High-Tech Craftsmen Keep Lead Times Low

December 31, 1996

Multinational customers like Aiwa, Apple, Hewlett-Packard, Motorola, Siemens, Sony, Thomson, and Robert Bosch all buy moulds from Singapore's Li Xin Mould Manufacturing Pte. Ltd. The flagship of the diversified SD$ 63 million Li Xin Group, Li Xin Mould Manufacturing designs and builds precision moulds to within 20-micron tolerances, even to within 5-micron in special cases, for computers, consumer electronics, telecommunications, and automotive markets. The company's vertical integration and advanced technologies help its customers quickly get their new products to market. But it is really Li Xin Mould's skilled craftsmen that keep its lead times competitive.

Not counting sampling modifications and shipping time, lead times typically are six to 12 weeks, worldwide. Li Xin Mould builds moulds for machines up to 650 tons with no limitations on cavitation. About 60 percent of the moulds it builds are hot runner moulds, typically using Mold-Masters, Fast Heat, D-M-E, Incoe, and Hasco hot runner components.

About 90 percent of its moulds are hardened moulds. The moulds it builds can be complex - collapsible cores, for instance. Nevertheless, typical mould reliability is 98 percent. Again, lead times are six to 12 weeks, worldwide.

The craftsmen at Li Xin Mould have enabled the company to respond to customer demand for the firm to become a one-stop shop.

Of the total staff of 120, about 70 are mouldmakers and machinists. The company calls all of them "craftsmen." Each craftsman is trained in all phases of the mouldmaking operation. Any craftsman can move on to learn any machine at any station in the shop. The craftsmen are not specialists, yet they bring comprehensive understanding and expertise to each special phase of the mouldmaking process they might be working on, to spot problems, solve them quickly, and eliminate bottlenecks.

Li Xin also is proud of its apprenticeship program. It began four years after Li Xin Mould started in 1982. "We train them right from the start. They follow the supervisor. He lets them work at a job so they can build up their confidence. After about two years they move up one scale. Generally, we have about five apprentices in the shop," one company official explains. Li Xin Mould is a member of the Singapore Precision Engineering & Tooling Association (SPETA), a government body that was set up to supply labour and support in advanced technologies.

Li Xin Mould has no drawing tables. It employs 15 CAD/CAM designers. Its computers work directly with its customers design databases with data exchange through disks or high-speed modems. Flow analysis services can be provided.

Li Xin can even supply industrial design services for less complex part designs if required by the customer. Another team of CAM programmers quickly uses the design data to set up the company's impressive array of CNC high-speed milling, wirecut, and EDM machines.

Though Singapore is still strong and extremely competitive when it comes to mouldmaking lead times and pricing, there exists a certain polite rapport among competitors, even when there is an overlap of mouldmakers serving the same markets. As a result, one company rarely tries to poach employees from another. Apprentices trained by Li Xin Mould generally stay with Li Xin Mould. Apprentice turnover is very low, around 5 percent. The whole plant is spotless and air conditioned, a real plus in Singapore's year-round tropical climate.

Another key element of Li Xin Mould's valuable human resource is customer service. Once a customer places an order, the company assigns a technical service engineer to that customer. This engineer personally attends to the production schedules, does all the follow-through, and updates customers on progress of both new projects and existing ones. The customer is therefore assured that his order is looked after and well-coordinated until satisfactory completion with little or no time wasted.

The Li Xin Group was born in 1990 with the addition of Li Xin Plastic Industries, a UL-recognized custom moulding operation in Singapore with 48 machines today, most of them Toshibas. Customer demand for larger parts will result in addition of larger tonnage machines in the near future.

Since 1990 the Group has further expanded in Singapore to include Li Xin Precision Engineering, a 25-craftsman-strong plant that specializes in precision moulds for smaller parts, and Li Xin Technology, a custom moulding plant with about 20 moulding machines. At the same time the Group has added Jubilee Mould Manufacturing and Jubilee Plastics, mouldmaking and custom moulding plants in Malaysia, to support local customers.

While Li Xin Plastics and Technology has already been ISO 9002 certified, it is planning to register Li Xin Mould for ISO 9001 certification in 1997.

Company officials say it is only the beginning. Within the next three years, at customer request, the company plans to pursue more automotive work, add precision-controlled moulding capabilities, and expand into other parts of the world, the P.R.C. and India, in particular.

Multinationals will go anywhere to find a reputable vendor. Its well-trained craftsmen intend to make sure OEMs look at the Li Xin Group.

Contact Information: Li Xin Mould Manufacturing Pte. Ltd., Mr. Y.K. Tang, No. 9 Woodlands Terrace, Woodlands East Industrial Estate, Singapore 738434, Phone: 14-65-759-2008, Fax: 14-65-759-3731, E-mail: [email protected]

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