Whether in the business world or the natural world, long-term survival depends on an ability to adapt to new challenges and opportunities. This is especially true for the plastic injection molding industry.
As recently as a dozen years ago, many plastics manufacturers were both moldmakers and molders. Since then, a variety of changes have influenced the economic landscape, prompting many in the industry to adapt and change. Although each party felt forced to change for the sake of survival, this evolution has had unexpected advantages for moldmakers and molders – and their customers.
That’s what we’ve seen at Dickten Masch Plastics, a WI-based thermoplastics and thermoset manufacturer. We’ve shifted away from building the majority of our molds in house and now more often rely on a group of carefully chosen, strategic moldmaking partners.
What follows is a closer look at this shifting approach, so that you can consider whether it might be appropriate for your operation and situation.
The Change Trigger
From the 1950s to the early 2000s, many in the plastics industry were full-service contract moldmakers and molders. But by the early 2000s, globalization began to affect the plastics industry, forcing companies to reconsider their approach.
For the first time, American moldmakers faced new competition as the molds made overseas had greatly improved. To remain competitive, they felt the need to make significant financial investments to improve their tool shops.
American customers were also feeling the effects of globalization and began to demand quicker turnaround times. However, due to workforce limitations, American moldmakers and molders could produce only so much so fast. At the same time, American producers saw new opportunities with globalization, and wanted to pursue new customers and new vertical market interests in other countries.
With their finite resources, moldmakers and molders faced a dilemma: They were unable to pursue new global opportunities and maintain state-of-the-art tool shops. To accommodate these challenges and opportunities, many in the industry made the strategic decision to specialize in doing one thing well— either moldmaking or molding.
However, their customers still wanted full-service providers. To meet this need, moldmakers have developed close partnerships with molders, and molders have developed close partnerships with moldmakers.
Benefits of a Paradigm Shift
Companies that specialize in either moldmaking or molding report many advantages.
First, by focusing on what they do best, they become more proficient in their core competencies. Specialization begets greater specialization: as more customers look to a molder or moldmaker for a particular type of work, that operation becomes more efficient, profitable and reliable in that work, leading more customers to seek them out for it, and so on.
Just as important as the increased internal focus is the value offered in combination with other specialized partners. By forming close, integrated partnerships with each other, specialized molders and moldmakers bring their customers the best of both services.
Over time, a more fully integrated partnership between molder and moldmaker fosters greater confidence and predictability for both parties. The better a molder knows a moldmaker’s capabilities and capacity, the easier it is for that molder to find the moldmaker that’s the right fit with a given job.
At DMP, for example, we tend to quote a project with fewer moldmakers than another molder might because we already know which of our preferred partners are up to the job. This advance knowledge saves time and improves the reliability of the entire process.
We also find that greater scheduling transparency between partners makes revenue forecasting, budgeting and workflow planning easier and more predictable. Nothing is certain, of course, and each project always goes to the most qualified bid. But we have a better idea of what that bid will look like since we have a well-established relationship with the bidders—bringing a higher level of predictability to our customers, as well.
Meanwhile, for their own planning purposes, the moldmakers we work with have a clearer idea about the projects we have on the horizon and what their prospects are for winning that bid.
In general, each partner is better prepared to compete more successfully for customers, to win more strategically beneficial work through preferred partners, and to meet customers’ needs more quickly and efficiently.
Partner Potential Pointers
If you are a moldmaker who wants to form a close, reciprocal relationship with a molder, it’s important to know what to look for in a potential partner.
First, make sure the molder has a full-service toolroom and highly skilled, experienced employees. These technical attributes are particularly important in terms of leadtimes in the event of any issues that may arise with a mold once you’ve shipped it to the molder.
For example, a mold may get damaged in transit and require repairs. Or, a test run on the tool may reveal manufacturability issues.
Without a full-service toolroom on site at the molder, the mold will have to be shipped back to your facility, adding time and costs to the project—two issues that lead to unhappy end customers. In addition, the repair work will pull your staff off of newer, more profitable jobs. Alternatively, either you or the molder may need to carry additional, costly tool inventory to ensure work can be done on time and to specifications.
If, on the other hand, your molding partner has the tooling expertise and equipment to handle any emergency concerns, you significantly reduce the risk of the most disruptive interruptions and significantly improve the responsiveness of the whole supply chain to any problems.
Setting the Example
DMP has lived through many changes in the moldmaking and molding market. The company was founded in 1941 as a tooling shop. In the 1950s, it added presses and began molding custom thermoset components. It expanded into thermoplastic molding a decade later.
For about 50 years, our company remained a full-service contract molder and moldmaker; however, in the early 2000s, we felt the need to respond to growing globalization.
Today, DMP is primarily a molder that buys the majority of its molds from companies that specialize in moldmaking. To ensure the best results for us and for our customers, as well as to ensure the most successful and profitable relationship with the moldmaker, we try to play to the “sweet spot” for each tooling partner.
We take a close look at each potential moldmaking partner based on a variety of criteria. Beyond basic and broad qualifications such as stability and reliability, we seek to categorize each candidate in terms of how they’d fit with our projects—smaller or large parts, types of molds and molding processes, etc.
However, DMP still maintains in-house tool shops across our three plants in Wisconsin, Iowa and Monterrey, Mexico. Eight toolmakers and 18 tooling technicians work with CNC and high-speed milling machines, EDM systems and other quality moldmaking and design equipment. If any problems arise during the manufacturing process, our skilled workforce can rectify these issues immediately and seamlessly.
DMP has also developed preventive maintenance schedules, where the company has set aside specific times for cleaning and servicing specific tools, so that every time they go into the press, they can be trusted to run. The preventive maintenance is fully integrated into our IQMS enterprise resource planning system, making the tracking and execution of ongoing tool maintenance easy and accessible for everyone involved.
Similarly, the company has developed a proprietary predictive maintenance schedule that’s based on past data and experience regarding different types of tools processing different materials under various parameters. Analysis of this information facilitates more accurate planning for both moldmaker and molder because it enables us to predict and anticipate when specific tools will need maintenance and thus not be available.
If you were to partner with DMP, you would get much more than a manufacturer and fabricator. From many years of molders and moldmakers working side by side in our facility, our workforce has an exceptional understanding of how molds work in the context of the molding machines we use.
Consequently, these in-house resources allow for more productive and efficient discussions with our moldmaking partners. For example, our people are likely to know not just that a tool isn’t working properly, but also why it isn’t doing so. Together, we can solve problems more quickly—or avoid problems all together.
Depending on your own analysis, the more specialized approach to the molder/moldmaker relationship may or may not make sense for your specific situation. However, it works very well for our operation and strategy—helping us and our moldmaking partners be more competitive in a tough business climate. Ultimately, that makes it an approach worthy of your consideration, as well.
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Dickten Masch Plastics