“I Don’t Know What I Want”

What would you like your maintenance system to do for you?


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I just got off the phone with a potential client who made a statement that I have heard many times over the years. Under pressure to improve his mold maintenance efforts in the toolroom and to begin reporting the results to the corner office, he was searching for a silver bullet that would make it all better.

One of the first questions I always ask a tire kicker is what they would like their maintenance system to do for them. In other words, what kind of data do you want to collect and how would you like to use it or how would you like this data presented back to you?

As many before him, he did not know. His background and experience in mold building was lengthy and impressive. But from that first day as a maintenance manager he quickly learned that this was a different kind of animal and when the flames of unscheduled breakdowns roast the rump, the only effective relief is to smother the fire with money. As much as he wanted to work proactively, methodically, like he did when he built molds, there just seemed to be no other way to run the shop, and he did not understand what kind of data could help him change the culture.


Not the Lone Ranger

I explained that he was not alone, that many companies still do not analyze maintenance data because they don’t have enough on hand to even establish a viable baseline. This is because normal mode of mold maintenance operations require a toolmaker to type (hunt and peck) or write (illegibly) what was done into a text field of a work order system. This antiquated practice has toolmakers spending way too much face time with a computer screen, so to shorten this stay, most would end up entering statements such as “Fixed mold” or “Repaired” and leave it at that. Not much usable information here.

So with this being the only record of the repair, not only are the unscheduled breakdowns catching most toolroom supervisors off guard, but molds having typical cycle-based PMs performed on them are a surprise as well because you never know what you will find until you get it disassembled. So ongoing issues don’t get repaired, which further feeds the firefighting culture.


Burned Out?

Among its other bad consequences, firefighting seems to have an incredible numbing effect on the brain. When the smoke eventually clears, and it always does for a time, it is practically a cause for a short-lived celebration then get ready for the next one. So looking for signs of the next fire sounds like wasted time because the clues are too hard to find. They are hidden in the ambiguous entries of the text fields of your work order system and no one will peruse and decipher those just to look for trouble.

So when you ask a maintenance supervisor with a firefighting background—which most have—what knowledge about his molds would help him run a more effective and efficient shop, it is cause to stop and scratch his head, because being proactive requires one to take the initiative rather than reacting to events or breakdowns.

However, before you can take the initiative, you must have a plan that centers on reducing or eliminating the reasons for the breakdowns in the first place. Creating a maintenance plan is based on what you and your mold repair techs know about each mold’s performance and maintenance characteristics and past repairs. The more detailed and accurate the information, the more effective and efficient the repair will be.


Different Molds, Same Problems

Obviously there are many different kinds of molding operations in existence today. Mold styles, resin properties and products have no effect on the methodology of a maintenance strategy. Those of you, who like me, have spent considerable time and effort “fixing stuff” realize that all things mechanical are affected and corrected with the same methodology, regardless of the apparatus or application. The bottom line is “if you run it, it will wear”.

A mechanical application broken down looks like this:

  • A mechanical apparatus (mold) is designed to do something (mold a part) under a specific set of criteria (cavity count, resin, process parameters, etc.).
  • The apparatus is built to meet these criteria.
  • The apparatus is operated or run to achieve the desired outcome.
  • The apparatus wears or breaks down.
  • The apparatus gets repaired and the run cycle starts over. It’s that simple.

So the methodology behind the repair is this:

  • The mold runs (cycles) which creates friction and wear that translates to product or mold defects (flash, broken tooling, mismatch etc.).
  • Each defect then gets:
    Categorized (electrical, maintenance, process etc.)
    Named (usually Q/A terminology)
    A probable cause(s)
    A corrective action directed toward each probable cause
    Preventative action (if known) to eliminate or reduce the defect frequency


Interested Parties

There are different groups of individuals in plastics manufacturing that are responsible for the steps from part inception to production, and many maintain an interest in the mold throughout its life cycle. Each of these groups has a vested interest in how the mold performs, and look at data differently to determine a course of action based entirely on meeting immediate and longer term production goals, which is what growing a profitable business is all about.

Here is a typical example of a plastics manufacturing job description:

  • Tooling engineers usually oversee the design and building of molds.
  • Production supervisors and managers are responsible for getting product out the door.
  • Process engineers usually oversee the presses and running of all molds.
  • Process technicians start and cycle in molds and troubleshoot during the run.
  • Tooling or mold shop supervisors and managers are responsible for the daily mechanical performance and maintenance of molds (performance meaning the mold runs/functions as designed).
  • Repair technician/toolmakers are held responsible to make all the above dreams come true … in the short term, just make it run.


More than Just Shop Culture

Obviously there can be many off-shoots of these positions depending upon the company’s products and size, but these are the main players that would benefit from accurate maintenance data.

All of these departments can have their lives disrupted when the wrong mold goes down at the wrong time. The damaging effect of sporadic and ineffective mold maintenance can have a rippling effect through a companies profit line from many directions—such as critical production being shut down, product quality complaints, tooling and labor budget blow-outs and an overall inability to create capacity or new business.


The Changing Face of Maintenance

As this generation of true craftsmen fades away, there was a slow realization that they were not being replaced as quickly as they left. Why didn’t we see it coming? Because our dwindling talent pool was hidden by lean and other manufacturing strategies that have those left in maintenance shops, scrambling to improve methods so that one person may now do the work of two, three or four.

Unfortunately, the staple of our maintenance culture—firefighting—is not a method enhanced by reducing headcount. And this only makes sense. Would you knock a fire down quicker by reducing the amount of water being applied? Hardly. Fires are extinguished by targeting the source of the fire and eliminated by understanding the cause of the fire.

But before you can target the source of a new fire, one needs to see it more clearly, and before you can stop an old fire from reigniting, you must be able to recognize the conditions that create the potential for combustion.


Band-Aids Will Wash Off

A typical firefighting quandary is how quick can we get the mold back into production, so the resultant toolroom question then becomes: “How long will it need to run to fill the order?” The answer dictates the type and quality of the ensuing repair. “Let’s do it right the first time” is not a common mantra in mold maintenance.

So proactive maintenance, analytical troubleshooting of mold issues both in the press and on the bench are not practiced and seldom considered because there always seems to be more “in your face” issues to deal with round the clock.

To aid in understanding what kind of mold data the aforementioned departments need to do their jobs more effectively, the next couple of articles will deal with dissecting the different data types and who should be responsible for collecting and analyzing specific information, and the benefits of doing so.