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September 24, 2002

4 Min Read
IMM Editorial: Greetings From the Tightrope

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Jeff Sloan 

In the March 2002 issue I wrote about how the molding industry is evolving, and how molders are evolving or must evolve with it to survive (see: “Notice: You are Not a Molder” March 2002 IMM).  In response, I received one particularly strong e-mail from Paul Tontsch, a molder. There’s not room to publish it all, but I will excerpt quotes:

I am stunned that a serious magazine is taking such a “whatever” approach to what is THE issue facing the injection molding industry, for that matter all of the manufacturing industry—that of cheap product coming from Asia and Mexico.

How can we compete with such places that do not have the rules and regulations that North American suppliers have to deal with, such as minimum wage, health and safety, workers’ compensation, and insurance and environmental preservation issues?

You stated that in order to compete with Mexico and Asia the molders in North America need to offer contract services. I question this. If we cannot compete on a molding basis because our costs are too high, driven specifically by labor costs, how can we compete doing assembly work and other “value-added” tasks? This is why contract manufacturing went offshore in the first place. To think that we can ever compete by playing them at their game is folly and unsound. Only when our standard of living is as low as those elsewhere in the world will work come back. However, the industry will be decimated by then and unable to respond effectively.

My second question is this: Why are companies, manufacturing associations, and industry-related magazines not lobbying government to create a more even playing field, as is happening in the steel industry? Does it boil down to the simple fact that North America does not want manufacturing? The argument that we need to invest more in equipment, in training, and to find niche markets will not cut it any longer. I have done all of that in my own company and still I cannot compete. The industry needs help and support from government if it is going to survive. Government won't do anything unless it understands that manufacturing is key to a vibrant economy.

Your article in no way helps the vast majority of injection molders, your readers. To me it said, “shut up shop and go do something else,” because the option that was put on the table is not a viable solution for the majority of us out here, doing battle on the front line. I suggest that you seriously consider the condition of our industry and make efforts to support its interests before we lose those skills already present and turn away the new blood that is looking to become part of its future.

Magazines like this one are often forced to walk a fine line when it comes to establishing “position” on critical issues. On the one hand, IMM has a responsibility to promote, support, and defend the injection molding industry, especially when it faces the threat that currently confronts us. On the other hand, we are also obliged to be as honest, fair, objective, and realistic as possible about the state of the industry and where market forces are leading it—whether to Mexico, China, or Eastern Europe. The question is, are you better served by IMM as cheerleader and advocate of government protectionism, or by IMM as laissez-faire reporter of industry trends? The answer, I think, is both; rather, we aspire to do both.

As part of IMM’s effort to do more of the former (advocacy), we are starting in November a series of regional lunches called Crossroads Roundtables. Named after the Crossroads editorial series we are launching next year to take a closer, more in-depth look at the exodus of molding jobs and how it might be slowed, the Roundtables will bring together molders, moldmakers, OEMs, and industry suppliers. Moderated by IMM, they will discuss the current state of the industry, the trend to take manufacturing offshore, and how we can and should respond to help keep those jobs here. The first stop on our tour will be Cleveland. Other planned stops include Detroit, Chicago, Boston, Baltimore, Atlanta, Phoenix, and Los Angeles. Reports of these Roundtables will be published in future issues of IMM.

I don’t think IMM has ever taken a “whatever” approach to molding, and we hope that the Crossroads Roundtables and next year’s series are further proof that this is the case.

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