By: Christina M. Fuges 2. September 2014

IMTS: A Sneak Peek at What's Coming Up Next Week

The International Manufacturing Technology Show (IMTS) is a week-long event in Chicago for mold manufacturers to get ideas and find solutions to manufacturing problems. You will see new technology demonstrated throughout all of McCormick Place that may help you cut costs, improve operations and gain more business. Click here for a sampling of the technology to be on display.


By: Matthew Danford 1. September 2014

An Onsite Moldmaking Academy

Under the watchful eye of Andy Joly, senior toolmaker at Westminster Tool, apprentice machinist Brian Johnston reassembles a mold and prepares it for validation. Although they're closely supervised, apprentices like Johnston shoulder much of the responsibility for their own training. (Photo courtesy of Creative Technologies).

I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that fewer moldmakers than ever before are celebrating Labor Day this year, and not just as a result of the “Great Recession” or any previous downturn that hollowed out the industry. The lack of fresh talent coming in—talent for which the industry is increasingly desperate—also plays a role.

Consider the case of Westminster Tool, 2014’s Leadtime Leader award winner and a specialist in small-to-medium injection molds for the aerospace, medical and industrial markets. After spending $15,000 in nine months on help-wanted ads for skilled mold makers, Westminster received four applications. Two of those were from individuals who were retired and wanted something to keep them busy part time. One decided that the cost of living was too high in Connecticut. “Something had to be done,” recalls Ray Coombs, company president. “We are a growing company, and we needed to meet the demands of our customers for shortened lead times.”

To address this need, the company created “Westminster Academy.” Calling an internal training program an “academy” might seem pretentious, but in this case, the name is apt. This is a formal, highly structured initiative with the goal of creating training programs to duplicate all internal positions within the company.

In conjunction with the Academy, Westminster has utilized a local non-profit organization, the Eastern Advanced Manufacturing Alliance (EAMA), to build relationships with local community colleges. The community colleges have been instrumental in working with area manufacturers to ensure they are providing relevant courses to apprentices, as well as courses that help incumbent workers improve their manufacturing skillsets.

One of these colleges, Quinebaug Valley Community College (QVCC), established an Advanced Manufacturing Certificate Program in 2012. Westminster Tool has since hired three graduates from QVCC’s program, and is sponsoring two more students to complete the program this academic year. Utilizing the QVCC’s certificate program ensures that all new hires are coming into Westminster Tool with the same basic skill set.

Once an apprentice is hired, they become a member of Westminster Academy. Notably, apprentices are expected to take charge of documenting and developing their own training, under the watchful eye of a senior member of the manufacturing team. The apprentices are eager to learn, the company reports, and their documentation of the program helps identify tasks that might be incorrectly coined as “common knowledge” by senior members. This discovery has helped both apprentices and journeymen employees work together to compile a comprehensive training program to train future generations of employees.

To learn more about Westminster Tool (and the Westminster Academy), read this June issue feature article covering the factors that earned the company this year’s Lead Time Leader Award (includes video).

By: Christina M. Fuges 29. August 2014

A Little Inspiration While You Work

There is no doubt that Ray Newkirk, owner of Forest Lake, Minnesota-based Custom Mold & Die --manufacturer of close tolerance, high cavitation medical molds--has built something special. A long history in the trade and an impressive educational background opened Ray's eyes to the type of company and culture he wanted to build.

Ray attended Dunwoody College of Technology, started a business, and then attended Harvard to learn how to run a business. His main take-away from business school was: you must have a foundation for your business, a defined culture before a strategic plan can be put in place. Ray purchased Custom in 2003.

Now although I could go on about this company's technology, capabilties and processes (will save that for another day), what I want to highlight is the culture--the shop environment and the attitude of the people. Ray's commitment to high technology investment is evident, but so is his commitment to his people. He strives to nurture pride in mold building, and one simple, but effective way Ray does that is with words on the walls.

Ray and his team selected numerous inspirational words of wisdom and had them painted on the walls. You can't move a step throughout the facilities without a phrase, quote or word catching your eye ... and hopefully, inspiring you to do more.  

Check out this slideshow of words on the walls.


By: Christina M. Fuges 28. August 2014

“Our Molds Aren’t Perfect, They’re +/- 0.0001 Inch”

Minnesota-based MMT Editorial Advisory Board member shop Mold Craft has hit the 50th anniversary mark this year, and it has a lot to celebrate. Never mind its growth and change since 1964, the past four years alone--since its 2010 Leadtime Leader title grab--have seen increased automation, improved machine tool technology, a solid business plan, a much improved web presence, just to name a few. And this summer ownership opened its doors to friends, family, the community and industry to educate, inspire and entertain.  And what a party it was!

Upon arrival guests were guided through the Mold Craft facilities for a tour before being led onto the parking lot transformed into party central … where family, friends, food, drink and music awaited. Not even a couple downpours could dampen the spirits of that afternoon.  The following day included a beautiful scenic steamboat tour on the St. Croix River where humble thank you speeches and inspiring stories were shared. The family culture of this mold builder was truly evident.

With all the planning that was involved in this milestone celebration, Mold Craft reflected a lot on where the company has been and where it is today. So, I asked  VP of Operations Tim Bartz and VP of Engineering Justin McPhee, owner’s of Mold Craft for the top five changes that will allow Mold Craft to make significant strides in the next 50 years..

Tim Bartz, Pete Manship and Justin McPhee.

Here is what they said:

  1. Business Planning: A one-page business plan that includes the business vision, guiding principles and strategies, yearly key performance indicators, yearly milestones, strategic controlled growth, target markets, select customers and projects, target and align with customers.
  1. Empowered Staff: Reward innovation and cross train key personnel.
  1. State of the Art Equipment: An awareness of new manufacturing methods, attend key tradeshows and manufacturer’s events and replace the old equipment with newer models to stimulate around-the-clock manufacturing.
  1. Customer Advocacy: Communication, understanding of customer needs, integrity, relationship-driven focus and community involvement.
  1. Mold Craft Experience: 
    • Detailed proposal that includes a thorough scope of work and that outlines complete offerings.
    • Product design review that fosters design collaboration through one-on-one sessions to ensure that together all parties understand the needs of the project.
    • Mold design that focuses on robust design for manufacturability.
    • Customer interaction that fosters open communication through weekly updates on project progress, an increased process window for quality and Ĉpk  through tight tolerance capability to ± .0001”;  partnerships built from key principles that bond customer satisfaction and customer relationships.
    • Mold builds with well executed manufacturing by highly skilled toolmakers resulting in on-time delivery.

I, for one, look forward to the innovation we’ll see out of Mold Craft in the next 50 years! Congratulations Mold Craft!


By: Matthew Danford 27. August 2014

A Virtual IMTS Education

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Students who aren’t able to attend IMTS 2014 in person have another alternative: a virtual field trip.

Developed by educators and manufacturing industry experts, “Technology Applied” will be filmed at the show and presented in three, 30-minute episodes. Teachers can register to access any or all of the episodes, which will be broadcast online September 10, 11 and 12. All are designed to illustrate practical applications of math and science and to demonstrate the technology students will likely encounter in any manufacturing career. Specific topics include CNC machining, additive manufacturing and racecar technology. Viewers might also recognize a few familiar faces, as the episodes will be filmed, produced and hosted by the same team that created The Edge Factor, an online show celebrating the manufacturing industry.

Registration is free for the first 1,000 teachers. To learn more, watch the video above and visit the “Technology Applied” registration page. In addition to lead organizer Sandvik Coromant, sponsors include MoldMaking Technology publisher Gardner Business Media, AMT Smartforce Student Summit at IMTS 2014, DMG MORI, FANUC, Haas Automation, Hurco, Koma Precision, Mastercam, Okuma America and Underhouse Studio.

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