Share and Share Alike - Sharing Software Streamlines Daily Mold Operations

Vince Lomax, vice president of Tech Mold, Inc. (Tempe, AZ), had a problem. The plastic injection mold builder was outgrowing its computer system and needed a new one.

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Vince Lomax, vice president of Tech Mold, Inc. (Tempe, AZ), had a problem. The plastic injection mold builder was outgrowing its computer system and needed a new one. So he did his homework - researched a number of systems, called a colleague for advice -and decided upon a system from Epicor Software (Irvine, CA) called Vantage that manages all aspects of the mold building business. A year of struggle followed as Tech Mold's employees adapted to the new software. After what he describes as the "worst year of his life," Lomax decided something had to be done to ensure future success with the system, and a Vantage Moldmakers User Group was born.

Vince's Vision

When Lomax first discovered the Vantage system, he wondered if any other moldmakers were using it, and was given a name - Marland Mold (Pittsfield, MA) - another custom injection mold builder. "I made a call to the president, Don Madison, told him we were looking at purchasing Vantage software, and asked him if he would mind if we talked to some people in his shop to find out about the system. Madison and his company welcomed Bill Hadsell and myself with open arms.

"During that trip we met with vice president of finance, Jan Powers, and others that had implemented the system at Marland, and based on that visit, we made the decision to buy Vantage software," Lomax continues. "It's a complete manufacturing system with several modules - form quoting, scheduling, planning, accounting and shop floor/timekeeping - all of the manufacturing tools you would need."

After a trying "honeymoon" period of implementing the system, Tech Mold was relieved to find the system "absolutely fantastic." Once again he called Madison of Marland Mold to share the failures and victories his company experienced during their implementation and found that Madison's company had experienced similar woes.

"It was during our conversation I had a vision," Lomax recalls. "Wouldn't it be nice if we could form a group and call it the Moldmaking Vantage User Group, and wouldn't it be nice if we could find out how many people in our industry used it? Then, what if we could somehow get these people - who also are competitors - to work together and help each other learn the system?"

Lomax obtained a list of U.S. and Canadian moldmakers that were using the Vantage system and drafted six letters to these moldmakers inviting them to participate in forming a user group. "In the letter I wrote that Tech Mold would show them what we think we do well, and each of them could do the same," he states. "In other words, we can learn together collectively and we all should win. And although we are competitors, we can protect the confidentiality of our customers, and keep all customer names out of the meeting. We would all learn faster and as a user group have much more lobbying power with the software company to make changes that were favorable to our industry. We received four acceptances and two rejections." The five original members are Marland Mold, Global Precision (Ft. Lauderdale, FL), Dynamic Tool (Menomonee Falls, WI), Harris Precision Mold (Tempe, AZ) and Tech Mold, Inc.

An Open Forum

Tech Mold held the first meeting and Lomax deemed it "a phenomenal success." Hank Holly, general manager at Global Precision - a worldwide mold supplier - feels the same way. "I think participating in this User Group has dramatically benefited every company," he states. "We each have expertise in some area of the system. Our expertise with the system is scheduling; another shop has had success with reports developed to help manage the business. Another company excels in the accounting portion of the system, and yet another company's expertise is with quoting.

"When it was our turn to host the meeting, we had every member put together their greatest strength and greatest weakness," Holly continues. "Then we made an agenda where one person stood up and presented problems they were having with one area of the system. The next person scheduled on the agenda had listed that same area as a strength, so they could help the company who was struggling. We thought the format worked out well. Everyone came away smarter. I know our company has definitely learned from the other companies and I hope we have helped some of the other companies with scheduling issues."

Jan Powers of Marland Mold also feels that the company has benefited greatly from sharing information. "Most Vantage users are not moldmakers," she points out. "Our molds are very complex with a lot of parts, and so we have to tweak the system a little in order to make it work for us. As you well know, any computer system does not fit your business 100 percent. A good fit would be 80 to 90 percent. It's the 10 percent that you have to adjust to that usually gives you the most problems."

In agreement is Craig Lau, controller for Dynamic Tool, another plastic injection moldmaker. "It's a good forum because it is specific to our industry, " he notes. "We discuss how to better use Vantage and how we can get the Vantage system to adapt to our needs. If it was just one user trying to get Epicor to change something the company may not be as willing to do it. There is strength in numbers."

And it is this strength in numbers that has allowed the group to learn together despite the fact that they are competitors. "We are very much focused on the system so the fact that we are competitors has never come up; and our mission is what can we do to learn our system better - what can we learn from them and what can they learn from us?" Tech Mold's Lomax comments. "We keep it very focused on that and it's never been an issue. The more we can help each other the better we all will be."

Lorraine Salazar, office manager at Harris Precision Mold, a plastic injection mold builder, puts in her two cents. "I think there's a strong camaraderie among all of us," she comments. "We genuinely look out for each other and I don't see competition as a problem at all. Everyone is open with sharing their ideas and specifics about their company. Of course there is proprietary information that needs to be protected and that is understood. It's been a very positive experience and I look forward to attending the meetings. Everyone has been really nice and very helpful."

The group now meets semi-annually, and these meetings presently include a representative from Epicor. According to Vantage customer account manager Greg Thompson, "Both Epicor and the leaders of this group felt it important that the developing company hear firsthand the needs of this important niche market. We feel that these meetings lead to a greater understanding by both sides of the challenges and opportunities facing each organization. A software development company simply cannot succeed without this style of valuable input."

"The Epicor representative listens to our issues and brings them back to the company," Lomax of Tech Mold adds. "We hope to have influence with their future changes. And it's also been a wonderful sales tool for them - now they can go to other mold shops and talk about the Moldmaker User Group. As a result, they have sold the Vantage system to other mold shops."

Indeed, Global Precision's Holly reports that rarely do a few months go by without someone contacting them about the system. "A sales rep from Epicor has used us as a testimonial to help sell the product," he says. "We've allowed their potential customers to come here, meet with us and go through how we use the system. When you believe this much in a system, you feel compelled to help the vendor. Besides, when we were researching scheduling systems, we requested support from different companies using various scheduling systems. These people opened their doors to us and gave us their time. We are simply returning the favor."

This unwavering support has not gone unnoticed by Epicor. "The group has a seat at the upcoming Vantage Summit where continued enhancements will be discussed with the Vantage Product Development Team," Thompson notes.

A Group Effort

Newer members to the group include Nypro Mold (Clinton, MA), Delta Tech Mold (Chicago, IL) and Edro Engineering (Walnut, CA). Lomax feels the User Group's growth will help the moldmaking industry to remain competitive and keep business in the U.S. "We are continually challenged by our customers to produce our product more competitively and in less time," he states. "To meet these challenges, we must work smarter, not harder. The computer system is yet another tool providing us the ability to meet the challenges we face as an industry. We must find new ways to work efficiently together.

"If we are unsuccessful at meeting our customer's demands, they will go elsewhere, and that elsewhere will be outside of the U.S.," Lomax continues. "What we need to do is work together to strengthen each other in this country so that our industry will remain strong and vibrant."

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