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Is injection molding training worth it?

injection molding training
There is a skilled labor shortage in our industry and there are two solutions to this problem: Hire skilled employees away from your competition or improve your own employees' skill sets. Each solution has advantages and disadvantages.

Hiring from the outside 

This can be tricky. Many employers ask if the candidate is a “master molder.” The problem here is that it only means the candidate attended classes and completed the course. It brings to mind the old joke: "What do you call someone who went to medical school in a third-world country and finished dead last in the class? The answer is: Doctor." The diploma means nothing in terms of the candidate’s ability to work with others, his or her level of competency, the ability to pass along this knowledge to others and embed this way of thinking in your company.

When you hire someone new, there is always pushback. Your current experts are not going to take kindly to the pro from Dover coming into the shop and usurping their current places in the pecking order. Your new hire is also faced with the daunting task of converting your employees to a new way of doing things.

Training your own folks

Albert Einstein once said, "If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough." The question dissolves to, who gets trained? Your first problem is to find out how well your folks understand injection molding. This is less complicated than it seems.

However, management usually comes up with some generic objections.

Objection: "Once I get them trained they'll quit and go to another company and I've wasted money."

Answer: This is usually a problem in pay for performance. If the training results in improved profitability, these employees should be entitled to a raise proportionate to their contribution.

Objection: "Off-site training is expensive, and most of the time they don't train others when they come back."

Answer: True, but,

  1. Don't send them off to school, where the machines, molds and other stuff are perfect. Bring the school into your shop.
  2. Bring in the instructor not only with a daylong-plus PowerPoint lecture, but complete with books written in readable English or Spanish (here in the United States). Most people forget much of what was learned in a daylong class. The book will allow them to go back and refresh their memory. Quite like high school or college, the attendees should not need to take extensive notes. They are there to learn, not write their own textbook.
  3. Training should not be a graduate-level lecture. While the calculus of polymer behavior is interesting, its practical application without all the equations is what generates profits. If highbrow calculations are needed, give them fill-in-the-blank spreadsheets.
  4. Even if it is an extra day, have the instructor break the class into groups and send them out on the production floor to prove they have absorbed the instruction.
  5. Beware the sales pitch. If your instructor is using concepts that only show results requiring you to purchase add-on equipment, you should not be paying them for a daylong commercial.

Objection: "Why should I pay an instructor? Can't the tech service guys from the machine manufacturer or resin companies do it? We spend a lot of money with them."

Answer: Twenty-plus years ago that would be a valid objection. Today, the resin companies might have one or two people who cover the entire country, and the machine companies can tell you a lot about how to get the best out of their machines, but little else.

Objection: "I can't shut the factory down. We're too busy."

Answer: Most companies are still working on a three shift, five-day week. It isn't as difficult as it might seem to hold your class on the weekend, whether it is two back-to-back Saturdays, or a Saturday class and Sunday practical demo.

For 24/7 operations, I have split the class/demo into four-hour segments. While the instructor will lose some sleep doing this, you can schedule the folks to pick up each segment by coming to work early, or staying on after their shift is over.

Objection: "We're doing fine! We don't need training to 'optimize.'"

Answer: True, if you can afford an occasional rejected shipment, don't mind being pressured to lower the price under the threat of “I've got people who can do it better and cheaper,” and don't mind missing the opportunity to improve profits.

If you think your people are already top-notch and don't need any further training, you can verify that with two simple tests: 

First, go to the WJT Associates website and download "20 Questions." There are two tests: Basic and advanced. Someone who understands the molding process should score 100% on the basic and at least 90% on the advanced test. These are only the questions, not the answers. You are looking for Einstein's “simple explanations” to demonstrate understanding of the molding process. Give them the tests and have them write out the answers. If, when giving the test, you or your experts can't answer the questions yourselves, it probably means you need training. Desperately.

Second, go to the production floor and challenge the employee or applicant. If the process is truly optimized, it will be almost impossible to improve the quality of the part or its cycle time. If it isn't, have them show you and explain how they did it. This uses nine simple experiments.

If your candidate, whether it's a new hire or existing employee, succeeds at both the written and practical tests, pay him or her well! Have him or her teach others. If the scores are dismal or the challenge doesn't give you good results, you should consider training up your people.

The usual result of a good training course coupled with a hands-on demo showing that the concepts work is a minimum of 5% improvement in productivity. Most of the time it is higher. A productivity improvement is an increase of net salable pieces per hour. Or, if you have 20 machines in your shop, a 5% improvement will get you the output of 21 without having to buy an additional machine.

If you can afford to make scrap or have slow cycles, you can afford training. Trained, productive people have a payback that keeps you profitable and more competitive than the people down the street. Slow cycles and scrap will ultimately bleed you dry.

Your choice.

Bill Tobin is a consultant who teaches seminars and helps clients improve productivity. He can be contacted at www.wjtassociates.com or by e-mailing him at [email protected].

Tobin will be holding seminars in Kansas City on Nov. 14  and St. Louis, MO, on Nov. 16.  He is also available for in-house seminars. For more information, contact Tobin via e-mail, using "seminars" in the subject line, or go to wjtassociates.com.

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