Moving a molding operation: Essential guidelines for success

By: 
March 31, 2006





Whether you move your operation by air or by sea, don’t take the cheap way out. Protect your most precious asset—the mold.

The powers that be have made the decision to relocate a plant. It might be across town, across the country, or across the world.


Moving an entire molding operation—machinery, molds, and the shop—can be a daunting task, especially when the goal is to keep production on track with as little disruption as possible. But it can be done, regardless of the distance, if certain considerations are taken into account.


First, we must determine the type of process: Are we moving or transferring?

There is a difference. If you are simply moving equipment for someone else to start up, there are some basic areas to cover such as prep for the move, proper shutdown and unhooking procedures, proper crating and rust prevention measures, and other things that should be common practice to any reputable freight forwarder. In the moving mode we are simply shipping equipment and want it to arrive at its destination without damage or incident. Choose a reputable vendor and work closely with it.


Transferring is much more complex. If you are relocating a molding operation with a given number of molds, say a product line, to another state or country, your task list becomes multifaceted depending on logistics, timing, and customer/part requirements, among other things.

Logistics


If the operations are staying in the U.S., selecting a contractor that can manage the move at both ends will save a lot of grief, time, and money. That’s called “committed ownership” and it is significant whenever you are moving equipment.
If the transfer is made internationally, your task list just quadrupled. It’s critical that you choose the right people to facilitate the transfer. If possible, select a freight forwarder that’s referred to you by a colleague, or ask your molding machine manufacturer what company it uses. Then, once you find a vendor—and this can’t be emphasized enough—ensure the freight forwarder has the ability to manage the moving process from loading dock to loading dock. This will help you tremendously when working through customs and with commercial invoices, duties, and more. Keep your paperwork organized.


If you do not already have local vendors who can do rigging, electrical work, systems, and so on, ask your OEM for referrals to contractors on both sides of the ocean. Most injection machine equipment vendors are global; they have a network in every region of the world for the handling and proper installation of their equipment, so it makes sense to ask your local rep for his or her point of contact in the country to which you’re moving. When you call, mention your OEM contact; this can make a difference in the level of service you receive.

Timing


Now that you’ve located a reputable contractor and freight forwarder, you have to address how you’re going to get your operation from Point A to Point B. If transferring within the United States, use freight companies that provide dedicated trucks. This means your freight won’t be off-loaded in a terminal and reloaded. Failure to specify dedicated trucks can cause delay and opens the chance for damage or loss. If going overseas, you have a choice between ocean and air. The difference is weeks vs. hours—and the likelihood your shipment will arrive in one piece, or arrive at all.

Water route. If you choose to transfer by ocean, there are risks. For example, containers have fallen off of ships in heavy seas. Even inside storage is risky; containers may be put on the lowest level of the ship, and if the ship takes on water, your equipment may be damaged. If the ship your equipment is on does not belong to the freight forwarder you’re using, you won’t know the exact routing and ports of call that ship visits—another risk. Always find out how many ports of call the ship will visit.


You also want to know if your equipment will leave the ship. For example, if you are transferring to Asia, there is a good chance your freight will not only visit several ports, but also be off-loaded and sit in a port for any number of days, increasing the chance of damage or loss. Weather plays a huge factor in any transfer, but especially in Asia because if the ship coming to pick up your freight is delayed by bad weather, your freight will be late. You may find it’s worth it to pay more for fewer stops and no off-loading.


When figuring the costs of ocean shipping, note that you are charged by the container, which is roughly 8 ft wide by 40 ft long. You can put as much in that container as you want until you hit about 60,000 lb. It’s best to vacuum-bag equipment to protect against salty, damp air.

Air route. The risk of loss by air is much less, but more expensive because you pay by the pound and volume. Another advantage is that air shipments are tracked better and expedited more efficiently. Vacuum bagging is again recommended. At 35,000 ft, the outside air can be -50°F. That means your mold will take in a lot of condensation moisture when it lands.

Additional requirements


Part and customer requirements, backup plans, and inventory considerations are all important aspects of a transfer.

The setup: electricity. To begin, remember that you need to replicate how the machines and molds are running in their original location. Whether the molds and equipment are relocated overseas or across the country, their current performance will be affected by changes in electrical power and cooling of the mold.


Do your homework. When addressing power supply, find out the voltage and frequency in both locations. This is paramount for knowing how your motors will perform (rpm) once they arrive overseas. The potential for efficiency losses when using transformers and converters is huge. Rewiring may actually be less expensive in the long run.


There are additional matters to review with the overseas power company when determining utility costs and how power should be converted. Buying new motors might be the best approach. Do all of the math. You may be required to forecast your electrical usage accurately. Your quoted rate for a block of power could be more costly than you think. Be as accurate as possible because if you forecast more than you need, you could still end up paying for the unused energy. If you don’t forecast enough and you use more, you could be penalized.


Note, too, that brownouts—particularly in China—can be frequent and unscheduled. The power could be out for minutes or for hours—maybe all day. Consider alternative energy sources.


Like power supplies, cooling may be affected by use of a different system, particularly when transferring overseas. Measure the gallons of water per minute that pass through your mold. Matching these flow rates can be critical in the performance of the mold and the integrity of the molded parts. How you achieve the flow rates again can be a project within itself as it can require additional pumping capacity.

Material supply. Finally, resin and colorant supply must be addressed. From where and how will you supply the machines? In the U.S. we bulk-load silos from rail cars or trucks. Overseas, 50-lb bags are most commonly available. In fact, there are very few silos in Asia, and gaylords are pretty much unheard of. The 40,000 lb of resin delivered to your silos via truck in the U.S. equals 800 50-lb bags in some Asian markets.


The quality of your supplies may vary from one vendor to the next, but most companies supplying components, steel, and other commodities are now global. Getting authentic manufactured goods in some places in the world can be challenging, so it’s best to consult with your chosen vendors in your original location to find out if they have distribution at the new location. Consult with local suppliers to ensure consistent, high-quality service wherever you locate a plant.


Covering all aspects of moving a business is nearly impossible, and no one can take away all of the pain of moving a complete molding operation. But it is hoped that these tips might at least start you down a successful path.

Randy Winton ([email protected]) is R&D manager for Progressive Components, a supplier of mold components. He has helped coordinate the moves of several molding plants within the U.S. and overseas.

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