Scott Peters, chair-elect of the Society of Plastics Engineers Mold Making and Mold Design Division, said he expects that the choice of a Chinese executive as SPE's Mold Maker of the Year could be controversial with some in the North American industry.
“Absolutely, I expect some backlash by the people paying attention, and that's OK because that means they're paying attention,” he said. “The guys who don't care don't have their eye on what's going on in the industry.”
It's the first time the award has gone to someone outside the North American continent since SPE first named a mold maker of the year in 1983.
The award has gone to some well-known names in the North American industry, including Jerry Lirette and Fred Steil of DME Co., James Meinert of Snider Mold Co. Inc. and Olav Bradley of PM Mold Co.
Peters said the SPE division has wanted to internationalize its award, although he said the group did not set out to necessarily name a foreign mold maker this year.
“We looked at S.Y. [Chu's] company and against the field of competition, and we saw that he had a great business plan,” Peters said. “Beyond that he really fostered within the organization the things that SPE and the Mold Making and Mold Design Division espouse. He wanted to grow the technique and the technology by training mold makers and designers.”
Peters, a long-time mold-making industry veteran who is operations manager for the Guangzhou, China, factory for home decoration firm Hunter Douglas, said the North American mold-making industry has had a “horrendous downturn,” but the companies that have survived are looking for opportunities.
“The mold-making industry has been decimated in America, partly because we had so much overcapacity and partly because we had so many people who were looking at the end game, saying, ‘I am ready to retire; I'm not going to reinvest,' “ Peters said in an interview at his Guangzhou office.
Peters, who worked for a mold-making company in Ohio before joining Upper Saddle River, N.J.-based Hunter Douglas in 2005, said he competed against low-cost Chinese shops in his old job and understands the frustration of some companies in the North American industry.
But he said his former mold-making employer, ProMold-Gauer Inc. in Tallmadge Ohio, remains in business because it saw where the market was going and got ahead of trends: “That's what SPE is about.”
Peters, who won SPE's related Mold Designer of the Year award in 2007, said the mold-making industry in the Chinese-speaking world is developing quickly.
At Antec, SPE's annual technical conference, for example, both mainland Chinese and Taiwanese academics are presenting many papers on mold making, he said: “That tells me this market is thinking.”
Also, he said Taiwan and mainland China are working on software to use artificial intelligence to automate the mold-design process.
“That's being done in Asia, [whereas] it's not being done in the U.S. as far as I can see, except on a company-by-company basis,” he said.
Giving the award to a company outside North America is part of an effort by Newtown, Conn.-based SPE to move more internationally, he said. The largest growth market for the group right now is India, he said.
“SPE is an international society but we're very North American-oriented,” he said. “We're trying to live up to the press that says SPE is an international society of engineers and plastics professionals.”