Quoting molds still vexes moldmakers—The fine line between ‘making money or losing your shirt’

Everything about moldmaking—designing, programming and machining—has been streamlined and made faster and easier to reduce time and cost. Everything except quoting molds that is. Mold quoting continues to be the bane of a moldmaker's existence.

A number of years ago I asked a mold shop owner about his cost of quoting molds as a "cost of sales." He was averaging about 25 RFQs a month, and was quoting every one of them with only a few exceptions. "Quoting costs me nothing," he replied nonchalantly. "I take the prints home at night and quote them after dinner on my dining room table."CAD design

In other words, he was quoting in his "spare" time, which was worth nothing. Most mold companies still invest hours of some engineer's or moldmaker's time poring over part designs to come up with an accurate quote. The definition of 'accurate' being a price that will allow them to make money and build a top-quality mold. That means making sure they've not missed anything that will become a real problem down the road that will cost them time, i.e. money.

In a LinkedIn group recently, there was a discussion to the question, "What quoting software is being used for custom injection molds?" The answers were quite interesting, but not surprising: "A number of years ago, I looked at various methods used, then developed an Excel spreadsheet to cover all the parameters for machining, component purchase, etc. The program has served me well. However, understanding machining principles is a must to determine operations time with my spreadsheet," wrote one respondent.

I've found that most moldmakers have rejected the various mold-quoting software packages that have been developed over the years, in favor of a spreadsheet of some kind. This is primarily because many of these guys don't trust the software. Instead, they trust what they know; they only trust their experience, not some program in which they put in numbers and it spits out a price. They look on that with a jaundiced eye.

A few responded that they use the E2 System by Shop Tech, but with "customized page templates." Another user of E2 only uses the software as "more of a customer interface, not a quoting module. For quoting we utilize a series of glorified spreadsheets. For some customers . . . we have created customized quoting calculators fof our steel and machining pricing, which they use internally to expedite quoting to their customers (i.e. not waiting for a custom quote each time) which has worked out nicely."

One answer from a manufacturing engineer named Kevin caught my eye. He noted that while he also uses a spreadsheet, he always applies a "general rule" for quoting purposes that he was taught 25 years ago and works for him to this day. Here is his method:

"First don't spend more than 30 minutes quoting the job. If you need to stretch that 30 minutes out over several days, fine. Just don't over-analyze things."

The next general rule is:

"Use your judgment on what size mold base you will need. Look up current prices of #3 or #7 mold plate steel (some customers require #7) from DME mold base costs and multiply by 6. The resulting price should be your low-end of the mold cost."

Kevin's third general rule:

"Look at all purchased items: mold base, manifold, lifters, design of mold (internally or externally designed), polishing, plating if any, and any other purchased items. Take the total of these costs and multiply by 3. The total you reach should be your high side of the mold cost estimate."

From there, Kevin's next general rule is to break down the mold build for the part requirements and itemize your labor and purchased components. The mold cost you come up with should fit between your initial high and low estimates described above. If the part is highly tolerance, you will be quoting towards the high side of your cost estimate 'window'. If the part is simple, then you will be towards the low limit of your quoting 'window.'

"Unfortunately all mold quotes are subjective. It takes time to learn the ropes of good quoting. I have been trying to get the price right for 25 years and still struggle at times. Good luck!"

Kevin makes a good point: even though he's developed and used his own system all these years, this says it all: "all mold quotes are subjective." Yes, every mold shop is different with different shop rates, different ways of designing, programming and machining even if they all use the same types of software and machine tools. Every moldmaker is different and has acquired different know-how over the course of his career and thus sees every part design a bit differently.

That's why you can put seven mold makers in a room and give them all the same part print, and you'll come up with seven ways to design and make the mold with seven different prices. The Chicago Chapter of the American Mold Builders Assn. used to do this little exercise once each year to try and understand how mold quote could vary so much from one company to another. I don't believe they ever completely understood this phenomenon.

The fear of missing something on the print that can mean the difference between making money on the job and losing their shirts, will always haunt moldmakers every time they sit down to look at a part print. In the end, it's experience, expertise and know-how—those intangibles—that most moldmakers depend on to come up with the best "guesstimate" on the price of the mold. And it's also why most still don't trust mold-quoting software in spite of the best efforts of some really smart software people.


  • Do you use mold-quoting software or your own spreadsheet?
  • If you use mold-quoting software, do you depend on its accuracy? Or just use it to confirm your own quote or as a 'guideline' for your own quote?

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