How does your company stay competitive? Easy question with an easy answer - the customers pay you for the parts you ship. You subtract the cost of labor and material and the leftover money generates the funds for your paycheck and the investments you make to keep on top of your game.
But who pays for the rejects? Who pays for the slow cycle times? Who pays for the extra labor to hand trim parts? Who pays for the inconsistent machine cycles? Who pays for that machine that is continually bleeding oil on the floor? Another easy answer: It's a Corporate Payroll Deduction. All those extra costs add to the labor and material that get subtracted from sales to generate your company's cash flow.
What if you could buy ``competitive insurance''? You'd pay a monthly premium, but when there was no money because your costs exceeded your sales dollars, this policy would kick in. Yes, you'd gripe every time you made the payment, but you'd be grateful when the policy paid off when you needed it.
This insurance policy has a name. It's called maintenance. Like medical insurance you can never emotionally justify it when everything is going good, but can't live without it when things go bad.
1) Machines are like your car: Take care of the moving parts, keep it clean, change/filter the fluids, make sure things are properly lubricated and kept in alignment and they will (literally) last forever. Well-maintained equipment will outperform a badly maintained machine 5-15 percent. This means 19 well-maintained machines can have the minimal performance of 20 poorly maintained machines.
2) Molds are moving springs. They are constantly compressed and relieved; they don't like to be smashed or squashed. They don't like to run dry, but neither do they need to be slathered with grease. Yes, occasionally they need to have minor components replaced. If you inject plastic in, you need to let the air get out. Keeping a mold in a constant state of full cavitation is not an option, but a requirement in making your own paycheck. Running three out of four cavities has the effect of increasing the molded part cost by 32 percent. Unless you've been very lucky in your profit margins, it might be cheaper to ship a few $20 bills to your customer than produce parts from this mold.
3) You shouldn't have your car worked on by a bunch of well-meaning but utterly untrained amateurs. Maintenance also means training the machine mechanics, the tool and die folks and the process techs. Nothing can run up a list of needed repairs faster than an untrained process tech. He can smash molds, burn materials, jerk machines off their mountings, and a host of other innocent but still costly mistakes that take money from the paychecks of everyone.
4) Maintenance also means a commitment to having spare parts: Things break and wear out. There is almost nothing more costly than not running a job because you're waiting for a replacement part for a mold or machine.
Did I mention items 1-4 cost money?
Many molders have the ``if it ain't broke, don't fix it'' philosophy because they view maintenance as an extremely expensive line item in their budget that has no visible result. Actually that's exactly what maintenance should be - something that costs money with its only merit being the lack of breakdowns and running at a high-productivity level.
Companies that religiously train their people and maintain their equipment and molds end up with a continuous stream of profit. Those that don't jump from crisis to crisis, whose costs at the end of the year are more than regular maintenance.
Maintenance is like health insurance. If you ``go naked,'' the only time you find out the cost of your kid's broken leg from his weekend soccer game (the ride in the ambulance and the four hours in the emergency room) is equal to the cost of your daughter's wedding is when they send you the bill. But by then it's too late.
Is maintenance too costly? Only if you think it is. But here's a simple test: Don't do it, wait for the bill, and try to figure out how to stay competitive.
Bill Tobin is owner of WJT Associates Inc., a consulting firm specializing in injection molding based in Louisville, Colo.