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Bill Kushmaul's peers see in him 'a moldmaker's moldmaker'. In 2005, he was the AMBA Moldmaker of the Year. Among his numerous awards is a distinguished service award from the Society of the Plastics Industry.

September 17, 2008

6 Min Read
Executive Q&A with Bill Kushmaul

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Bill Kushmaul's peers see in him 'a moldmaker's moldmaker'. In 2005, he was the AMBA Moldmaker of the Year. Among his numerous awards is a distinguished service award from the Society of the Plastics Industry. Tech Mold, which specializes in molds for single-use products for the medical, closures, packaging, pharmaceutical, consumer, and technology markets, also has earned many accolades.

Tech Mold Inc. was founded by Bill Kushmaul in 1972, and, after breaking from its long-time affiliation with the Tech Group (now owned by the West Corp.) several years ago, is now a privately held, independent mold manufacturing company. It has thrived for nearly four decades by establishing industry leadership in new technology adoption, staying on the cutting edge of mold design and development, and serving Fortune 500 companies globally from its Tempe, AZ location.
Over the years Tech Mold has evolved from moldmaking to a total solutions manufacturer that includes Tech Mold R&D for mold development to the assembly of molding manufacturing cells.  MPW sat down with Bill Kushmaul in his Tempe, AZ office to talk about change and success, and what’s possible for today’s mold manufacturing company in light of the many challenges facing mold shop owners.
MPW: You’ve been in business for nearly four decades. What technology has had the biggest impact on Tech Mold and the moldmaking industry in general?
Kushmaul:?Solid modeling. It’s the basis for everything else we do. From the true, dimensionally  accurate solid model you can create everything else. All things are generated from the solid model—from SLS prototypes and machining, to our proprietary self-correcting technology. It’s the technology that has allowed us to operate and improve the ratio of unattended machining. The fact that we can create a solid model and use that to do all these other things has made Tech Mold, and the industry, far more productive, accurate, and efficient. None of this was possible with the drawing board and pencil. Solid modeling actually lets us create exactly what the customer wants. You can’t run a high-speed machining center without the solid model because you have to have confidence in the program to run high-speed machining.
MPW: You’ve often said that the cost of technology is the biggest impediment to mold shops’ competitiveness.
Kushmaul: Companies can evolve and be innovative but we need the resources to do that, and maintain our profitability. Innovation costs money—nothing’s free. Constantly changing the business model in any business, you should pick the technology direction for your company and stay the course. Buy the technology that allows you to optimize your area of expertise. A shop can’t be all things to all people. You can’t try 10 new things a year just following trends. You have to pick a direction and make it work for you. It’s really a catch 22: you need new technology to be competitive, but you also need to be competitive to be profitable and afford the technology. 
With customers demanding more from us but giving us less volume and wanting cheaper prices, it’s hard to invest in technology. Much of the loyalty to mold suppliers is gone. It’s each mold on its own merits, and our industry now works from mold to mold. That puts a lot of pressure on the moldmaker. Profitability is more difficult. That last 5% [profit] should be used for technology advancement. If we can’t be profitable, we don’t have the funds to keep our shops modern for the next generation.
MPW: You’ve mentored a lot of younger people—men and women—as they’ve started in the  mold manufacturing business. What is the best piece of advice you have for anyone entering the business for themselves in today’s global marketplace?
Kushmaul: There are two things really. One, manage your money. A company is only as successful as its cash flow. Cash is still king. If you get behind the cash curve, you can lose your business even if you have the best technology, the best moldmakers, and the best experience in the world. Remember, your money belongs to the business. Invest in the business and spend the average, not the peak.
Second, regardless of your talent or how smart you think you are, if you don’t find, hire, and keep good people and trust them to do the job, you’ll never be successful. You can’t go it alone. If you have good people you trust you can’t second guess them every day or you’ll demoralize them and they won’t do the job. Over the years, I’ve hired good people and trusted them to do a good job. Trying to do it by yourself is a recipe for disaster. If you think you’re the only person who can do every job in the shop perfectly, the business will consume you 24/7.
MPW: Is it even possible for someone to open and grow a successful business given the challenging environment in which we have to operate?
Kushmaul:?It’s more challenging than ever because of the capital requirements and also a lack of available talent. However, there’s always room for the right person with a right solution, but it’s more difficult today than ever. Having said that, business can’t be focused on the owner, it must be focused on serving the customer. When you find out what the customer wants and match that with your technology expertise, it all comes together.
MPW: How far can technology take today’s moldmaker and what role will skilled labor play in the successful mold shop?
Kushmaul: Certainly, the computer with CAD/CAM and the solid model program that has standardized the system has taken a lot of the skill out of the shop with respect to the amount of figuring and daily input into the mold build. But, you can never circumvent the need for the talented individual that can see the big picture and put it all together. There will never be a fully automated mold shop.  It’s a custom environment and with custom work there are too many variables— too many day-to-day decisions—to eliminate the human factor. 
MPW: Where will that skilled labor come from with so many moldmakers on the cusp of retirement?
Kushmaul: It’s got to come from young people. Working in a machine shop isn’t as attractive as the trade was 30 years ago, so we’ll have to find ways to excite young people about this trade. We also need to broaden our horizons as to where this talent lies and how to find it. We need to look in non-traditional places, then find ways to encourage young people. Our industry is pretty much a computerized industry and we can play off that in attracting these young people who grew up in a computerized environment.
MPW: If you had it to do all over again, what would you do differently? Or would you do anything differently?
Kushmaul: I would have added molding earlier in Tech Mold’s history, and made that a more meaningful part of my business. Having molding makes the moldmakers better. I think we find solutions faster and our business becomes more successful. I’d definitely consider having more emphasis on molding machines as part of making better molds.

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