It goes without saying that the finished plastic part is only as good as the mold. A molder can have the newest equipment, the best resin, and the most experienced operator, but if the mold is not manufactured correctly, problems most certainly can be expected.
Choosing the right moldmaker often depends on the specifics of a molder’s needs – every molder has a different set of expectations and requirements. However, several common threads should be considered when choosing a moldmaking partner.
1. Does the moldmaker have a reputation for standing behind its product?
If a molder is looking for a new moldmaker, don’t forget to check references. Make sure the moldmaker has a history of supplying quality molds that work the first time and that the moldmaker can respond to demanding turn-around times. It also is important to check for financial soundness through D&B or a similar source. If a molder creates a new relationship with a moldmaker and then finds out it is struggling financially, a great deal of time could be lost while the molder starts from scratch to locate a new moldmaking partner.
2. Does the moldmaker provide tool designs in a useable format?
There are many types of CAD systems on the market today. Checking that the tool designs in CAD (that would accompany the mold) are in a format that the molder can reference and use is essential. This can be especially important if any small adjustments or repairs on the mold will be done by an in-house maintenance person.
3. Is the moldmaker’s shop equipped with updated machinery?
It is important that the machinery used to make the molds is not antiquated in order to ensure quality molds that are manufactured correctly the first time. Does the moldmaker have updated CNC equipment and tools? The basic recommendation is that the moldmaker have 5-axis finishing machines with high-speed spindles (over 12,000 rpm). Check that the moldmaker’s equipment fits the type of molds needed by the processor. Make sure to look at a finished mold, paying attention to blends on the surface and feeling for steps more than 0.001″. Also, look to see if the shop is doing a considerable amount of hand-finishing, like grinding and benching. Ask how much stock is left on the tool at finish cut, and if it is more than zero, ask how it controls the finished product to ensure accuracy.
4. Is the moldmaker self-sufficient or is it outsourcing key processes?
Carefully check the full range of processes that the moldmaker offers to see if it is outsourcing any key processes, like gun-drilling, EDM, etc. If a molder finds that some of the manufacturing and/or finishing is being outsourced, there should be a comfort level with how this is taking place and an understanding that it will not affect the finished mold from a timing and quality standpoint.
5. When considering a blended program (tooling built both locally and offshore), will thedomestic moldmaker perform rework and repairs on foreign-supplied tooling?
In today’s plastics processing landscape, many molders are working with both offshore and domestic moldmakers. Choosing between the two depends on the specific job and time period. It is important to have a partnership with a domestic moldmaker that will provide quality molds and also will help with any rework or repairs on molds supplied by another vendor. If possible, check the moldmaker’s references and experience with prior projects regarding offshore molds. Do they have a history and experience in this type of program?
6. Does the moldmaker fit your company culture and values?
The most overlooked and underutilized factor in choosing the right moldmaker is the combination of organizational culture and values. The molder should assess its own strengths and weaknesses in terms of mold-building expertise, and then visit the moldmaker to learn firsthand if its culture, business values, and people compliment its needs.
Successful companies have an organizational culture that places value on the total cost of ownership, delivery expectations, intellectual property, lifecycle of the product, and the use of specified materials rather than on price alone. Choosing a moldmaker based on culture and values can raise the probability of a positive outcome, especially when precision components and complex designs are involved. The reality of today’s economy is that all products are affected by competitive market pricing. Establishing a relationship with a moldmaker where made-for-production consultation and efficiency planning are essential parts of cost containment can increase the percentage of successful product launches that meet performance assurances within budget.
The Offshore Factor
As discussed previously, many molders have begun to purchase tooling from offshore sources, with the majority of offshore molds coming from China. There are compelling reasons to consider this, with the primary reason being a significant cost savings. However, purchasing on price alone is risky business. Other factors must be considered before initiating the purchase of molds from an offshore source.
Consider potential travel costs. If the tooling must be checked and approved before it is shipped, the cost of traveling overseas must be considered. Also, what value is placed on the time it will take to do this?
Include a budget for rework and repairs. As mentioned earlier, a local moldmaker must be available to help with any repairs that may be needed. Molders need to keep this in mind and have an idea of what the cost will be for any rework on the mold.
Check that completion and delivery will stay on schedule. If a molder is utilizing an offshore moldmaker, the time needed to receive the mold and complete the job on time should be evaluated. It is not recommended to utilize an offshore manufacturer if critical completion and delivery times are involved. Too many possibilities for potential delays and problems exist.
Have sufficient insurance for loss or damage. The further the distance from mold creation point to mold destination, the greater the chance of damage or loss during shipment. It is recommended that the processor has sufficient insurance on the mold when purchasing offshore.
Many bad experiences have been reported when purchasing molds offshore. On the other hand, some plastic molders have found success with using molds created offshore, when proper care has been taken and all factors considered. The bottom line is that the molder must consider all of the factors involved and not make a decision solely based on price. In many plastics plants, there seems to be a disconnection between manufacturing (those who must work with the tooling) and purchasing (those who may view price as a determining factor). All risks and costs must be considered in the final purchasing decision.
Plastics Business would like to thank Todd Finley, Commercial Tool & Die, Inc., for his assistance with this article. Commercial Tool & Die is located in Comstock, Mich. and has over 50 years of experience in the manufacturing of molds and tooling, specializing in medium to large plastic injection molds. For more information, visit www.commercialtool.com or call (616) 785-5760.
Plastics Business also would like to thank Mark Hanaway, Tech Molded Plastics LP, for his input on this article. Tech Molded Plastics has over 35 years of experience as a precision moldmaker, specializing in high volume, low maintenance production molds, production-quality prototype molds, custom-molded plastics, and integrated assembly. Tech Molded Plastics is located in Meadville, Pa. To learn more, visit www.ttmp.com or call (814) 724-8222.