Maybe the Chinese beat your business with low-cost manufacturing, but you can win orders back, with help from, still, the Chinese.
Take some advice from Binghamton, N.Y.-based ECK Plastic Arts Inc., a toolmaker and low-volume molder that performs rapid prototyping, injection molding and thermoforming. By sourcing molds from China, ECK won back work from a U.S. customer that had turned to Chinese vendors for molded parts.
``We re-created jobs by using Chinese tooling,'' design engineer Philip Willson said. ``We are following our customers to Asia.''
Willson said he started to notice the Chinese tooling industry in 1996. ``I read an article where a Chinese industrial association said China will take 90 percent of the world's mold-making business.''
Around 2000, large-volume molders swarmed to China as the country opened up to the West. Meanwhile, low-volume molders stayed in the United States, chased by toolmakers.
``The tooling market became more competitive. It was hard to justify tooling for low-volume molding. Customers found other ways to manufacture and we lost jobs. Basically, the jobs were dead.''
But Willson started to do research on the Internet, talk to suppliers and get quotes.
``We tried molds from China on a small project and it went well. We've been doing it for four or five years since then,'' he said.
ECK no longer makes tools in the United States. Instead, it sources molds from China, Taiwan, South Korea, Portugal and South Africa.
Willson said molds bought from China are mostly single-cavity ones.
``We've also received a couple offers from suppliers in China to open joint ventures,'' he said.
ECK's Chinese tooling partner, DC Mould - also known as Dong Cheng Jing Gong Ltd. - exhibited at NPE in Chicago. President Tony Zhang said the company runs a 43,000-square-foot plant in Shenzhen and a 4,306-square-foot plant in Shanghai. Mostly serving original equipment manufacturers, DC Mould said its end customers include BMW, Audi, Volkswagen, Ford, Sony, Philips, Canon, Panasonic, Foxconn, Casio and Emerson. The company is opening a sales office in Germany this year.
With annual sales of $5 million, DC Mould ships 80 percent of its products to Europe and North America, and the value of exports has doubled annually in recent years.
ECK employs 20, operates a 40,000-square-foot facility in Binghamton and posted $6 million in sales last year.