Tech Mold Inc. Celebrates 40 Years in Business in 2012

Tech Mold Inc., a leading designer and manufacturer of high-tech, multi-cavity injection molds for high-volume production for the packaging (caps and closures), medical disposables and consumer products markets, is celebrating 40 years in business in 2012.

Tech Mold was founded in 1972 by Bill Kushmaul, a mold maker by trade who moved from Ohio to Arizona. He has been in the industry for 58 years. While much has changed since he started his own company, much has stayed the same. “Good cash flow is still critical to business,” commented Kushmaul in a recent interview. “That’s always been true.”

Cash provides the means to grow the business, invest in machine tool and software technology as it evolved, and offer the flexibility needed to respond to an ever-changing manufacturing environment, Kushmaul explained. He was fortunate enough to be on the leading edge of the era of plastic’s development and advancement into nearly every market. During the 1970s and 1980s, demand for plastic components grew particularly as plastics began replacing many traditional materials such as glass and metals in the medical disposables and packaging industries.

New industries, particularly the personal computer industry, business equipment, telecommunications led the charge and created a huge demand for plastic components. Many of these companies grew quickly to become Fortune 100 companies, and came to rely on Tech Mold to design and build the innovative, high-volume molds required to injection mold the millions of components for the manufacture of their products.

Tech Mold’s success was tied closely to that growth. However, to stay successful in an ever-changing manufacturing environment meant that Tech Mold had to learn to be flexible. When many of the leaders in those industries began moving manufacturing offshore to Asia, Tech Mold had to develop new customers in new markets. That led to the company’s eventual leadership as the mold manufacturer of choice with Fortune 100 companies in the medical disposables, consumer products and the packaging markets – all markets in which plastics has become ubiquitous.

In order to build a company that would maintain a leadership position and stay ahead of the competition coming from low labor-cost (LLC) countries in Asia, Tech Mold invested heavily throughout its history integrating engineering and manufacturing to create efficiencies that include, automation and 5-axis machining, 3D design software and other cutting edge technologies.

Starting a Mold Manufacturing Business: Then vs. Now: Starting a mold manufacturing business in 1972 that would stand the test of time and continue to be successful for 40 years wasn’t exactly a business plan. “Back then you couldn’t ask a mold maker to have a business plan,” Kushmaul said. “Forty years ago someone could start a mold shop with three or four basic machine tools. I started this business with a Bridgeport, a grinder and a few basic hand tools, and created an opportunity. Now you have to have far more than just the basics to start up a company and be competitive. It takes a lot of monetary resources because it’s harder to find a bank that will take on a start-up. The landscape has changed and the entry fee is much higher today than it was 40 years ago. It’s not impossible, but it’s very difficult.”

One of the major challenges for many moldmakers who started their own companies came from the fact that they tend to be “technical” people rather than business people. It was no different for Kushmaul. “Most of us who started these companies many years ago had zero business skills, so making the transition from a technical person to a business person wasn’t easy,” he said. “You have to fight your way through and hire people to do what you can’t do. Learn to trust people with the job, yet have the systems in place to verify the results.”

Learning to tolerate risk and finding the level of risk you’re willing to tolerate to grow the business is something that Kushmaul believes every business owner needs to do.  Much of that has to do with what Kushmaul calls a person’s “risk filter.” Some people have higher risk filters and are more conservative, while others are bigger risk takers when it comes to their businesses. “Tech Mold has survived 40 years because I’ve always tried to weigh the risk vs. the reward,” said Kushmaul. “There have always been the opportunities to take on really big programs involving multiple molds, and the temptation is to go big. However, I always advise people in this business not to let one or two jobs define your whole year. You shouldn’t have one job so big that if you don’t succeed you won’t survive.”

As he looks back over the years, Kushmaul noted that he didn’t know whether the company could be successful.  “There’s always a certain degree of the unknown when we start a new project because just about everything we do in this industry is ‘one-off,’” he stated. “Almost any mold we’ve built is totally different than any other mold we’ve done, but it’s not what we consider a high risk; it is however a learning experience and we don’t mind learning as long as the price isn’t too high. Here again, it’s the risk vs. reward evaluation that’s required to be successful and grow the business in a stable way. Fortunately, we did succeed.”

Building a company that is stable enough to survive the ups and downs that the mold manufacturing industry is subject to requires that kind of evaluation. Kushmaul believes that growth with stability is the best way to achieve a long-term successful company. “It’s okay not to be the biggest if you find a place where you’re comfortable and growing consistently,” he said. “Tech Mold has survived for 40 years because we’ve always handled the ups and downs with one simple philosophy: never get too high during the highs or too low during the lows.”

A key to coping with the variables in the business cycle of moldmaking and the challenges of balanced growth is having a strong sales team. “Sales is cash flow, and both are necessary to steady growth,” Kushmaul stated. “Steady is the key word here. Growth is expensive, so don’t grow so fast that you outstrip your resources. Going broke is painful.”

That is one advantage of being in business for many years. Early on in a company’s life, the owner is sometimes too busy just trying to get customers, deliver jobs on time and juggle a lot of different balls in an effort to stay on top of things. After the business has grown and there are people in place to do many of the various jobs that it takes to maintain a business, it becomes easier to develop a stable, consistent business.

“We have a lot of customers that have been with Tech Mold for over 20 years, and many of our employees have been with us even longer – some since the company’s founding,” said Kushmaul. “We’ve had time to grow our business, our customer base, the markets we serve and our staff, which is one of the advantages of being in business for 40 years.”

Speaking of growing employees, Kushmaul noted that another of the challenges to building and maintaining a large mold manufacturing company is “finding, hiring and keeping” good employees. To help with that part of the business Tech Mold has always had an apprenticeship program that has contributed to the longevity of many of the team members at the company. Over the 40-year history of Tech Mold, Kushmaul estimates that the company has trained more than 100 apprentices.

“When you have apprentices you can train them in your manufacturing and quality culture. As their knowledge and experience grows they can help the next generation of apprentices,” he said. “Long term, apprentices are the future of your company. Your success depends on them.”

Kushmaul admits that many shop owners find apprenticeship programs difficult to start, but that it’s critical to the success of not only the individual companies but to the industry as a whole. “Even if our apprentices eventually leave Tech Mold, I know they can go to another shop and use what they learned here to help that company be successful,” Kushmaul said. “Tech Mold wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for the apprentices.”

Today, Tech Mold employs just over 80 people, and Kushmaul considers that a big responsibility. “Once you hire people you’re responsible for them, and I take that responsibility very seriously,” he said.

For Kushmaul, it’s not all about business however. He considers his greatest accomplishment to be that of balancing the needs of his family with the needs of the business. “Balance is very important,” he stressed. “Balancing work and family means that you can find that place where you are comfortable and can be happy. One the main reasons any of us do what we do here is for our families.”

About Tech Mold: Tech Mold Inc. (www.techmold.com) is one of the largest mold manufacturing companies in North America for markets requiring high-cavitation high-volume production molds for their global operations. The company has built a reputation for designing and building molds using creativity, innovation and the expertise of its engineering staff. Additionally, the company provides Research and Development assistance for its customers’ new products. Through the company’s Tech Mold East division, located in Gilbert, AZ, the company provides mold and part validation to FDA specifications, and integrates robotic automation to create high-speed, high-volume molding cells to be shipped to customers around the world.