Naples, Fla. — Like most other rational beings, toolmakers like to start at the beginning.
“Sometimes, the biggest challenge is just getting a project started,” said Roger Klouda, president of MSI Mold Builders in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
Klouda and three other toolmaking executives shared insights on their industry on a panel at the 2017 Plastics News Executive Forum, March 28-29 in Naples.
Another challenge, according to Shaun Karn, executive vice president and CFO of Hi-Tech Mold & Engineering Inc. in Rochester Hills, Mich., is getting upfront collaboration.
“Instead of bringing in the mold maker or toolmaker at the end of the process, they should do it at the start,” he said. “That saves time and money.”
Staffing issues also remain a focus for toolmakers. TK Mold & Engineering Inc. in Bruce Township, Mich., has a generation gap to deal with.
“We've got nine employees who are 22 to 24 years old and nine who are between 46 and 67,” said President Tom Barr. “We've got no one in their 30s, so we need to coach them up and get them engaged. We've even bought the tool boxes of guys who are retiring” for young employees.
Integrity Tool & Mold Inc. in Oldcastle, Ontario, has put “a big push” on training programs for younger people, according to Vice President Scott Allen. “We'll do on-spot recognition of employees with small things like giving them a gas card,” he said.
Hi-Tech uses apprenticeships, internships and flex time to attract workers. MSI offers 12 to 15 tours per year for high school and community college students.
On the technology front, Karn described additive manufacturing as “incredible technology that's driving away from the old technology of how to build a tool.”
Klouda added that additive manufacturing “has a real future,” and that his firm is looking at “technological advancements and process advancements and machine utilization — and optimizing the heck out of it.”
“There's a tremendous amount of work out there,” Karn said. “So we need to increase our throughput and reduce costs through technology.”
Integrity also has operations in Mexico.
“There wasn't a lot of tooling infrastructure there when we entered in 2012,” Allen said. “There's more moving in now. Steel is easier to get, but there are still some challenges.
“Finding skilled labor can be a tough challenge,” he added. “But overall, it's going relatively well.”