A large amount has been written about American moldmakers losing work to overseas competition. This has been a long slippery slope for many different types of manufacturing, so we are not alone. Industries that have adapted to market needs are the ones that continue to thrive. If we don’t adapt, we run the risk of ending up like the American automotive companies.
Moldmakers are not the only ones needing to change, customers of the moldmakers need to change also. Plastics houses, original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), wholesalers and retailers can all become partners in the moldmaking process. I believe the traditional business model of a customer buying a mold and then parting ways with the moldmaker is going to be a lot less common in American moldmaking. That type of service is readily available from overseas moldmakers.
I write this with a split perspective, building molds at an in-house facility and at custom mold shops. At Nike, I saw the benefits of developing and maintaining close relationships with in-house mold shop customers. The customers were actually R&D engineers within the same building. The 3-D modeler, molder, moldmaker and engineer needing parts could all collaborate to produce parts with acceptable draft angles, undercuts, surface finishes and quantities in a timely manner.
At AIMMco, I see the custom moldmakers taking on the same methods. Having our own molding presses has many of the same benefits to our customers as the Nike methods. If the OEMs, plastic houses and moldmakers all keep in mind that each are trying to earn enough money to stay in business without exorbitant fees or cutting to the lowest price possible, all should be happy.
A key component of the system working is that the parties involved must be committed to long-term relationships. I see many benefits to maintaining these relationships. As product lifecycles get shorter, we must all accept that the R&D cycles must get shorter too. This means a higher percentage of our work will be prototype and bridge tooling.
The moldmaker/molder that is willing to support all phases of tooling from first round through production will stay busy. This will require that moldmakers be able to switch from quickturn to full-blown production tolerances quickly. No one ever said this business is going to be easy!
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I am second generation in the moldmaking industry. My father was a moldmaker and I became a mold designer. I started as a design apprentice in the early 70s