Novi, Mich. — The partnership by three mold makers that created the Plastics Technology Alliance produced a team that can handle large mold and production programs. That's the obvious part.
By functioning as a single group, the three — Mold Craft Inc., Westminster Tool Inc. and Extreme Tool & Engineering Inc. — can make a larger range of molds than any one member could and win work from a wider range of customers.
But management and employees of Mold Craft, Westminster Tool and Extreme Tool have learned more about each other's systems, about how they organize work, organize quoting and scheduling, and information systems — things like that.
That's the subject of this month's Best Practices.
"I think we're getting more benefit individually from this sharing of the best practices than anything," Westminster Tool President Ray Coombs said at Amerimold in Novi. Westminster exhibited at the trade show, from June 13-14, and raised the Plastics Technology Alliance flag.
For example, the companies have tried to align quoting and progress reporting since the idea was to offer customers a single-source place for molds.
"We realized when we looked at our sales processes, we did a value stream map on all three companies and then we streamlined it into one. You know what happened? We're all adopting the same because we found this process, by comparing notes, is way more efficient, which is way more efficient for our customers," Coombs said.
Mold Craft of Willernie, Minn.; Westminster Tool of Plainfield, Conn.; and Extreme Tool in Wakefield, Mich., already shared common core values when they announced their alliance back in April. Each company works hard to create strong corporate cultures and is active in workforce development and teamwork.
And the company owners are good people who give back to the industry through work in trade associations and their community. Tim and Kim Bartz spearhead the iWarriors program that provides iPads for wounded veterans.
In a news conference at NPE2018, Plastics Technology Alliance members said they have a total of more than 160 employees. They each bring specialized experiences. Mold Craft makes micromolds and small precision molds for markets like medical. Westminter builds molds for a range of industries, like medical, aerospace and defense, consumer packaging, automotive and industrial. Extreme Tool uses advanced manufacturing systems to make molds for insert molding, conformal cooling, high-cavitation molds, stack tools, two-shot molds and other areas.
Coombs said the focus is not on members using the same machining technology. It's more on things like how the three firms process a job through the shop, do machine scheduling or figure out internal hours of production, he said.
"We're not probably going to standardize and say, 'OK, we're all going to use the same tooling system, right?' But there are things that we can adapt to from each other," Coombs said.
So, ideas and systems concepts get exchanged among Mold Craft, Westminster and Extreme. Of course, some of that happens at trade shows and conferences, where the people talk to each other and share best practices.
But in the Plastics Technology Alliance, employees get exchanged, too — working at the other member tool shops. That's only going to happen with a close group like the alliance members.
Exposing employees directly to other companies is a great benefit. Extreme Tool President Mike Zacharias called it "getting out of your closet."
Executives of the three companies regularly get together at one of the member plants.
"We're taking turns at each facility to standardize the process. We want to make sure that our customers are seeing something more consistent," Coombs said.
Team members plan to work on other areas.
"We're going to go to engineering next, and then right after engineering, we're going to right through our organizations," Coombs said. "Maybe even down to shipping and receiving, I joke about.
"We're just looking at how does each of us do things. And then we're kind of standardizing it. And what we're finding is, there's a lot of tribal knowledge" at each company, he said.
The owners of Mold Craft, Westminster Tool and Extreme Tool formed a joint venture agreement. The companies remain independently owned. That strategy might not be for everybody, but it makes sense for smaller mold makers that don't directly compete against one another. The business of building molds is not like high-volume injection molding. Mold making combines metalworking technology with craftsmanship or craftswomenship given the growing number of women in the trade.
Even with automation and the advent of ERP systems, mold making remains largely a one-off process. Most mold makers specialize in certain areas, say tooling for automotive or packaging.
Every mold maker does some of the same things, but there is still a lot of variation, especially in systems and organization. That's where collaboration can make sense.
"It's going to make a huge difference," Coombs said.