2013 Leadtime Leader Awards: Winner Tech Mold Inc.

A three-division approach, technology innovation and a grow-your-own skilled workforce allows this mold manufacturer to balance the entire moldmaking process — ensuring continued success and landing it this year’s 2013 Leadtime Leader Award Winner title.
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A Technology Feast for the Eyes

“Never allow yourself to get too high during the highs or too low during the lows.” These words—spoken by 2013 Leadtime Leader Awards winner Tech Mold Inc.’s (Tempe, AZ) president Bill Kushmaul—have served as a mantra for this employees and allowed the company to achieve a steady, balanced growth over its 40-year history. More than a moldmaker, Tech Mold closely collaborates with both industry suppliers and customers to bring innovative solutions to meet its customers’ needs in the three primary markets the company serves: medical disposables, pharmaceutical closures, and food and beverage closures packaging.

Key to finding—and maintaining—this balance is to continue to concentrate on the aforementioned three primary markets the company serves, Kushmaul maintains. “Medical/pharmaceutical disposables; packaging (food/beverage) including caps/closures; and consumer products for companies that are the leaders in their markets require high-volume production molds that must meet very rigorous requirements that is our expertise,” he states. “Our goal is always to continue our efforts to expand our customer base within the markets that we serve. We do this because we focus on those markets and customers that require high-volume production molds with absolute consistency and repeatability anywhere in the world they choose to run the molds.”

Achieving continued balance requires the company to constantly evaluate—and reevaluate—its processes. “We believe that we must build a company that is stable enough to survive the ups and downs that the mold manufacturing industry is subject to,” he affirms. “This requires constant evaluation of each and every project, innovation and technology. 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.’ Almost any mold we build comes with its own unique challenges and requirements that is totally different from any other mold we’ve done. We do not consider this a high risk; it is however, a learning experience. We believe 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. Growth is expensive, so we have to find that balance—don’t grow so fast that you outstrip your resources but fast enough to maintain and maximize our resources.”

A total of 85 employees deliver the following services with leadtimes that vary from four to 20 weeks depending upon the project: mold design, engineering; product development, pre-production/pilot mold, high-volume production mold special tooling and fixtures; mold qualification and tryouts; and molding manufacturing with optional cell development incorporating automation. Mold types include stack, Spin Stack cubes, two -shot (two-material), single-face molds up to 512 cavities; molds for in-mold labeling and other in-mold functions such as in-mold closing of snap-hinges for closures.

Building Blocks
Tech Mold has three buildings that house different specialties to provide its customers with a full service approach. The main facility houses administration, sales, engineering and production manufacturing, including molds, special tooling, components and mold bases; formal apprenticeship training and provides training of customer maintenance personnel. Tech Mold R&D contains non-aluminum prototype molds, pre-production (referred to by some as pilot) molds, repairs of existing molds, and fixtures, as well as mold engineering and development. Tech Mold East accommodates mold qualification/tryouts, process validation, short-run molding, and automated manufacturing cell development, and private customer working rooms. Additionally, project management is demonstrated from start to finish—with a mold design book provided that shows the complete mold design/build so that maintenance is made easier for the OEM or the molder who will run and maintain the mold.

Daring Designs
Tech Mold develops technologies and ground-breaking mold designs for its customers. For example, Tech Mold Vice President Vince Lomax points out that using a unique coining system, the company helped one of its global customers redesign a test plate to optimize both the customer’s manufacturing process and the test plate’s performance. “The purpose of this was to reduce the amount of time it takes to get a new drug on the market,” Lomax explains.

“Tech Mold designed and manufactured a mold that would rotate into position for the injection and coining processes,” Lomax continues. “Working closely with both the customer and the machinery manufacturer, we refined the two-shot process at Tech Mold East. The entire molding cell—complete with automation—was proven and molding parameters established at Tech Mold East. This allowed the entire manufacturing cell to be shipped to the customer’s molding facility for installation, thus greatly reducing start-up time at their facility.”

The company also produced a 16-cavity, syringe mold to accommodate in-mold labeling that provides reduced costs to manufacture, greater security using label technology with forensic coding in the label—allowing for point-of-use authenticity. Obviously the value of this technology is to combat counterfeit drugs, Lomax says. “This was showcased at NPE in April 2012 and received the Judges Award in the International Parts Design Competition,” he notes. This show mold was the result of collaboration and teamwork which included a new hot-runner side-gating system developed by Mold-Masters, label innovations by Inland Label, a molding machine by Milacron and high-speed automation innovations by CBW Automation—truly an example of complete collaboration.

To solve a challenge for a customer manufacturing aerosol caps, Tech Mold developed an in-mold assembly manufacturing technology that uses a two-stage side action movement that allows the nozzle to be insert into the molded cap, prior to ejection The second part is molded at the same time as the main cap. “As the mold opens, a unique movement repositions the insert and assembles it directly into the cap,” Lomax details. “This technology proved so successful that it eliminated the need for a second assembly line for the nozzle insertion, a separate mold for the nozzle insert and post-molding assembly equipment that our customer estimated would have been cost prohibitive. Certainly this complex mold cost more but with the overall savings to the project budget, it was a big victory for the customer.”

The company also develops new manufacturing strategies and innovations for use within its own walls. As an example, the company developed Self-Correcting Manufacturing (SCM)—a proprietary manufacturing system that integrates software and hardware for the purpose of manufacturing components (hard cutting) and electrodes without influence from the “human element.” The system’s software incorporates the use of algorithms that allow the information gathered by a dedicated CMM to be analyzed and compared to a “zero tolerance” electronic model. “The system then evaluates that information and if a dimension varies from the electronic mean by more than a couple microns, the system will communicate with the CNC equipment and make corrections for process variations such as cutter wear, machine drift and spindle growth,” Lomax states. “The corrections are made automatically and without additional input from the technician. By palletizing all of the components before they enter the SCM cell, true position, positive orientation and x-y alignment are guaranteed. And, as part of a single, unified program, every part is inspected and the information from that CMM inspection is always consistent, accurate and repeatable.”

Maintenance Matters
A vital component to Tech Mold’s full-service philosophy is training its customers to maintain the mold while still in the press. “In-mold serviceability is a key technology offered to our customers,” Lomax states. “It means reduced downtime for molds because they can be serviced in the press. That is critical in many of the high-cavitation molds that our customers run. Uptime is improved and maintenance can be done easily and safely. So it makes perfect sense to keep the molds in the press running as much as possible. In order to do so, one must have the ability to do in-press service. This concept is one that is extremely important to us, and we have been promoting it for quite some time. This concept is not new; we gave a presentation entitled ‘User-friendly Mold Designs’ in the mid-nineties where we demonstrated in-mold serviceability and its obvious benefits.”

Full Central Lube is another technology that Tech Mold developed for its customers, which they are currently running in many of their manufacturing plants. This technology is a lubrication system designed specifically for unscrewing rack molds, or for a mold that contains slides and other moving components that require consistent, continual lubrication. “One of our customers just told us that a mold they run using the Full Central Lube system has been running for almost a year without being shut-down for lubrication maintenance,” Lomax comments “Again, this technology meets our customers’ desire for greater in-mold serviceability to reduce downtime—thereby achieving greater uptime.”

Technology Triumphs
Obviously, Tech Mold would not be able to be on the cutting edge of developing all of these new, innovative molds, products and technologies without the latest in equipment (see Equipment List). Recently, the company purchased a Mitsubishi Wire EDM that is faster than the company’s current equipment. This machine features an anti-electrolysis generator and cylindrical drive technology that means “zero back lash and zero wear on the ways,” notes Lomax.

The company has also put a Mitsubishi Sinker EDM with Mitsubishi Robot into service. This equipment combination not only upgrades the company’s sinker equipment, but adding the robot allows the company to perform more lights-out operations to improve productivity, Lomax explains. “We are always investing in new equipment to meet the ever-increasing requirements of customers for faster time-to-market, cutting-edge molds to meet higher productivity, quality and efficiency demanded in today’s OEM molding environment. Having the latest, state-of-the-art equipment, cross-training our employees for shared technical know-how and partnering with leading mold component suppliers to develop new technology for larger, increasingly complex molds is key to our success.”

Workforce Worth
Tech Mold is contending with the labor crunch that the industry as a whole has been facing. “In the past, we have recruited from a variety of trade schools, but more recently we have been in contact with colleges, community colleges, trade schools and high schools alike in order to generate an interest in moldmaking among students that will be entering the labor market soon,” Kushmaul notes. The company also conducts tours for local high schools and colleges.

The company has always had an apprenticeship program that has helped it maintain a stable workforce and also contributed to the longevity of many of the team members. Therefore, Tech Mold continues to work closely with local high schools and community colleges to find young people who have the interest and the basic skill sets suitable for the various jobs in mold manufacturing, Kushmaul says. “We currently have three apprentices, which is fewer than we’ve had in the past few years, but we’re still excited about their participation and contributions. We believe that we can’t depend on finding the number of people with the appropriate skill sets ‘out there’ to fill the bill. We must ‘grow’ our own. Since the mid-seventies we have been very passionate about our apprenticeship program which has served us well. When you have apprentices you can train them to be passionate about quality, manufacturing techniques, teamwork, safety. And above all, we can educate them in our unique culture. As their knowledge and experience grows, they can help the next generation of apprentices. Long-term apprentices are the future of any company and we feel that our continued success depends on them.”

Throughout Tech Mold’s 40-year history, Kushmaul estimates that the company has trained more than 100 apprentices. “Employee retention is critical as well, and we take steps to ensure that Tech Mold provides an environment of learning that never ends,” he emphasizes. “As technology changes, so does our ability to stretch our imaginations, which gives our apprentices opportunities to use the talents and skills that best suits their ability to provide creative input and innovative ideas—to think outside the box—to make a real contribution that helps to make Tech Mold a better company.”

Future Focus
Tech Mold plans on maintaining its steady, balanced growth by continuing down the same trail the company has been blazing since 1972. “We work with some of the premier mold component suppliers in the industry to help them develop their products, and in turn we benefit because we can apply these new innovations in our molds and products this collaboration with our suppliers provides innovations and technologies that enhance our products molds using new designs and technologies,” Kushmaul states.
A number of Tech Mold’s customers have been with the company for more than 20 years because of these solid relationships. “We’ve had the ability to grow our business, our customer base, the markets we serve and provide a stable work environment for our staff, which is one of the advantages of being in business for 40 years,” Kushmaul concludes. “We will continue to use all of the resources available to us in software, machine tool technology, mold components and molding technologies to develop the best production mold possible for our customers.”

For More Information
Tech Mold Inc.  (480) 968-8691
jerry.seidelman@techmold.com / techmold.com
Visit Tech Mold at amerimold 2013 in Booth 728!

Photography and videography courtesy of Creative Technology.