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Strategies for the 21st Century: The only certainty is change

December 29, 1999

4 Min Read
Strategies for the 21st Century: The only certainty is change

Change. David Bowiesings about it. Greek philosopher Heraclitus uttered the bestknown quote on the subject: "Nothing endures but change."It's an easily abused concept, but there's no doubt that changeaffects our work, home, friends, family, and colleagues. But whatwe seldom do amidst this entropy is stop, step back, and attemptto assign meaning to the change. We're often too busy to lookaround, see where we are, and try to get a handle on where we'regoing.

At IMM we move from month to month and issue to issue reportingon the people, companies, technologies, and trends that shapethe injection molding industry. And as a molder, moldmaker, ordesigner, you've experienced some of the larger economic and strategicforces that are pushing and pulling the molding community in newand different directions, changing the way it operates.

With the dawning of 2000 just a few days behind us, IMM beginsa year-long assessment of the future of injection molding. Withthe fast pace of change, and with new technology and equipmentemerging in the industry almost daily, we wanted to know whata molder should be doing now to set himself or herself up fora successful and profitable future.

Our coverage begins below with this series. We started by selectingfrom the industry the five major end markets served by injectionmolders-computers/IT, consumer, medical, telecommunications, andautomotive. Next, we asked OEMs in each market for their viewson the molding industry.

We asked them to think about their businesses and how moldingand moldmaking fit in. What are their current needs? What servicesdo they demand from molders? And most importantly, what sets aparta great molder from a good molder? Then we asked them to thinkforward five to 10 years. How will the molder or moldmaker ofthe future best serve his or her customers? Is specializationkey? How important is new technology? Will molders be asked todo more or less? How does a molder increase his or her value?

As you might guess, answers varied from market to market. Butas you read you will detect a thread that runs through each story,and it signals an ongoing shift in how the molding community doesbusiness. The fundamental message is this: No molder or moldmakercan be all things to all customers.

OEMs and manufacturers everywhere are trimming, cutting, andshrinking their supplier lists. The few molders who make theselists must be highly skilled and have a specialty that sets themapart from the competition. Whether it's two-shot molding, tight-tolerancemoldmaking, insert molding, metal molding, or the ability to run50 percent glass-filled nylon, OEMs want to know that you havecarved a niche in the marketplace that sets you apart.

SUPPLYVS. DEMAND

 Telecommunications

 1400

 140

 Medical

 38

 5

 Consumer

 12

 5

 Computers/IT

 120

 20

The upshot is that, right now, the supply of injection moldersin the U.S. greatly exceeds the demand (see chart above). Forexample, Harbour & Assoc. in Troy, MI estimates that in the past10 to 15 years the number of suppliers to the average automotiveassembly plant has dropped from about 2000 to 350. This means,unfortunately, that the molding community is being weeded out.Some companies will be consolidated by merger; others that cannotadapt in this sea of change will be left behind.

The outlook, however, is not necessarily grim. The comments,insights, and ideas expressed in the following pages are a goodstart for any molder who wants to thrive in the 21st Century.But don't stop here. Talk to your own customers. Find out whereyou fit in their plans. Learn your strengths and weaknesses anddevelop strategies to enhance the former and eliminate the latter.Most of all, don't sit still.

Over the next five issues we'll explore the business and technicalchallenges that designers, moldmakers, and molders will face inthe coming century. We'll ask for your input and feedback aboutwhat strategies work and which are doomed to fail. In the secondhalf of the year we'll present the blueprints-strategies and tacticsfor meeting and overcoming the looming challenges. By the endof the year we hope you'll have a new set of tools to help yousucceed in the years ahead. Keep your eyes peeled for the blueprintlogo.

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