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September 11, 1998

5 Min Read
Organizing Mould Assembly into Workcells

Mainland China may not have the reputation of being a place where high end, large moulds originate. But a company in the rural area of Guangdong province in southern China is trying to change that.

Situated in a community about 60 miles north and west of Hong Kong, and almost half way between Shenzhen and Guangzhou, Tung Kong Machinery Moulding Factory supplies moulds to such global companies as Casio, Philips, Ericsson, and Epson. It designs, manufactures, and trials these moulds in a unique building that has been purposefully designed to look like one side of a huge mould. This building and its twin alongside, which houses the company's moulding facility, look from the outside like a section of a sliding cores system, complete with Unbrako screws simulated in steel blue ceramic tiles.

Managing director P.L. Li and his partner Tse Kar started this mouldmaking business in Hong Kong in 1983. Although a sales office is still maintained in Hong Kong, they moved the manufacturing business to mainland China in 1988 because of both increasing demand from their customers and rising costs in Hong Kong. Shortly afterward, they added a moulding facility to their China location to provide initial production from newly built moulds.

Nearby, several modern apartment buildings were built by the company to house employees, the mouldmakers who form the nucleus of their skilled work force. Residents of Hong Kong, the mouldmakers work six days a week in the Shenzhen plant and return to Hong Kong on Saturday evening to spend Sunday with their families. They return to Shenzhen early Monday morning.

Two Extremes

The mould shop is a mixture of both conventional and very unconventional methods, both highly sophisticated and intensely labour oriented. Machining is done on Okoma-Howa, Anayak, and Kuraki CNC horizontal and vertical machining centers; the largest and newest is 200 by 1,500 by 1,450 mm.

Out of 47 milling machines, nine are CNC. EDM is performed on 24 sinkers and wire machines mostly CNC from Charmilles and Dophen. The 220 mouldmakers work in a shop that is compartmentalized into workcells. Each mould assembly job is conducted by a team in its own self-contained area. The tools do not move from group to group, but stay in a single workcell where all operations are done.

The floors of these areas are made of steel plate, as are the connecting aisles, reminiscent of a ship's engine room. These floors, as well as being very durable, simplify sliding mould components around. The floors are kept meticulously clean and are not as slippery as one would imagine steel floors might be.

Mould polishing is done by hand, without the help of power tools. It is done exclusively by women, recruited from the surrounding area, who are trained in-house. Michael Yang, general manager, admits that this is cost effective only because of the low wages in China, but points out that, on the other hand, these jobs are in high demand, because Tung Kong pays much better than the surrounding businesses.

A neighbouring plant supplies McDonalds with promotional toys and employs 6,000 workers at much lower wages than Tung Kong. As with any technically trained workforce, Tung Kong's workers are in demand. Yang jokes that because Tung Kong has such good and diverse training, the company has become a technological "bank," supplying surrounding mouldmaking competitors with skilled workers.

Mould Engineering

Tung Kong's recently expanded engineering department now has more than 20 CAD stations and runs most of the CNC machining centers on CAM, directly from the engineering department. Lots of mouldmakers boast about this capability, but not many are actually doing it. Programs from Moldflow, Unigraphics, and Mastercam are run together on a Novell network. All mould components have drawings that are available to the customers, and are checked in a spotless gauge room complete with filtered air. This room also houses a large Italian coordinate measuring machine.

Mould tryout is carried out in a dedicated tryout room, containing

one 650-ton and one 200-ton JSW. Each of these moulding machines is equipped with microprocessor and closed loop controls. A full complement of auxiliary equipment, including gas-assist capability, is available to handle every moulding situation. Customers can be, and mostly are, present for sampling. Customers also get weekly status reports on mould's progress prior to sampling.

The Moulding Side

Just in case the two tryout machines aren't big enough, capabilities of the moulding facility next door are available. It houses 30 injection moulding machines, all Japanese, mostly JSWs. They range in tonnage from 40 metric tons to the newest and largest, a 1,300-ton JSW. About 280 employees are assigned to the moulding division. There are two people per machine--one operator and one inspector, who does 100 percent inspection.

The moulding shop floor people work a 10-hour day with an hour for lunch. A hot meal is provided by the company. They work 13 straight days, and then they get a day off, which means every second Sunday off. In spite of the long work hours, these jobs at Tung Kong are in high demand. During IMI's visit, there seemed to be a constant throng of people outside the company gates, presumably waiting for a help wanted sign to be posted.

With annual sales for 1997 at US$ 13 million, it is evident that Tung Kong benefits from the lower labour rates available in China.

Contact Information:
Tung Kong Machinery Moulding Fty.
Mr. S. Y. Tang
Unit G, G/F
Wah Lik Industrial Center
459-469 Castle Peak Rd.
Tsuen Wan N.T.
Hong Kong, PRC
Tel: +852 (241) 41388
Fax: +852 (241) 36041

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