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August 11, 2000

7 Min Read
Educating customers brings value to moldmakers

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Many moldmakers wish their customers knew more about the craft and industry. They wish their customers could appreciate the intricacies, challenges, and technical details of moldmaking. As a result, customer education has become an important function for many toolmakers. One strategy that works for several moldmakers is to teach customers via formal seminars. 

Precise Massie in St. Petersburg, FL, a moldmaking division of Precise Technology Inc. with headquarters in North Versailles, PA, has been sponsoring customer seminars for about 14 years. Ed Cigoi, director of operations for the company, says the seminars were originally started to train sales people, and evolved into a customer training program. 

Precise Massie sponsors two seminars annually, one each spring and fall. The program is a two-day seminar accredited by the National Assn. of Purchasing Management. Attendees receive 18 hours of continuing education credits if their jobs are in that discipline. 

The programs attract about 80 attendees each year, with 40 percent of that number in purchasing, another 40 percent in engineering positions, and 20 percent in upper management. The company also encourages all new Precise employees to attend. 

Kent Hanson, director of engineering for H.S. Die & Engineering Inc. in Grand Rapids, MI, says his company began customer training seminars five years ago. So far, says Hanson, the company has educated about 500 people. Each seminar attracts about 20 people and is held at the plant. 

Hanson says the program began as a way to teach customers' part designers the qualities of mold-friendly parts. "We took that as a base, and then customized the program to fit other groups as well, such as purchasing people and program managers," Hanson explains. 

Tech Mold Inc. (Tempe, AZ) also began its program as in-house training for its employees. The program evolved into a customer training program called "What is a Mold," and ultimately resulted in a book of the same title, which is used as text for the seminars. 

Karl Szanto, vp of operations, and Phil Estrada, quoting manager, have taught most of Tech Mold's seminar programs, half of which were held offsite at customer facilities, which Szanto prefers. It is more cost-effective for the customer and can involve a larger, more diverse cross section of employees, he says. To date, Tech Mold has conducted 16 seminars for more than 400 people. 

Education Benefits
Hanson says that one of the primary benefits of teaching part designers about moldmaking is that it helps eliminate unnecessary complexity in the tool. "We used to have to make concessions in the data they sent us," he says. 

After the seminar, designers have a better understanding of why a part can't be designed a certain way, or why adding certain features might increase the overall costs to manufacture. "We've seen a dramatic improvement in part designs and we don't have to go through a lengthy concession process to redesign the part," says Hanson. 

Precise Massie's Cigoi concurs. "The biggest struggle we have is finalizing a part design, and a lot of times it's because of a change," says Cigoi. "The attitude used to be, 'big deal, it's just a little change.' Now our customers are more educated on what it takes to build a mold, and that gives them a new perspective on how 'just a little change' can impact the entire mold project." 

Many of the attendees at H.S. Die & Engineering's seminars have never seen a mold nor been involved in the manufacture of a part. "We explain the entire process to them and show them first hand what's involved both in our mold shop and then in our molding facility," says Hanson. "Going through the shop for these people who've never been in a shop is a real eye-opener." 

Hanson also gives seminars at customers' plants, but notes that they're not as effective as when customers actually see the molds and how they're built. 

Tech Mold's Szanto prefers going to a customer's facility with a program tailored to meet their needs. The advantage, he says, is that attendees are more open, they can discuss specific projects in process, and can ask more detailed questions about their molds than in a setting where competitors might also be present. 

Cigoi says the seminars offer a two-way street for learning. "We get a better feeling about what our customers want, because it's a very interactive course," Cigoi explains. "We ask them what they expect or need from the course and we try to give them what they want." 

We give them a picture of the industry they don't normally see. 

Tech Mold customizes its seminars to meet the needs of the audience. Recently, Szanto and Estrada went to a customer's facility where a large group of people attended, including product designers, research scientists, plastics technicians, and tooling people. 

"One of the best things we do when we have a diverse group is orchestrate the program to create an entire picture and tie in all the processes from a product's concept through to a production mold producing parts," explains Szanto. "We give them a picture of the industry they don't normally see because they're so focused on their individual jobs." 

Curriculum
Agendas for seminars from all three companies are comprehensive and include all aspects of the injection molding process, from mold design and build to learning about resins to molding itself. Precise Massie and H.S. Die & Engineering both include plant tours of their moldmaking and molding facilities. 

"A plant tour is an invaluable thing for these seminars," says Hanson. "That's one reason we have the seminars at our plant, because people don't realize what it takes to build a mold." 

After classroom discussions on moldmaking, Hanson takes attendees to the shop floor where nine stations are set up. At each station a presenter explains one main element of the mold build. Attendees then go to the molding facility where five stations explain raw materials and the molding process. 

And don't forget the all-important quoting process. Cigoi believes this is a critical part of the seminar. "The quote is often misunderstood," he says, "but it's probably the most important document we create with regard to what the customer expects and what we deliver. We give very detailed quotes, so it's important that our customers understand what our quotes mean." 

Although an added benefit of these seminars is strengthening the sales relationship, Szanto says they do not overtly make a sales pitch. "We provide this service free to our customers with the goal of enhancing their overall knowledge of the mold industry, and ultimately making our relationship stronger," he adds. 

However, Cigoi believes the benefits of networking can't be discounted as a sales tool. In the evenings, Precise Massie's employees and the customers meet on a social basis and enhance the business relationship. "With the cost of molds so expensive, you need to have a good relationship with people. They need to feel comfortable that we can do the job," says Cigoi.

Editor's note: What is a Mold? is available through the IMM Book Club. To purchase the book call Renee Barker at (303) 321-2322, e-mail [email protected], or go to www.immbookclub.com. "Know the True Cost of Your Molds" is a booklet just released by the American Mold Builders Assn. It is designed to help educate buyers of molds on how to compare the variables in the costs of doing business with offshore mold shops vs. U.S. moldmakers. For more information on obtaining the booklet, contact AMBA Member Services at (630) 980-7667 or e-mail [email protected].

Contact information
Precise Massie
St. Petersburg, FL
Ed Cigoi
Phone: (727) 384-2401
Fax: (813) 302-4550

H.S. Die & Engineering Inc.
Grand Rapids, MI
Kent Hanson
Phone: (616) 453-5451, ext. 2280
Fax: (616) 453-7872

Tech Mold Inc.
Tempe, AZ
Karl Szanto
Phone: (480) 968-8691
Fax: (480)968-7359
Web: www.techmold.com

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