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Next time you watch an auto race keep your eye on the pit crews, I firmly believe that by observing racing pit crews we can learn much that can be leveraged to make mold changes more efficient. This tech note will discuss some of the lessons that pit crews can teach us as molders. The difference between a win and loss for a racer is made up of time in the pits just as our profit and loss can be determined "in the pits" of mold changes and startups.

Steve Brammer

November 7, 2014

6 Min Read
Ten things mold changers can learn from pit crews

1. Above all pit crews get the job done safely. An auto race is an inherently dangerous event and pit crews are literally right in the middle of it all. Everything that the pit crew does must be done in a safe manner to get the car safely back on the track. Pit crews will always have the proper PPE (personal protective equipment) and so should a mold change crew. Taking shortcuts that could jeopardize safety can get someone killed in both racing and mold changes. 

2. Pit crews use team work. This lesson is the most obvious lesson we can utilize during a mold change. The team works together to divide the labor amongst themselves which makes for much faster pit stops. A dedicated mold change team will also have tasks divided so that machine downtime can be minimized. In a mold change, we may only have a team of two but with two the tasks are divided plus we gain the improvement of minimizing travel time (walking around the press to do front side and backside tasks). With two mold setters we can have a front side guy and a backside guy, add a third and you can have someone working on material changeover and robot EOAT changes. 

3. Pit crews follow an optimized routine. You won't see a pit crew start a pit stop and try to figure who should do what half way through. They will find the best way of doing each task and consistently do that task the same way every time, unless they find a better way. Everyone on the mold change team should know exactly what their tasks are and the best way to accomplish those tasks, and then stick to the process.

4. Pit crews use the right tool for the job. Pit crews are well aware that the job can be completed more safely, faster and with greater ease by using the proper tools. Pit crews continue to look for better tools that will make the process easier. If you look at some of the tools pit crews use versus a normal tire change you can appreciate the improvements such as jacks that require 1 pump, high speed pneumatic tools, premeasured fuel, etc. Mold setting crews need ready access to the appropriate tools for the job. Torque wrenches for final tightening of clamp bolts will help eliminate stripped out platen holes. Quality tools will avoid the waste associated with breaking a tool and or damaging the fastener. 

5. Pits crews have what they need at the point of use. You won't see a pit crew member jump back over the wall because he forgot to bring a replacement tire with him. But how often do you see a mold changer go looking for a tool or clamp during the middle of a mold change? There should be no need to walk away from a mold change to find something, it should be readily available, and the farthest away anything should be is the tool cart. A tool cart with the required tools and components will make a changeover go much smoother. Just implementing this one item will cut down on wasted time when the mold setter is walking around hunting for a required tool or part. Several times I've watched video of a mold change with the change crew and listened to them make comments such as "wow look how long I was gone hunting for a water line" or "look at all the extra walking we are doing." Don't make your crew hunt for what they need to complete the job!

6. Pit crews know that the little things matter. If the car is located in the wrong spot the pit stop is complicated, if a mold is slightly misaligned i.e. not level the rest of the setup becomes more difficult. When a mold is just slightly out of place the robot program will need to be adjusted causing additional downtime. Ever forget to remove a safety strap before opening the mold? The extra time to extract the broken bolt is costing money. Don't overlook the little things when changing a mold.

7. Pit crews prepare before the car stops. Every tool and part is ready to go as soon as the car stops. A mold changer must have the same mentality and have everything staged prior to stopping the machine. A large amount of time is wasted if the required tools and equipment is not staged and ready to go. The mold should be staged and if possible preheated prior to stopping the press. The crew must understand that when the press stops the company stops making money. Everything that can be done external to stopping the mold should be done while the machine is running.  Separating external and internal tasks will show ways to optimize the mold change; internal tasks are those that cannot be completed with the press running. Often mold change analysis will show that many external actions are being completed after stopping the machine i.e. the tech stops the press and then the mold changer goes to get the new mold, can you say waste? 

8. Pit crews use communication as a tool. The pit crew is in constant contact with the driver and knows when he will be stopping and what issues he is having with the car. Mold changers must communicate with themselves as well as the rest of the team to make sure they are clear about what needs to happen. It doesn't matter how fast you change the mold if you didn't get the correct piece count on the prior job or change to the wrong mold.

9. Pit crews overcame the average mentality. Who would believe that you can change four tires and refuel a car in less than 15 seconds? Anyone who gets wrapped up in narrow thinking could never imagine that this is possible but pit crews prove it can be done. In the plastic industry, we must avoid the mentality that says you can only change a mold this fast. We need to constantly look for the roadblocks that are limiting faster changes.

10. Pit crews understand that they have a major impact on the race results.  The race is often won in the pits; successful molders are winning with efficient mold changes that minimize downtime and damage to molds. A mold changer should never think they are just changing a mold; rather they are getting a very expensive press back up and making money. 

So yes there is a lot that molders can learn from race teams (and you thought watching the race on weekend was just fun and relaxation). Take these pit crew lessons and apply them in your plant, hopefully it will help you make it into the "winners circle."

Steve Brammer is the Molding Technical Manager at Lacks Trim Systems, an internationally recognized provider of complex, highly decorated components and systems for the exterior automotive trim market.

Editor's note: The author is a PlasticsToday contributor. The opinions expressed are those of the writer.

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