Now more than ever, American customers for plastic injection molds and die-cast dies need and should demand more than just cheap upfront quotes for projects. Among the things they should require from mold builders are value, economy, service throughout the life span of their tooling and the assurance that their projects will be delivered safely and on time.
Those ``whole picture'' values are usually available to American mold buyers when they buy from and invest in U.S. mold makers. They are services mold buyers cannot expect or get outside of the United States. Many American buyers overlook these benefits, and end up suffering later on.
If domestic purchasing agents knew how we jump through hoops for our customers, perhaps they would not continue to send their projects offshore. Other major problems domestic mold buyers can encounter in international markets are:
* Political instability and terrorist threats, which adversely impact delivery reliability.
* Uncertainty that production will meet international quality standards.
* Projects (more than one or two cavities) that are often too sophisticated for foreign suppliers like those in China.
* The need to send an engineer to convey the concept.
* Before shipment, the need to have a person there for a pre-production trial run.
* Cost increases and delays in shipping.
* Impact of upfront payments on toolmakers' cash flow in a U.S. economy that is in recession.
* The need to rework or service new molds locally before they can be used.
* Production delays due to breakdowns, lost machine time and inability to get immediate repairs or servicing.
* Unreliable prints and computer data.
* Difficulty in being paid large dollars on schedule.
* U.S. projects may be copied and reproduced by a foreign supplier and sold for less worldwide.
Millions of U.S. dollars for mold building and engineering go to China, but what happens if that country threatens or attacks Taiwan or supports terrorism, and then we retaliate? Should American corporations then pull out of China? How fast can we retool to meet their demands if half of the American toolmakers have had to close their shops? If our people keep losing their jobs, how can they afford their children's education, a plumber, an electrician or a new car? This is what I mean by ``the whole picture'' - how exporting work impacts American employers' sales and profit, and the individual American's standard of living.
If the current trend of U.S. buyers giving their business to foreign manufacturers continues, most mold making and engineering could be lost permanently to other countries. Eventually we will not have American toolmakers, molders, engineers or purchasing agents.
The American government itself is to blame for this problem by providing tax incentives for giving business to foreign governments. We have a 3.31 percent tariff on a $30,000 mold coming into the United States, while at the same time China has a Most Favored Nation rate of 12 percent plus a value-added tax of 17 percent on molds that they import from us. This 29 percent does not sound like fair trade, in my opinion.
An irony is that my company, Helm Tool, is looking at selective international markets now. It's ironic because we have to go offshore just to find American mold buyers!
It's not that we are opposed to exporting. Rather, to us, a ``global'' economy means giving everyone a fair opportunity, including American mold builders. It doesn't mean excluding us.
Mueller is president of Helm Tool Co. Inc., an Elk Grove Village, Ill., maker of injection molds and die-cast dies.