Leadtime Leader Q&A: Forecasting Moldmaking's Future

MoldMaking Technology's 2003 Leadtime Leaders are optimistic about the industry in the years to come.

Each month the winners of MoldMaking Technology magazine's First Annual Leadtime Leader Award Competition gather in this regular column to share their views on a myriad of subjects in the industry. The award-designed to recognize outstanding U.S. moldmaking shops and the ability to succeed in today's global mold market-highlighted six shops that showed outstanding performance in the following areas: leadtime, current and projected sales growth, innovation in the moldmaking process and the business side of moldmaking, technology, industry involvement and customer service.

This month our Leadtime experts weigh in on the future of the moldmaking industry-where it is headed and how they plan to get there. Keep an eye out for the magazine's 2004 Leadtime Leader winners next year.

Steve Johanns, managing director, business development, Advance Tool, Inc. (Blaine, MN)
In the moldmaking industry, business will change more over the next five years than it has over the last twenty-five. The moldmaking industry is a reflection of the overall challenges facing U.S. manufacturing in general. With the ever-increasing outflow of moldmaking business to less expensive labor markets such as China, a tough economic climate filled with uncertainty and 'strategic sourcing initiatives' that amount to an eBay mentality for molds, one might wonder if this cherished U.S. industry isn't heading for extinction. We don't think so. Our view has always been: the greater the challenge, the greater the opportunity for the winners.

Although there is much written and talked about with regard to offshore effects on our industry, there also is an undercurrent of innovation and re-invention that I strongly believe will make our industry stronger, better and more globally competitive. Will there be as many moldmakers in the U.S. as at its peak? No. But, those that survive will come out stronger and better for the next growth curve in the coming years. With advancements in rapid tooling technology and machining, technologically advanced molds and customer/supplier collaboration on lean manufacturing initiatives, there are plenty of reasons to have some optimism about the future of the industry. Realistic optimism combined with sound business planning and execution is a proven recipe for success.

Rich Burman, president, Graphic Tool Corp. (Itasca, IL)
Yes, I think there will always be a need for top-notch moldmakers. As long as we are able to provide our customers with the service they need, and use state-of-the-art equipment effectively, we can price our tooling at an acceptable level. This means the savings isn't enough to offset the difficulty incurred going out of the USA-we also must deal with the time difference, communication problems and general lack of ease accomplishing the goal of quality tooling. I also might add, what's wrong with supporting jobs in our country, even if it costs a little more? Those jobs help create a thriving economy that benefits all of us.

Tim Windingstad, operations manager, M&M Tool & Mold, Inc. (Green Bay, WI)
Personally, I am optimistic about the future of the moldmaking industry. We, as an industry, have been in a situation the last few years that has challenged us to develop faster new technology and processes to provide better tools. Additionally, these new steps were developed keeping growth, survival and profit in mind. I feel this ingenuity will continue for those that were fortunate enough to realize the benefits of it the last few years. I would like to see us continue to challenge ourselves in this fashion and seek out new advancements.

We do not benefit from advancements in moldmaking alone, progress in plastic resin and processing also will trickle down to us. End-users and processors also need to find ways to differentiate their services and products, which in turn will create more opportunities and challenges for the moldmaker. Resins possessing higher performance characteristics continue to be developed, allowing injection molded parts to get into new niches.

Due to the increased productivity and being part of a global economy, we may not be able to employ as many people in the field as we once did. This has been unfortunate, but through continued drive, innovation and delivery we can expect to continue to show customers value in our molds in the years to come.

Wayne Shakal, business development manager, Ultra Tool Group (Grantsburg, WI)
I'm sure that it is surprising to many that we are optimistic about the future of moldmaking. It is certainly no secret that our industry is going through incredible changes brought on by the acceleration of global competition. As a company, we believe the old adage that with change comes opportunity. It is by no means an easy process, but we are excited about the changes we are going through. We are three years into transitioning from a custom moldmaker to a company that offers molding solutions; specifically, tooling products for extremely high-volume single- and multi-shot applications. This is a very focused approach that serves various markets. We have found that the opportunities are out there provided that you know where to look and have a very clear vision of what you have to offer that is not only different but substantially better.

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