. But "thinking power," that´s the real high-tech machinery we have. The ingenuity of those people who are creative enough to constantly look for better ways of doing things, especially the simple basics, is the real asset a company possesses for its future. Investment in time and effort must be made to continually improve our process for the design and manufacture of the molds. This does not just mean from an equipment or technology point of view. Rather it must include our methods and techniques for doing things, such as advance quality planning, schedule control, process flow, organization and the elimination of waste.
North American mold makers must realize that they are operating in a global economy. As the leader of my businesses, I am challenging our personnel to new heights. As president of the Southeastern Michigan Chapter of the American Mold Builders Association, I encourage our industry to consider new options to remain competitive.
We must continually try to raise the bar through challenging ourselves to meet customers´ needs. If we don´t, somebody in the world will. Our future is strictly based on our own ability to continue to drive improvement in our own operations.
Karl Van Blankenburg
American Team Inc.
Harrison Township, Mich.