Mold-components supplier D-M-E Co. plans to ask thousands of North American tooling companies in late March to fill out an online survey to help present the toolmakers' case to a congressional commission investigating unfair global competition.
The Madison Heights, Mich., company - one of the mold-making industry's largest suppliers of parts and hot-runner systems - wants to gather hard data on the number of jobs and amount of business lost to competitors outside North America.
The company's database shows hundreds of companies that have closed their doors during the past five years and hundreds more that have downsized, said D-M-E President Jerry Lirette.
``Too many shops are hanging on at a meager level now,'' Lirette said.
The company will send out more than a thousand letters to tooling-company executives during the week of March 11 asking them to partake in the Web-based, third-party survey.
The results, to be collected by March 31 and analyzed in April, will be presented to the U.S. International Trade Commission in Washington. The ITC was authorized in January by the House Ways and Means Committee to investigate the issue, involving the imbalance between import and export duties on tools.
D-M-E hopes to be called to ITC's hearings, which begin May 21.
The issue, and D-M-E's involvement, divides those at mold-making associations. The American Mold Builders Association of Roselle, Ill., has argued against what it considers unfair trade policies. Meanwhile, the National Tooling & Machining Association of Fort Washington, Md., has taken a middle ground.
NTMA President Matt Coffey said the problem lies more with finished-parts producers moving to China, not with tools exported from there.
Still, the ITC investigation, to be completed in October, is a positive step, Coffey said. The information collected will help the industry understand the scope of the problem before actions can be taken, he said.
But ITC is funding its own survey of U.S. toolmakers, he said. The commission also will gather information on the subsidizing of tooling by other countries.
``The ITC is looking at the whole world, and they are bending over backwards to get this done,'' Coffey said. ``They will survey everyone, and it's going to be a giant step forward on the data side. If people want to send out their own surveys, it will just confuse matters.''
NTMA is forming a coalition of mold and die associations and companies to help in the ITC investigation, he said.
But D-M-E's effort could help plastic mold makers, said Bill Wood, president of Mountaintop Economics and Research Inc. in Colrain, Mass. Many of those firms do not have a voice in NTMA, which includes more die makers and machinists than mold makers, and they have not presented the issue in a unified way.
``This is critical if we're going to survive this as a viable entity,'' Wood said. ``I don't think a small handful of people has enough clout or the resources to do this. D-M-E has the clout.''
AMBA President Olav Bradley was attending his association's convention in Puerto Rico and could not be reached.
D-M-E, a division of Cincinnati-based Milacron Inc., plans to create a link from its Web site that allows North American toolmakers to fill out the survey form on an independent site. The information will be collected by Veris Consulting LLC of Reston, Va.
With limited time before the hearings begin, the company opted to offer the survey online rather than by mail or fax, said Dave Lawrence, D-M-E North America general manager. The form will be available around March 18, and all responses will be confidential.
Respondents will be asked a series of questions about work hours, employee numbers, profitability, layoffs, and the top countries against which the shop competes.
The survey only will be effective if enough toolmakers respond in the two-week time frame, Lirette said. The company is attempting to get the attention of thousands of mold, tool and stamping-die shops.
``Without the hard data, the investigation is not going to have nearly the impact,'' he said ``We need to get a substantial amount of data back to really make our case.''
He added: ``This affects thousands of people. China may not be today's biggest import/export threat, but it will be tomorrow.''