Are moldmakers reluctant adopters, or Luddites?

By: 
December 05, 2011


The mold manufacturing industry has come along way technologically over the past two decades. I can remember when CNC (computer numerically controlled) machining centers came out in the early 1980s, and one of the first mold companies to get one of these state-of-the-art machines was Tech Mold Inc. in Tempe, AZ. It was a wonder, that's for sure. Bill Kushmaul, owner of Tech Mold, was as proud of that machine as most would be of their own newborn baby!

To demonstrate the stability of the machine - which resulted in precision accuracy during the machining process - Bill stood a nickel on edge on the top front edge of the machine while it ran. The nickel stayed there for a long time, I'm guessing.

Luddites
While moldmakers might not bear arms against new technology, they don't always embrace it either.

Over the past two decades, mold component technology as well as machine tool technology and CAD/CAM software programs have evolved, and generally moldmakers accepted and adopted these tools at their companies. Other technologies, however, haven't been so readily accepted by moldmakers. I've observed this over the years and continue to see this behavior among moldmakers.

Balking at CRM software, additive manufacturing

I call such occasionally technologically averse moldmakers "reluctant adopters", and I'm not surprised that many agree with me when I use that term to describe them. It came up again, twice, while I was doing interviews recently for some articles. There are a few technologies that I find them reluctant to adopt for their businesses:

Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software is one. While I know many mold companies have CRM software, there are a whole lot of them that do not. I think that is largely because it has to do with sales and marketing, and both of those areas of the business continue to befuddle these guys who mostly think that if you can't kick it and put oil into it, it's not important. The exception of course is CAD/CAM software - that's a necessity. When it comes to managing customer relations, well what's to manage?

Additive Manufacturing technology is another area of reluctance. When "rapid prototyping" (RP) first came onto the scene some two decades ago, I was really excited for moldmakers. I immediately saw this technology as something they could add onto their business model, push their capabilities further into the front end of the product development stage and become real collaborators with their OEM customers' design engineers. And they could even get paid for this added service! Imagine that! Well, it didn't happen. Mostly they looked askance at RP technology, now called Additive Manufacturing (AM), let the service bureaus take care of the OEMs' design engineers desire for "parts" and continued making single-cavity/core inserts in M.U.D. units in three to four weeks and calling it "rapid."

Not that building the single-cavity/core insert and dropping it into a M.U.D. base and molding a part in the actual material was - or is - a negative thing. But there are benefits to the various AM processes such as SLA, FMD and SLS in product design iterations, especially now that materials have evolved to include actual or near-like the actual, production compositions.

Ga Ga over DMLS?

I thought for sure when I saw Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS) technology come into the picture, that the moldmakers would go ga-ga over the thought of "building" a core/cavity insert in a matter of hours! Getting in on the cutting edge with AM, I figured, would result in lots of new business for moldmakers, and provide new avenues for value-added capabilities that would surely impress the OEMs. But that didn't happen either.

AM continues its push further along and DMLS technology can now make actual end-use parts being used in the aerospace and other industries. But not much core/cavity insert work is being done in spite of the opportunities in that area.  Most of the companies that currently make use of AM technology are the service bureaus that have found their niche this time around. OEMs such as General Motors' design division has rapid prototyping department with 30 3D Systems (SLA and SLS), making some 20,000 parts a year for development purposes.

David MacNeil, founder of MacNeil Automotive Products (Schaumburg, IL), noted in his presentation at the SPE Thermoforming Conference that he utilizes SLA machines in-house to create his WeatherTech brand of floor mats, "to ensure a perfect fit in every vehicle type."

Giving up on moldmakers

Technology developers now tell me that they've pretty much given up on trying to sell their technology to mold manufacturers. The real key, they say, is to sell the technology to the OEMs and let them drive their mold suppliers toward implementing the technology.

I still hold out hope however, that moldmakers will move from being reluctant adopters to being excited, embracing adopters of technology. After all, staying on the cutting edge of manufacturing is their future.

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