Letters

Moldmakers express their opinions on industry issues.

Sacrificing Quality for Cost

I agree that our training for moldmakers needs improvement. But I don't believe that this was the problem at Hobson Mold. Don't blame the financial problem of our industry on the training of new toolmakers. (See Apprentice Training Needs Something Different, MoldMaking Technology magazine, August 2001.)

The labor rate in Asia is much less than here. I have seen molds that were purchased overseas in China, Korea and Taiwan. We would not accept the quality of these molds from U.S. tool shops. There are bean counters that are looking at price and not quality. I am not saying that all molds built overseas are lower quality, but there are a lot of them that are being purchased and then being reworked by tool shops here to get them to run. We just had a 32-cavity mold brought in by a customer that was built overseas. The runner system would never balance and there were areas in the mold design that were failing after first sampling. This customer wanted us to evaluate the mold and sample it. We evaluated it and said that it was hopeless. Reject rate would be too high and sorting would have to be done. A new eight- or maybe a 16-cavity tool built right with a hot manifold and drops would create a balanced runner system. The tool price was estimated at $60,000 to $80,000. This was far more than the original 32-cavity tool cost and was unacceptable. It was unacceptable, but the original tool was a boat anchor. You get what you pay for. So far my experiences with tools from overseas has not been good. It has been a headache whenever one comes in and we have to run parts and debug.

There is a double standard for tools from overseas. When problems of quality are addressed with a tool, the response may be, "The price was cheaper - so what is it going to take to fix it?" By the time they get it fixed the price was no longer cheaper. They probably missed their prototype run or even production run. What is this cost? Bean counters should start to look at all the cost involved in overseas tooling. What is the warranty? The tools are paid for when they leave the docks. There is little recourse for the customer. The rework can sometimes cost as much as the original tool and still the tool is marginal. I hope our country opens its eyes and looks at buying in the U.S. to keep the jobs here. Industry and the government have to support buying products that are made in the U.S.

Cheaper is not always really cheaper. As we lose tool shops we will lose the industrial capacity of this country. We will become dependent on foreign countries for more and more of our products. There are companies that stress that they are "Made in USA" and if you start taking the product apart, you will find that very little of it is really "Made in USA." It may have been assembled in the U.S. with only a few components made here.

I have had tooling quoted both here and overseas, and if you put the overseas at the same quality level as you would a shop here, the pricing is not a big issue. It is the "cheap" tooling that we are losing to foreign competition along with molding.

Dennis Swanson
Engineering Manager
Duo Plastics Inc.

TMA's Related Theory Training Has Kept up With the Times

In the August 2001 issue of MoldMaking Technology magazine, Thomas Siwek shared his opinions on apprentice training programs in the U.S. as compared to programs he observed in Singapore in the article Apprentice Training Needs Something Different. While Mr. Siwek makes some very valid points, especially when it comes to the lack of government support for manufacturing, the statement that TMA hasn't changed its approach to training in decades simply isn't true.

TMA has provided its member company employees related theory training in the areas of tool and die, moldmaking and precision machining since 1934. Related theory is defined as classroom oriented training as opposed to hands-on machine tool lab training. For many years it was a three-year evening school program, which met for three hours, twice a week, September through April, with average annual classroom contact hours of 163. Starting with the 2001-2002 school year, it has been changed to a four-year program with the same meeting schedule. The reason for the additional year is to allow enough time to introduce tool and die and mold students to machining material that was presented only in the machining curriculum.

After completing the first year of related theory, all students advance into Machine Tool Technology. This is a 162-hour course that expands on GD&T, process planning and process control, which was introduced in the first year. In addition, major emphasis is given to basic CNC programming and parametric setup, EDM (wire and conventional), basic fixturing and advanced lathe and milling operations. Other studies include team problem solving models, safety (HMIS, MSDS, lockout/tagout, etc.), production heat treating, machinability of materials, workholding, preventive maintenance, gaging, grinding, turning, threading and SPC. I doubt much of this material was in the training that Mr. Siwek received in the sixties.

In the third and fourth years, apprentices focus in on a specific area of precision metalworking: die making, moldmaking or precision machining. While the basic principles of die and mold construction hasn't changed much over the years, processes and machining practices have changed drastically. Therefore, major changes in all discipline areas are being made to include emphasis on project management, basic problem solving and introduction to troubleshooting. The apprentices are introduced to advanced machining methods including waterjet and laser cutting, high-speed machining for the both the machinists and toolmakers, hydroforming for die makers and metal injection molding for moldmakers. Students will also learn about the cost of doing business and their own effect on the bottom line by incorporating basic business skills to time constraints and delivery. Also, the entire curriculum is being correlated to the National Institute for Metalworking Skills (NIMS) standards.

Member companies can enhance their apprentice training by sending their employees to one or more of the hands-on technical classes offered by TMA throughout the year. Classes include: Introduction to Basic Machine Tools, Introduction to Milling, Introduction to Turning, Introduction to CNC Programming, Fundamentals of CNC Programming and Operations, Introduction to CNC Mill Programming, Introduction to Basic EDM, Introduction to CMM, basic through intermediate AutoCAD 2000, CADKEY, Mastercam, Pro-E, Mechanical Desktop and Esprit.

Also, members can send their tool and die makers and mold-makers to TMA's School of Design which is a two-year CAD-based, four semester program consisting of 160 to 170 classroom contact hours per year. The classes take place at TMA in their state-of-the-art computer lab.

The Chicago area does not have a single government funded training center like the one Mr. Siwek saw in Singapore. However, we are blessed with several four-year universities and a large number of very good community colleges that offer courses and degrees in practically any area of manufacturing and machine tool operations that you can imagine. I guess they are government subsidized, come to think of it. In addition, there are a number of high schools in the Chicago area that produce some highly skilled, technically trained, entry-level apprentices. These Illinois high schools include Streamwood in Streamwood, East Leyden in Franklin Park, Conant in Hoffman Estates, Lake County Technical Campus in Grayslake, McHenry East and West Campus, Technology Campus of DuPage in Addison, and City of Chicago schools Prosser, Lane Tech, Senn and Tilden.

In summary, the tools for companies to develop first-class machinists and toolmakers are in place - at least it is here in the Chicago area. And the system of well-trained, entry-level apprentices serving the traditional four-to-five year apprenticeship, which is a combination of on-the-job training along with the related theory training, may have been in place for decades, but that doesn't make it bad.

W. Jerome Baginski
VP and Director of Education
Tooling and Manufacturing Association

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