Hot-runner supplier Mold-Masters Ltd. plans to open its first plant in China by the end of 2003 as part of a major overhaul of the company's products and operations.
The company will launch a 75,000-square-foot plant in Kunshan, China, to manufacture hot-runner systems for that market, Mold-Masters President Jonathon Fischer said in a June 22 interview at NPE 2003 in Chicago. The plant will start with between 35 and 50 employees.
The Georgetown, Ontario, company has purchased 15 acres of land at the site, located west of Shanghai, and has room to expand the plant eventually to as much as 300,000 square feet, Fischer said.
While China presents a significant opportunity because of its rampant growth in manufacturing, the company will enter the market cautiously, he said. Mold-Masters initially will sell its less-sophisticated technology in China, saving its state-of-the-art products for other regions, Fischer said. Preserving intellectual property is an issue, he said.
``China is an expansion market that is very large and growing rapidly,'' he said. ``But it's somewhat like the Wild West. You have to protect your technology. Also, the knowledge level there will take several years to develop.''
The SARS epidemic, also an issue at Mold-Masters' base near Toronto, has slightly delayed construction of the new plant in China, Fischer said. Architects on the project have had to stay in Canada to work on plans for the site instead of flying to Shanghai, he said.
But the epidemic should only present a temporary problem, he said. The growth in Asia has put the project on the front burner, he said.
The company also has revamped both its core hot-runner products and its North American operations over the past two years, Fischer said. The company has increased North American capacity by 35-40 percent by changing out equipment and taking a leaner, team approach to projects, he said.
The Georgetown facility has implemented a series of moves to automate its processes, adding robotics and creating manufacturing cells, he said. The company also is using both Six Sigma and lean-manufacturing techniques, including forming work teams to take responsibility for projects. Those teams now e-mail corrective action reports to solve plant issues, he said.
The changes come at a time when the company has upgraded its core products under its new Master-Series. Since early 2001, the company has developed a series of new materials and properties for its hot-runner systems. The new runners use proprietary materials to provide improved protection against leaks and better thermal conductivity, said Patrick Bennett, director of marketing and international sales.
Those systems provide the perfect heat profile, Bennett said. They include the use of the plastic flowing into the system as a protective gasket that borders the edge of the nozzle, he said.
``The Master-Series is now our flagship product,'' he said. The products build on Mold-Masters' long-standing Dura product line.
The company also has enhanced its Merlin online design and ordering system. The new system allows a customer to configure a hot-runner system to a particular machine or mold using online tools, Fischer said.
The company quietly has made changes in its operations over the past 18 months, Fischer said. The moves come as Mold-Masters celebrates its 40th anniversary and makes a transition to becoming a larger firm, he said.
Started by Jobst and Waltraud Gellert, the firm has converted from its entrepreneurial, owner-centered past to a team management philosophy, Fischer said. It also has become more global, with a new plant in Brazil and expanded German operations.
Even the Mold-Masters logo is new. The old double-M image has been replaced with a series of lines representing a heated nozzle and looking a bit like the sails on a schooner.
The company is celebrating its anniversary with a wildly interactive NPE booth that includes animated plasma screens showing an interactive tour of products and an ampitheater for twice-an-hour seminars. A large, stadium-style screen offers images of the firm's tools and products.
``People used to go to NPE to see and be seen,'' he said. ``Now, in this economy, they are looking more at gaining knowledge that they can use at their companies.''