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Finding your competitive edge



This two-component hard-soft medical equipment part (here molded on an Engel E-Motion Combi machine) is an example of the sort of project that can boost processors’ competitiveness.

In spite of the general optimism prevalent in the plastics processing industry this year, major problems still loom including high energy costs and plastics prices, lack of skilled labor, and global competition. Successful processors and their suppliers agree that advanced technology is the way forward.
It is largely recognized that the best way for the North American injection molding industry to offset the the negative effects of these familiar challenges is through advanced technologies, as noted in recent discussions with industry experts.
Joachim Kragl of molding machinery maker Engel (Guelph, ON) notes that as offshore molding puts increasing pressure on North American molders, they must develop a strategy to compete. “You need to ask where you want to be in five years, and ’still in business’ isn’t a good enough answer,” he says. “Ask yourself what you are good at, where do you want to focus your energy, and then figure out how you’re going to get there.”
Kragl says when purchasing molding machinery, molders get locked into the idea that a one-year payback is a hard and fast rule. He offers the following suggestions: 1) Escape the one-year payback trap. One-year payback is a clear expression of lack of vision and strategy. 2) One-year payback is a business-killing strategy in the mid- to long term. 3) Add value and sell solutions, not machine time. “Someone will always be cheaper,” he said, but technology can get you out of the ’me-too’ molding game. Some of the technologies Kragl suggests include inmold assembly, automated molding systems, off-center rotary molding, and insert molding.
Jes Gram, principal of moldmaking technology provider Gram Technologies (Scottsdale, AZ), offered his take on using his patented “Spin Stack” technology for painting or clear-coating components in the mold. The technology enables a variety of applications to be completed inmold, including hot stamping, labeling, printing, and laser/ultrasonic/hotplate welding.
“The advantages to this are many,” Gram stated. “You eliminate secondary operations and handling, and reduce several processes to one in-cycle process, substitute a paint line with a self-contained paint chamber, and have finished goods leave the molding machine.”
Gram believes that molders must pursue new technology, and calculate the total cost to manufacture, not just the molding cost.
“Embracing revolutionary manufacturing technology and differentiating yourself from your competitors, improving your capabilities, gives you the advantage,” he says. “Not to do it, hoping things will stay as they are, and remain doing what you have always done—believing that this is where your customer sees his future—is to be left behind.”
Make it metal
Another competitive edge molders can gain is through metal injection molding (MIM). True, it’s not plastic, but offering the capability can provide another type of value-added service, particularly in the medical and automotive markets. Ron Peterson, VP of Micromold Inc. (Riverside, CA), believes that “MIM is where it’s at.” Micromold Inc. is a custom molder of intricate plastic and metal moldings for a variety of industries. The company has 29 MIM presses ranging from 5 to 22 tons.
“I’d like to see more molders get into MIM,” Peterson added. He explained that it’s not a difficult process for plastic molders to master. “We took obsolete plastic injection molds and molded MIM parts. It’s easy—not a black art. I’ll even teach people how to do it.”
Another competitive edge now catching on in North America is inmold labeling (IML) and inmold decorating (IMD). Kip Carter, sales manager for Distinctive Plastics (Vista, CA), said Distinctive added IMD to its array of skills after a survey he conducted of California molders showed that it was one area in which there was not much activity. The move has resulted in new business for the company and helped it differentiate itself from the pack.
Distinctive also added multimaterial capabilities with a two-shot molding machine, and captured a new program that was headed to China. “Rather than quoting two molds in two presses with a secondary operations process post-molding,” Carter said, “we quoted one mold configured as a multicomponent molding process, thereby saving the customer 45% in production costs. That meant the job stayed here, and both Distinctive and the customer benefited.”
Clare Goldsberry • [email protected]
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