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Words of WisdomMoldbuilding: Headed where?

January 3, 2006

5 Min Read
Words of WisdomMoldbuilding: Headed where?

The demand for high-end, high-productivity tooling, such as this stack mold from Pro Mold & Die (Schaumburg, IL) is expected to increase throughout the world.

This cold runner LSR tool from MR Mold & Engineering (Brea, CA), illustrates that by embracing different technologies, ?there are riches in niches.?

Whether you buy molds, build molds, or run molds, it is surely impossible to deny the tremendous amount of change that has occurred in the moldmaking business in just the past half dozen years.

Many tooling engineers who spent a lifetime paying their dues building and designing molds now find themselves struggling with transportation adventures in faraway lands. Knowing whether to take the ferry or the bus from Guangzhou to Shenzhen is a job requirement. No one saw that coming.

Some moldbuilders were captains of industry, leading top-name manufacturing companies, and would visit an International Machine Tool Show and not be able to resist the impulse to buy a $250,000 machining center. Then, the faster mold deliveries shrank backlog precisely as an economic downturn occurred, with more capable overseas toolmakers arriving. Didn?t see that coming either.

A perfect storm hit many U.S. moldbuilders:

  • It seemed to many that a tooling engineer and a mold builder working together to produce an accurate, reliable, easy-to-maintain mold became ?sooo last millennium.?

  • It seemed to many that it was folly, or worse, to maintain a membership in a trade group, participate in trade group activities, or volunteer one?s time to a committee.

  • It seemed to many that the last thing that anyone should be thinking about is training tomorrow?s moldmakers.

  • It seemed to many that life as we knew it was over.

Yes, things changed and some moldmaking businesses didn?t survive. However, no industry guarantees lifetime employment for all comers. The downturn from 1999 to 2003 wasn?t fair, and it wasn?t kind, but it happened, and those who are still standing can look forward. They should have no reason in the future to say, ?Didn?t see that coming,? again.

Moldmaking Going Everywhere

Never before have we humans needed so many molds. Molds for PET tools for bottled water, blowmolds for autos, injection molds for everything from trinkets to gadgets to ever-developing medical devices. And, all of this is needed everywhere. A cool drink in Thailand, a steering fluid tank in Texas, and a cell phone in Hungary?it all takes tooling.

Many have said ?It is all going to China.? They are wrong. Some tooling work has gone to China, and more will, but meanwhile, tooling opportunities are emerging throughout the world.

Unlike a lot of those who think that it is all going to China, I not only spend a lot of time in Asia, but actually took it further and uprooted my family from Chicago to Singapore. A change of environment, perspective, and yes, climate!

But it is from that different vantage point that I find myself in conversations that rebuke the notion of everything going to one country, or even one region for that matter.

For example, last week I spoke with a mold engineer whose Singapore company is growing by leaps and bounds, but not in Singapore. He moved to its new plant in Latvia, servicing tooling programs not only into ?old Europe?, but even toward Russia.

I spoke with a U.S. moldbuilder who, after getting pressured by his customer for overseas tools, will coordinate programs accordingly. ?But my family is German, so I?m looking to develop partners in Europe, instead of Asia,? he said.

Some programs that went from Singapore shops up to China now are making a U-turn and coming back. Intellectual property concerns, quality hiccups, and hidden costs finally had some conclude that ?enough is enough.?

The pessimistic conclusion is that no one can stop the Chinese. But there are some optimistic moldbuilders in all corners of the United States. They have expanded with selling opportunities overseas, or partnering, or simply servicing segments in their own backyards.

What Next?

So here it is, 2006. Enough about The Crash of 2000. After all, now we?re rounding up to the 2010 decade.

It now seems to many that their competitive edge is not a new machine or CAD station, but rather the systems, and personal assurance to a tooling engineer that an accurate, reliable, easy-to-maintain mold will be delivered on time and in budget. Maybe the financial margin won?t allow the moldbuilder to pick up a Corvette next week, but at least a partnership is developing that has value ahead for moldmakers and molders.

It now seems to many that it is essential to not only belong to a trade group and read the newsletters, but to actually attend some meetings! To network at trade group events and executive forums even though one might get roped into joining a committee is absolutely essential.

It now seems to many that we?d better keep training tomorrow?s manufacturing professionals. Training proceeds apace in Asia and Europe. North Americans better not quit now. Wouldn?t it be tragic to lose high-end tooling for that reason?

Opportunity Lies Ahead

One opportunity is the NPE show approaching in June. Perhaps rather than spending an efficient day or two, more tooling professionals will stay to attend seminars and other related events. Look for upcoming info on resources such as the SPI?s Global Business Council that is once again hosting, with Canon Communications, the NPE Breakfast Briefing, on Tuesday June 20, entitled ?The Global Factor: Positioning Your Company within Emerging Plastics Markets.?

President John F. Kennedy once said, ?The time to fix the roof is when the sun is shining.? For those who look forward, 2006 brings a great opportunity to grow. Instead of worrying about where molds are going, it?s a great time to position one?s company so that the tooling will be coming your way.

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