Overheard at the dinner table at a recent mold builder's association meeting:
“We were able to get so integrated with our customer's product development process that we essentially built the mold before the product specs were locked. This way, we campaigned for them to allow us to sample the tool at the originally intended wall thickness.
“We had built in the ability to alter the wall thickness and re-sample, and then further adjust the wall thickness and again re-sample. Each time, they'd run their drop test, and together we could determine the absolute minimum wall thickness.
“In the end, we arrived at that, and the savings in the material was easily calculated to be $375,000 the first year — and we think about $750,000 annually — for a tool that will run for years.”
That story sparked a colleague to then share a similar tale, but one that was on the maintenance side of mold building:
“A nearby molder kept sending us these tools that they really got a ‘good deal' on. At first, it was amusing to see this junk, and we felt vindicated over what we build here at home,” the storyteller said. “But then at some point, after endless attempts at getting these things production capable, it was driving everyone involved a little batty.
“So I told my customer, ‘Look, I'll happily put my kid through college servicing these tools forever, but this is ridiculous. Let's do it right,' and I did the math with him on the return on investment of new tooling.
“Ultimately, we provided production-ready tools that had a faster cycle time, a smaller footprint that allowed running in smaller presses at a lower hourly rate, and the maintenance is now at predictable increments.
“We were able to cocktail-napkin sketch an annual savings of $80,000 and a really fast ROI. They canned the tooling engineer that handled the original project.”
Then the mood at the table turned from pride in having won a customer's highest trust to a kind of helplessness, when a third mold shop owner said, “Why don't they all ‘get' that?”
Back in the good old days for America's mold builders — when we humans were converting parts from metal to plastic and new products were being churned out on a colossal scale — dinner conversations might be peppered with talk of wintertime condos, toy car comparisons, and the recent antics of a maverick mold shop owner on an industry junket.
That was then. Now, one is more likely to overhear mold builders comparing notes — even “one-upping” each other — about the value that they know they bring to the table.
The past decade has not just seen a “survival of the fittest,” but also the “survival of the enthusiast.”
It has often been said that mold shop owners are not good business people.
From an objective outside perspective, an astute business mind might cringe at the capital investment requirement for a business with such a short backlog of future work. Investors aren't clamoring to get in on mold-building action. It can be debated whether the prioritization of customers and employees ahead of net profits at year's end makes for a good or bad business owner.
What doesn't need debate is whether a mold builder's value is being properly communicated: Those in the industry would mostly give themselves a low grade in that department. Hopefully, that's changing.
The American Mold Builders Association now has an active marketing program going out to original equipment manufacturers and buyers. Beyond simply exhibiting at shows, there's an online “Mold Buyers Corner” with regular e-mails sent. Also, there are recognition opportunities for mold builders such as the Mold Builder of the Year [and] AMBA Chapter of the Year, as well as the Leadtime Leader awards.
Unfortunately, most mold builders — technology enthusiasts who don't crave the limelight — do not nominate themselves or their companies for recognition. But recognize we must, for it is not only good for those receiving acknowledgment from their peers, it also shows the standard of excellence that is now prevalent in this industry.
Now is the time for the industry to further turn up communication about the value it brings to its end-user customer — not by simply providing an accurately built mold. Rather, step up efforts to communicate the advantages gained from confidential and insightful product development assistance and, subsequent to the tool being built, the performance and service advantages.
Decades ago, if a mold builder were to say “trust me,” maybe one would want to be sure a hand was on one's wallet. Today, with tightened budgets often shrinking in-house expertise for the very tools that produce a company's livelihood ... Who better to trust than an enthusiast?
Starkey is president of PCIC Group, which includes Progressive Components, ToolingDocs and Roehr Tool Corp. The Web site mentioned in his Perspective is www.amba.org/ Mold_Buyers_Corner.php.