SCOTTSDALE, ARIZ. — A trip to Asia last year convinced Roger Klouda of the urgent need to make changes at his Cedar Rapids, Iowa, toolmaking company.
"The whole key to our industry today is being nimble and quick," said Klouda, president of MSI Mold Builders.
The company has added equipment, restructured to a system of departmental specialization and worked to slash mold-delivery times.
"I fought going to specialization" and companywide manufacturing disciplines, he said. "I thought we could use cross-functional work teams to take that mold maker and make him so much better. It did make him better, but it didn't make the organization as good as we needed to be to compete in the world market."
The trip to Hong Kong, China and Singapore was sponsored by the Washington-based Society of the Plastics Industry Inc. and the U.S. Department of Commerce.
MSI has cut mold-delivery times to eight weeks or less within the past six months. Klouda will exhibit parts made with those molds during the SPI Structural Plastics Division conference in Atlanta April 1-3.
"Many people can build a mold in eight weeks," he said. "You've got to build a lot of molds in eight weeks to say you supply eight-week molds, and we have."
Here are two examples:
MSI delivered a set of tools worth $500,000 in six weeks for a medical-computer project in Florida. "It was probably six months" of work usually, he said. "Now we have to do everything [for that client] in six weeks."
An Ohio customer ordered four tools for a water-treatment application. MSI turned two of the tools within four weeks and was on track to complete two deep-draw molds within seven weeks. "These would have been 10-week tools" a year ago, he said.
On the equipment front, MSI purchased two large OKK vertical machining centers and another OKK high-speed machine. MSI also has an order for a Haas machine, he said.
MSI's transition is not complete, but most employees are adapting to better planning, staging and monitoring and the need for urgency. Workers now have an easier time making tools in eight weeks than they did in 14 weeks the "old-fashioned way," he said.
"It is not simple to change a culture," Klouda said. "We are probably six months to a year to having all that turned around" with the same number of employees.
Overtime is not the answer.
"You can't afford it, you can't kill people like that, [and] it is just expensive," he said.
MSI employs about 85-90 at a 40,000-square-foot facility in Cedar Rapids and 15-20 at a 10,000-square-foot site in Bentonville, Ark.
The company dates back to 1971, when Klouda's parents started Manufacturing Specialties Inc., which still is the legal name of the business. Edwin Klouda, now 83, "gave me all the tools to make my own decisions," his son said.
MSI's location in Iowa means "we are not in the hotbed of mold making" but also "we have no ingrained thoughts," Klouda said.
Roger Klouda is a director at large on SPI's executive board and also a director of the American Mold Builders Association. He was interviewed at AMBA's 2001 convention in Scottsdale.
Klouda encourages professionals in mold making to get outside their comfort zone. At conferences and on trade missions, "you will see things that will scare you and amaze you," he said.