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IMM’s 10th Anniversary series: Never give up

As IMM has grown over its 10 years of publication, several companies we’ve visited have also seen great changes. This revisit of Quebec-based Precimold Inc. kicks off IMM’s 10th Anniversary Series, and gives a glimpse of the changing molding and toolmaking times.

Gunter Weiss (center), president of Precimold Inc., is flanked by Daniel Marginson, his new GM (left), and Ron Desjardins, his first salesperson, both of whom share his belief that it’s the end result of parts and not their end price that means the most to customers.
A noted Victorian-era art critic and social commentator named John Ruskin (1819-1900) once wrote:

It is unwise to pay too much, but it is worse to pay too little. When you pay too much, you lose a little money—that is all. When you pay too little, you sometimes lose everything, because the thing you bought was incapable of doing the thing it was bought to do. The common law of business balance prohibits paying a little and getting a lot—it cannot be done. If you deal with the lowest bidder, it is well to add something for the risk you run, and if you do that you will have enough to pay for something better.

An anonymous author was more succinct, saying:

Buy cheap, buy twice.

The first quote hangs on the wall beside the desk of Gunter Weiss, 68, president of Precimold Inc., a small moldmaker and custom molder. IMM first toured Precimold in 1994 (July 1994 IMM), revisiting the company in 1998 (August 1998 IMM). Since 2001, Precimold’s workforce has been cut by 25 percent. Sales are down by more than 50 percent. It runs one shift, sometimes two, but rarely three. Business was lost to Mexico and then to China.

From 3-D Mastercam programs, three new high-speed CNC mills machine cavities into hardened steel in a fraction of the time it took with EDM. Tiny, complex, hardened steel core pins that once took 2 hours to grind are now done in 15 minutes. And large acetal pulleys are machined
at 3000 RPM in only 2 minutes.
Weiss did not wait for conditions to improve before he made strategic personnel changes and capital investments, to adapt Precimold to the changing times.

His hourly rates, however, remain unchanged. He refuses to give price reductions to customers unless he can reduce his own manufacturing costs to meet them. Most are willing to pay. They have come to believe Weiss when he says:

If I can’t do it, it can’t be done.

Priceless Experience
Precimold is still is one of the best-known secrets in the industry—a top-quality supplier of first-of-a-kind precision molded components weighing as little as .0005g, with tolerances down to ±.005 mm, run in problem-solving, unit-frame molds covered by unconditional lifetime guarantees. For 36 years Precimold has often been the last stop for many multinational giants, the last place at which they find out if their impossible part designs have any possibility of ever being molded.

“Precimold is the Chinese alternative,” says Weiss. “Although they have the people, the machines, and the knowledge, we have the experience. Nobody can duplicate a mind. Albert Einstein said, ‘Imagination is more important than knowledge.’ I believe that is true. And, like Thomas Edison said, ‘I’ve never failed—I’ve just found 10,000 ways that didn’t work.’ That’s where our experience comes from. Problems are there to be solved.”

Weiss has never been in it just for the money. He loves his work and it shows, particularly in his uncompromising pursuit of zero-defect part quality. Before they are shipped JIT, parts are sampled and checked against Precimold-determined criteria every hour. They are tested again every 4 hours, after 24 hours, and yet again after seven days. It was like that when IMM first toured in 1994. It’s like that today.

Precimold specialized in micromolding before the term gained popularity, and it still does. Regular company-wide performance and project update meetings are still being held, as are company-wide meetings with customers. Equipment standardization is still a company practice. And Weiss still drives his red 1989 Mercedes 560 SL two-seater.

But he says, “The industry’s changing. We’ve got to change with it.”

VITAL STATS: Precimold Inc. Candiac (Montréal) PQ

THEN (July 1994)

 

Square footage: 30,000
 
Annual sales: $2.5 million (CDN)

Markets served: Automotive, electronic, medical

Parts produced: 33 million/year

Materials processed: Primarily ETPs

Resin consumption: 317,000 lb/year

No. of employees: 28

Shifts worked: Two 12-hour shifts, five days/week

Molding machines: 18, 25 to 225 tons, Engel

Secondary operations: Insert molding, CNC machining of
 molded parts, CAD/CAM (TekSoft and Cadkey), hot stamping, painting, ultrasonic welding, assembly, special packaging

Internal moldmaking: Yes

Quality: ISO certification expected by summer.

NOW (January 2003)

Capital investment: $6 million (CDN)

Square footage: 48,000

Annual sales: $8 million (CDN)

Markets served: Automotive, electronic, medical

Parts produced: 40 million/year

Materials processed: Primarily ETPs

Resin consumption: 600,000 lb/year

No. of employees: 50

Shifts worked: Two 12-hour shifts, five days/week

Molding machines: 22, 25 to 300 tons, Engel; two 7-ton Nisseis

Secondary operations: Hot stamping, ultrasonic welding, CNC parts machining, special packaging, manual and fully automated assembly, contract manufacturing

Internal moldmaking: Yes

Quality: ISO 9002 (soon to be upgraded to ISO 9001:2000; obtaining certification to ISO 16949:2002, the upgrade of QS 9000) 

Managing Changes
Weiss has decided to pull back from the day-to-day of running his business. “I have a satellite mobile phone. My people can reach me any time, if they need to—even when I’m sailing in the Bahamas.”

With Precimold’s Shared Mold Frame tooling, customers pay for the core/cavity inserts only, which reduces lead times and cost. It molds ball bearing retainers with thin-wall sections out of a glass-filled, flame-retardant PA in this mold.
Weiss promoted Daniel Marginson to general manager. Marginson is an eight-year Precimold vet and honors graduate of McGill University and Dale Carnegie courses. He started as a molding technician and became production manager before his promotion.

“Precimold is not a one-man operation anymore, but we still call Gunter when we get stumped,” Marginson says. “We’re fortunate. Gunter’s open to our new ideas. He may disapprove sometimes but, even still, he’ll say, ‘Try it.’”

Weiss also recently hired his first salesperson. “You can’t sit back with a dry martini and wait for the work to come in anymore,” he says. “Times have changed.”

Ron Desjardins is Precimold’s business development manager. Desjardins has been in the business for more than 20 years and knows it inside and out. He was a purchasing agent, an ISO/QS internal auditor, and also worked as plant manager at many prominent firms, as well as an engineering manager for a Tier One automotive supplier. But he’s never been in sales.

Shared Mold Frame tools accommodating all of Precimold’s wide variety of standard, interchangeable inserts are even built for its small Nisseis, the only presses in the company’s dehumidified molding rooms without sprue pickers or robots.
Desjardins says, “I had a choice—going into sales at Precimold or going back into manufacturing. I didn’t want to go back there. Here I can project into the future, rather than react to hassles as they occur. It’s an easy company to sell and I don’t work alone. It’s a team. There’s enthusiasm.”

New Opportunities
Precimold has made substantial investments in new equipment to reduce manufacturing costs and bring in new business, including the following:

  • A 150-ton Engel two-component molding press that can run in either two-shot or coinjection modes. 
  • Three high-speed CNC mills. 
  • One CNC lathe. 
  • Custom-built automated assembly equipment. 
  • A new 2000A electrical substation. 
  • A stereo microscope for quality assurance.
    This sophisticated stereo microscope from Visionx Inc. (Pointe-Claire, PQ) takes microphotographs Precimold can e-mail to customers when it spots a defect. Customers decide if the part is still acceptable, even parts like this acetal worm gear, which must be measured to four decimal points.
    “How do you pay for new machines when you’re giving pricing give-backs to customers?” asks Weiss. “Other companies live with banks breathing down their necks. Precimold is debt-free. Everything in our plant is paid for. This is why I can survive these times.”

     

    Marginson says Precimold has added more contract manufacturing services to improve business growth, and now offers mold repair and refurb capabilities. It’s also providing consulting services on molding difficult parts.

    Meanwhile, Weiss is finding time to explore his own business opportunities. For example, he joined with close friend and inventor John Brain in creating Precision Concepts International, which will develop and manufacture innovative electronic products like solar-powered safety lights.

    While exhibiting at Plastec East 2001, Precimold was approached to mold a two-component part, but it lacked the proper kind of press. Mindful of the lost opportunity, Weiss left his booth, walked over to Engel’s, and purchased this 150-tonner for about $350,000. At the time this picture was taken it was running a zero-taper PP cosmetic powder container. His customer took the job to China, but last year’s West Coast longshoreman lockout brought it back. Fortunately, Weiss still had the mold.
    Weiss concludes, saying, “Have I retired? No. I just go home sooner. You never give up.”

    Contact information
    Precimold Inc.
    Candiac, PQ
    (450) 659-2921
    www.precimold.com

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