At Tool Town's new technical services center, tooling is only part of the equation.
The facility, based in Brampton, Ontario, is starting to ship in molding machines from its customers. One of its first, a 650-ton injection press, arrived in April and was set up at the center by StackTeck Systems Inc., which runs Tool Town.
Within a week of delivery, a mold made by one of StackTeck's three toolmaking companies - Tradesco Mold Ltd., Unique Mould Makers Ltd. and Fairway Molds Inc. - was placed in the press. The equipment was moved to a test room, where the parts were debugged and robotics added to form a complete turnkey molding package.
The entire system, including the machine and mold, then were sent to a StackTeck customer, fully tested and running at a cycle time that the customer expects, said Fernando Segovia, vice president of business development at Brampton-based StackTeck.
``It is the only way to ensure that all requirements are met from a customer,'' Segovia said. ``Traditionally, what we've been doing is selling molds. We very quickly understand now that customers are looking for more from us.''
StackTeck is selling a complete mold package as a means to give customers some peace of mind, Segovia said. Its new, 25,000-square-foot center, with another 100,000 square feet reserved for expansion, is a testament to its belief that something outside conventional mold making is needed.
Others are trying to shake the chain of traditional toolmaking. While the main business of cutting steel has not changed, many companies are looking to put together a better-rounded package of mold and equipment for customers.
``Because of the competition, some aggressive time-to-market strategies have to be implemented,'' said John Berg, marketing director of MGS Manufacturing Inc., a sprawling mold maker in Germantown, Wis., that has a growing molding operation. ``There's competition not only from Asia but from Canadian toolmakers. You have to capitalize on your existing business.''
MGS is doing that through expansion. The company is adding 90,000 square feet at the Germantown plant, where the company performs both molding and mold making. The project, to be completed in mid-September, will raise the plant's height by 4 feet, allowing portable injection units to be added at the facility, Berg said.
Another 40-60 percent of the space will be used to store materials and inventory, Berg said.
The company, originally a maker of injection molds, for several years has delivered turnkey systems to customers. It assembles the portable injection units - including equipment for multishot molding, a rotary platen and a control panel - that can be used with its molds.
And at MGS' Libertyville, Ill., facility, a dozen injection presses were added last year. The company is creating a lights-out manufacturing operation there.
A new approach also is in the works at injection mold maker Reko International Group Inc. of Oldcastle, Ontario. During the past 18 months, the company has attempted to reduce production time by ugrading its manufacturing process, said Chief Operating Officer Gordon Young.
That has included adding automated equipment and reconfiguring different machining centers, Young said. Engineers can follow the path of a tool through its campus facilities and better manage production scheduling, he said.
Another change involves improving the way Reko ties together mold production with other operations. The company operates separate divisions for automation systems, fixturing to hold the molds in place and assembly operations, Young said.
``There's going to be more of an interface,'' Young said. ``If we are awarded an [automotive] door-panel program, we are responsible for developing molds, concurrently developing the fixturing and, if needed, integrating it with the assembly process. We have to be flexible.''
The desire to be more flexible is a primary reason why last year StackTeck consolidated into one location two of its mold-making firms, called Tool Town. The move saved money and time and helps it sell a complete package of services, said David Brown, StackTeck chief executive officer and president.
The new technology center will complete about six or seven turnkey packages a year, Brown said. Many of those projects will add in-mold labeling systems developed by StackTeck and a joint venture partner in France.
``Less jobs are being built, there's more competition to get the same projects and it's gotten to be a bit of a dogfight,'' Brown said. ``Some mold makers like us are crossing disciplines. We do what we need to do to keep our shop busy.''