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The dictionary defines service as a "helpful, beneficial, or friendly action or conduct that gives assistance or advantage to another." If you're not offering it, someone who is could be getting your business.The United States is, and always has been, a major manufacturing country. A significant amount of manufacturing has moved offshore, but this is still an important part of the economy. Maintaining a strong U.S. manufacturing industry is important to everyone reading this article. But why?

Glenn Beall

June 9, 2010

6 Min Read
By Design: Winning with service

The dictionary defines service as a "helpful, beneficial, or friendly action or conduct that gives assistance or advantage to another." If you're not offering it, someone who is could be getting your business.

The United States is, and always has been, a major manufacturing country. A significant amount of manufacturing has moved offshore, but this is still an important part of the economy. Maintaining a strong U.S. manufacturing industry is important to everyone reading this article. But why?

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In this recurring column, Glenn Beall of Glenn Beall Plastics Ltd. (Lib­erty­ville, IL) shares his special perspective on issues important to design engineers and the molding industry. You can reach him at glennbeall [email protected].

Because molders are manufacturers. If you are not a molder, you are either buying from a molder or trying to sell a product or service to a molder. It behooves all of us to do what we can to help the injection molding industry to continue to be a strong, vibrant contributor to the U.S. economy.

Migration to low-labor-rate countries has eliminated most of the marginal and me-too U.S. injection molders. An increasing number of the survivors are following their customers offshore to become multinational molders. Others rely on niche markets. The remaining injection molders tend to be very efficient, progressive, high-tech companies capable of competing in the global economy.

One problem that plagues the latter group of molders is that many original equipment manufacturers' (OEMs') buyers ignore U.S. molders and send all of their new projects offshore. This is discouraging for molders who have invested time and money in becoming competitive. This also deprives OEMs of all of the advantages of having local suppliers who, in many cases, are competitive with offshore suppliers. There is money and time to be saved by reconsidering domestic molders.

Deteriorating customer service

One of the best ways molders can reestablish themselves with American OEM buyers is with the kind of service and personal attention that offshore competitors cannot provide. It is a fact that in their desperate attempts to reduce cost, many injection molding companies have allowed their customer service to deteriorate.

For example, there was a time when a molding company's phones would be answered by a pleasant voice that asked how she could help you. If you asked to speak to Mr. Peppers, you might be told he was out, but was expected to be in the office tomorrow morning, and could anyone else help. If not, she took your message and finished by thanking you for calling and saying that she would deliver your message to Mr. Peppers as soon as he returned. You ended that conversation feeling good and fully expecting to hear from Mr. Peppers the next morning. You also wouldn't mind phoning that company again. Buyers want lean suppliers, but like everyone else, they appreciate and respond to courteous, personal service.

What normally happens today is a cool, professional, recorded voice tells you how pleased they are that you called. This is not impressive when you realize they play the same recording for a politician looking for donations. You are then ordered to punch in the last name of the person you want to talk to. This will produce another recording repeating how important they consider your call, but can't answer it right now. After the beep, you are to leave a message with the promise that your call will be answered as soon as possible.

There is no feedback saying whether or not Mr. Peppers is in the office today or that he has left on a two-week vacation. With no other options, you leave the message that your commuter train just passed his plant and you thought he would like to know that smoke and flames are coming through the windows facing the railroad tracks.

Customers also put a high value on integrity, which, among other things, includes actually doing what you say you will do. Few people and companies practice this kind of integrity today. Those that do, stand out in the crowd. When you source offshore you have to remember that some cultures do not require the honoring of a spoken, or even a written, commitment.

Design as a service

Injection molders know the molding business better than their customers do. If they want to, molders can provide many additional services that will delight their customers. Any suggestion on ways to reduce cost, improve quality, and shorten delivery will encourage customers to return again and again.

During the past few years there have been many advances made in the injection molding industry. The machines, molds, plastic materials, and especially our understanding of the molding process have improved. Regrettably, the same cannot be said for the detailed design of injection molded parts. The mistakes made while the industry was learning in the 1950s and 1960s are still being made today.

The adoption of computer-aided engineering has allowed impressive improvements in the design and development of plastic products. Again, regrettably, these new technologies have not resulted in a corresponding improvement in piece part design. It is important to recognize that injection molders do not mold products. They mold individual parts that are assembled to produce products. This realization provides an opportunity for molders to provide a valuable customer service.

Injection molders have very little control over their customers' product design. They can, however, have a major influence on the individual parts they mold. Every molder knows that simple little details such as a sharp inside corner or a nonuniform thickness can have a drastic effect on the moldability and performance of a part. It is safe to assume that every molder reading this article is producing some plastic parts that were not properly designed for low-cost, high-quality injection molding.

Injection molders can do their customers a valuable service by identifying and eliminating these troublesome part design details before molds are built. Properly designed parts result in reduced cost, better quality, and shorter deliveries by working right the first time. Simultaneous improvements in cost, quality, and delivery will certainly delight any potential customer.

The modern practice of fast-tracking new projects leaves few opportunities for discussing improvements in part design. Many molders are afraid to ask OEMs to consider design changes on a new request for quotation. You will look better than your competitors if you are the only molder making suggestions for improving cost, quality, and delivery.

This is your last chance to eliminate part design problems. If you get the order for the part as designed, you will have to live with the problems for the life of the project. If you fix the design problems now, both you and your customer will benefit-win-win.

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