Craig Wiggins said it is easy to demonstrate what the automotive slowdown has done to mold makers based around Detroit, home of the Big Three automakers.
During a Feb. 10 news conference on the banks of the Detroit River in Windsor, across the street from Chrysler LLC's Canadian headquarters, he turned to representatives from about 20 different tooling firms.
How many of you shipped a tool six months ago that you haven't been paid for yet? Wiggins asked. Everyone put their hands up.
How many of you shipped a tool a year ago that you haven't been paid for? Wiggins continued. The hands stayed up.
That's what we're dealing with. We have customers who have been paid, but the money that [toolmakers] are owed isn't making it to us, Wiggins said.
Wiggins, a consultant with Tooling & Equipment Capital Solutions Inc. of Tecumseh, Ontario, is working with toolmakers to raise their profile among government leaders in Canada and the United States who are crafting bailouts for the North American auto industry.
Wiggins' recent efforts included a one-week series of traveling news conferences from Windsor to Ottawa, to encourage language in Canada's C$4 billion ($3.2 billion) automotive bailout that would ensure that mold and die makers get paid by their customers in a timely way.
Canadian tooling firms and organizations also will work with the American Mold Builders Association of Rolling Meadows, Ill., to lobby U.S. lawmakers in Washington.
Within the auto industry, vehicle manufacturers ship payments for their tools through the suppliers that are making parts with those tools. At one time, payments could take 60 to 90 days. Now, the money is not arriving for weeks or months.
While major parts suppliers complain about not getting paid for 45 days, some toolmakers have been waiting 540, Wiggins said.
Toolmakers are not looking for a government bailout of their own, said Thomas Barr, president of TK Mold & Engineering Inc. of Romeo, Mich. He said toolmakers want to make sure that the automotive bailout is framed so as to be fair to hundreds of small shops at the base of the auto industry.
The U.S.-Canadian lobbying effort focuses on ensuring that money contracted for tooling actually goes to pay for tools, and that those payments are made in a reasonable period, Barr said.
One toolmaker at the Windsor event noted that his firm has been waiting since December 2007 to get paid for tools built for an instrument panel, a payment complicated by the fact that the work went through Cadence Innovation LLC, which entered bankruptcy in October 2008.
The money the automaker paid Cadence for the tooling was supposed to pass through quickly to the tooling firm; instead, the cash has been held up by the bankruptcy.
Nearly every toolmaker has had the same issue come up from bankruptcies that have rocketed throughout the automotive supply base, Wiggins said.
Barr said companies like TK Mold, with fewer than 20 employees, cannot raise much noise on their own. But working together, tooling firms hope they can make their concerns heard.
If you like to root for the underdog, that's who we are, Wiggins said.