Each mold that leaves Jepson Precision Tool Inc.'s shop floor comes with an owner's manual.
The book, compiled by Jepson staff, includes engineering data, specifics about the hot-runner system, details on bushings, pins and other components, as well as emergency contact information.
Any time Jepson's customers run into problems or need a replacement part, it's just a matter of grabbing the book and finding needed information quickly, said company founder Dan Jepson. As a result, Jepson said, customers can reduce downtime for mold repairs.
Customer relations tools, such as the owner's manual, have become important for the Cranesville, Pa.-based company in the competitive tooling industry, in which everyone is looking for an edge.
``When you come right down to it, in tool and die making you're selling your time,'' Jepson said in an April 7 telephone interview.
The best mold makers have invested in lean manufacturing and technology that allows them to compete, he said.
``The difference I have to bring is customer service,'' he said. ``A lot of it is upfront in marketing and engineering, working with customers in developing their tool and having good communication in follow-up on every tool.''
Added together, Jepson's efforts are paying off.
The company is in the midst of an expansion that will double its manufacturing floor space to 72,000 square feet. For now the toolmaker will take advantage of that additional space to spread out some of the new equipment it has purchased during the past four years in anticipation of the expansion.
Within six months, Jepson said, the company will consider other investments in capital equipment.
There has been no single secret formula to success, he said. The company found a niche for itself in building close-tolerance molds - for the medical, closure and consumer products markets - used in injection molding machines of 500 tons or smaller.
But the company also has faced the same pressures as toolmakers elsewhere in North America.
``For many years, we almost seemed to have a surplus of business. Then, starting in late 2000, we had to deal with tough times and it came one after another,'' he said. ``The first time you get hit [with a downturn], it really hits you hard. It's hard to see how you're going to get out of it.
``But then you learn how to handle it, so you're better prepared the next time something happens,'' he said.
Jepson pushed for lean manufacturing techniques on the shop floor to improve and speed up production. The firm has purchased new machining centers, turning centers and inspection equipment, and routinely has lights-out production.
Mold manuals and other outreach efforts are another avenue to build business, in addition to streamlining production.
``I talk to a lot of people who don't know what to do next,'' Jepson said. ``There's been a lot of transition in the industry, and for us, it's been a combination of so many things: lean manufacturing, sales and customer service.
``For a lot of years, it wasn't like that. If you were a good toolmaker, you'd open the door and customers would come to you. Now, you've got to find [the customers] and convince them about what you can do to help them.''