What NASCAR pit crews can teach mold set-up teams

Applying a NASCAR approach to mold changeovers can eliminate inconsistency and downtime

The efficiency of mold changes, a common task in many custom injection molding shops, is a key factor in determining how much machine time is available. Poor performance in changeover times and approach can make or break a company with a lean manufacturing ideology. Efficiency, consistency and speed are three primary focuses in a lean-minded shop. This article points out some of the principles of NASCAR race teams and how these can be implemented into a molding shop's mentality to drastically reduce changeover times and the downtime associated with mold changes.

Dale Earnhardt, Jr. on pit road, as his team completes a pit stop during the 2008 Dodge Challenger 500 at Darlington Raceway on May 10, 2008.
Image courtesy  Junior_at_Darlington.jpg: U.S. National Guard.

Lean approaches in plastics injection molding are a vital requirement to the success of any molding operation. Efficient molders can cut their costs and consistently undercut the quotes of their competition. Companies that successfully implement "lean" into their operation do so through:

  • Fast and consistent changeovers;
  • production runs with minimal start-up scrap and minimal-to-no scrap during the run;
  • ongoing continuous improvement projects aimed at all facets of the molding operation;
  • standardization of mechanical components and procedures;
  • and development of strategic, consistent approaches that streamline the overall time and consistency of downtime as it relates to the time associated with the end of a job, mold changeover and the transition into a new job start up.

By following some of the lessons of a NASCAR pit crew, a plastics processor has the opportunity to eliminate inconsistency and downtime associated with poorly planned changeovers. The first step is to meet with the set-up team, evaluate each job individually and then establish a solid, streamlined approach toward downtime associated with job changeovers.

Let's consider some of the parallels between a NASCAR pit crew and a mold set-up team. Each has the responsibility of maintaining and servicing a machine, and each can ultimately affect the success or failure of the operation he or she is responsible for through poor performance and approach. Each member has a common goal—the success of the operation. And in most cases each one takes great pride in its contributions to that success.

Clearly, there are some strong similarities between both teams, despite the vast difference between the machines for which they are responsible. By inputting NASCAR-style techniques into your mold changeover approach, you can get similar and cost-effective results through faster change times and improved consistency through standardization. Mold changeovers are very similar to the pit-stop scenario. In NASCAR, the car is directed to stop in a couple of laps as the pit crew prepares for the event. A plan is developed based on the needs of the car. The crew knows well in advance what its duties are, and each member is provided with the necessary tools and training for a quick response. Poorly organized teams find themselves overwhelmed and sluggish. A properly prepared and trained team that performs the stop quickly and efficiently secures the win.

Successful mold changeover is no different. The team knows in advance what the change requires and has developed a successful approach through proper planning and preparation. This helps to identify the procedures that need to be performed

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