Hold on to your runners! According to some industry experts, there’s about to be an avalanche of molds transferred from failed or weak molding companies to other molding firms waiting with open arms. But depending on how much info comes with the molds, this could be a blessing or a curse.
If you haven’t already seen this, make sure you’re sitting down: Another 10%-20% of processors are likely to fail in 2009, equating to $11 billion in sales and 240,000 tools that will need new homes. The prediction comes from Plante & Moran LLC’s Jeff Mengel, CPA and consultant to the plastics industry, in his 2008 North American Plastics Industry Study. He’s projecting that upwards of 360,000 tools will eventually transfer within the next one to two years.
“The ability to transfer 360,000 tools will be quite challenging to the industry as well as to the customers,” Mengel says. “This represents almost 20% of the active tools in the custom molding industry.” And included in the tool transfers are approximately 90,000 inactive molds.
Large numbers such as this can be hard to absorb, but they cut to the core for the 278 hourly and salaried employees who will be affected by MeadWestvaco Corp.’s consolidation of its MWV Calmar pump and dispensing manufacturing and distribution operations from Washington Court House, OH to its San Luis Potosi, Mexico plant. The move, announced earlier in 2009 with completion expected by the end of this year, involves several hundred molds that make dispensers for the personal care and beauty industry. The company says the Mexico plant “is more seamlessly scalable and features more advanced production equipment and processes.” A small component manufacturing presence will be maintained in Washington Court House.
While more work is something processors are eager for in today’s economy, getting a large group of molds on the back dock can be either good or bad news. The molds could be in good working order with all the necessary paperwork, maintenance records, processing sheets, first and last shots from the mold, and quality records, or the receiving company could get a pile of steel.
Often, mold moves involve unanticipated complications. In many cases, molds are moved with little consideration as to their condition when leaving the molding facility, particularly when a molder is shutting down a plant or is forced to close with little time to prepare. Molds in poor condition often were run by processing techs who’ve managed to tweak the process over the years to get good parts—something that might be tough for the next molder to replicate.
Besides the mold condition, the mindset of the employees of the company from which the molds are being moved is an important factor. It’s known throughout the industry that mold moves often involve sabotage, which is more common than many molders imagine. Removing critical components, leaving them unprotected in humidity, and other types of vandalism severely hamper the ability of the new molder to start production quickly and efficiently. Sometimes employees feel a certain ownership of a mold they’ve worked on, so they don’t let go easily.
Making mold moves easier
Steve Johnson, ops manager at ToolingDocs, asserts the importance of having an independent third party perform evaluations on tools being transferred.
One company that recently added tool transfer services for OEMs and processors based on increasing requests is ToolingDocs (Ashland, OH). “We’ve seen a lot of demand for these types of services just dealing with molders in our training program through MoldTrax,” says Steve Johnson, operations manager. “I have molders tell me, ‘We’re swamped and have a bunch of molds that just came in, and we don’t have time for maintenance or documentation because we’re so busy with other issues.’ We hear that a lot.”
Randy Winton, global training manager, says that when molds are transferred to another processor, often the “blame game” is played, in which companies receiving the molds say the former molder ruined them. In this case, the OEM, unless it has tool engineering experts in-house or is intimately involved with the molds, wouldn’t know who was at fault. “We provide an unbiased and professional opinion about the state of the molds—the condition they’re in,” says Winton. “For the receiving company, that’s a benefit. If we say there’s damage that supports the condition of the mold, it’s important for the OEM to have that information coming from an unbiased third party.”
ToolingDocs’ services include taking a mold from the crate with nearly nothing known about it and redocumenting it. “We take a lot of photos of the mold when it arrives at our facility. We then begin taking it apart carefully, taking physical measurements, heating up the manifolds to make sure those are good, and generally go through the mold physically and clean it up,” explains Johnson. “We can even take it to a local molder to put it through a test run and provide documentation on what we find so the molder will know what he’s got on his hands when it hits his dock, and be ready to run.”
On the receiving end, Winton explains that ToolingDocs can provide additional support such as training the receiving staff with some basics about the molds and providing documentation for the work that has been done on them as well as other pertinent information to assist with startup.
ToolingDocs wraps the mold, crates it securely, and ships it with a maintenance manual it creates, complete with digital images with which a history can be created. “If you don’t have any history on the molds you’re getting, you don’t know what you’ve got,” states Johnson. “Often there is no maintenance history to go with the mold. That’s the niche we’re working to fill.” —Clare Goldsberry
Evaluating risk in mold moves
Shane Vandekerkof, trainer and consultant for RJG Inc. (Traverse City, MI), said recently in a webinar sponsored by the American Mold Builders Assn. that successful tool transfers involve looking at a tool and putting a “risk evaluation” on it. “We look for things that we can use to make the transfer more successful, such as first and last shots off the tool, prints, solid models, quality sheets, etc.,” he said. “The more information that’s missing, the higher the risk involved in the transfer.”
Systematic tool transfers use all available information in order to have a high degree of certainty and success, explained Vandekerkof. “No matter where the tool goes, if we have things right on the front end, it can go anywhere,” he said. “Without data you only have an opinion.”
Vandekerkof said the first step necessary for molders when taking on transferred molds is to do a risk analysis, and he has broken it down into three levels. High risk, he explained, is one in which you’ve got a mold with no information. “You have no historical data. No first and last shots, no part prints, no processing sheets or quality data—nothing,” he said. “You basically start over, drop the mold in a machine, and try to establish a process.”
Medium risk is the next level. “You’ve got prints and a setup sheet, but keep in mind that the setup sheet is probably going to be machine-specific to the press on which it ran before. That’s not the best information, but it’s a place to start,” he said.
Low risk is the third level. “You have part prints, solid models, flow analysis, first and last shots, quality inspections and deviations, setup sheets, injection pressure data (for the material, not the machine), and machine information on how well it performs with regard to the part,” Vandekerkof stated. “This makes the tool transfer as seamless as possible. Pressure data is good to have to match the process in my facility or the customer’s facility. Temperature would be a bonus, if I have that. It’s all good to have as it makes it easier for the customer and for us. This level has the highest potential for success, and we can reduce the time it takes to get the mold into the facility and running good parts.” —Clare Goldsberry
Watch for more from RJG on the hidden risks of tool transfers in next month’s tooling article.