Minco Tool and Mold, Inc.: On The Fast Track

Lean manufacturing and automation combined with highly trained and dedicated employees put Minco on the map—and nabbed them the 2005 Leadtime Leader Award: Large Shop
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Minco Tool and Mold, Inc. (Dayton, OH) has come a long way since it first opened its doors as a small custom moldmaker 50 years ago. Today, 115 employees in a 45,000 square foot shop contributed to $15 million in sales last year—serving the automotive, medical, sporting goods, office equipment, consumer products and electrical industries with primarily thermoplastic injection molds. A heavy emphasis on lean manufacturing driven by the company's proprietary product data management (PDM) system—along with highly trained and dedicated employees—has put this moldmaker on the map as a force to be reckoned with.

Minco prides itself on having a blend of old-world craftsmanship and modern technology to meet its customers' needs. Boasting leadtimes of four to eight weeks—depending on the complexity and size of the mold—Minco Tool combines an aggressive attitude with automation and 24-hour operation. Operations include product and mold design, mold build, mold repair and maintenance, validation and production—including assembly at Minco's manufacturing facility All Service Plastic Molding (ASPM), which the company started in the mid '80s.

According to President Joe Minneman, while the molding facility "enhances the timely completion of a mold build program" it does not exist to compete with Minco's customers that are also custom injection molders. "Having this capability on site, in real time, we can determine what works and what doesn't work—from a manufacturer's perspective," he notes. Gary Deaton, manager of marketing and manufacturing, adds, "This ability distinguishes us from firms that are just moldmakers with sampling capabilities only. We understand how critical proper venting, balance of fill, et cetera, are to the overall performance of the mold. These items—while a small percentage of the total mold build activity—make a huge difference in the success or failure of the project.

The Early Days

In 1954, Robert (Bob) Minneman began his business as a custom moldmaker after serving an apprenticeship himself and working in several custom mold building facilities before starting his own business. For the next 20 years growth was steady, but Robert recognized that to truly make Minco successful he would have to dedicate some of his focus to training the personnel he required to support the company's growth plan. He worked with the local high schools to find talent he could grow for the industry. It was in the 1960s that Minco developed the extensive, state-approved apprenticeship program that is still strong today.

According to Deaton, who has been with the company for more than 35 years, "We try to emulate the core values—customer commitment, employee enrichment, value, excellence and integrity—he instilled in the company every day." Unfortunately, Bob passed away in early 2004—but long before that he imparted his knowledge and wisdom to his wife Patricia, son Joe (see In His Own Words Sidebar) and daughters Amanda and Margi—who serve as office managers, hold board positions and are part owners of the company.

In the early '80s, the company decided the time was right to add CAD/CAM capabilities. "It allowed us to be faster, better, work in closer tolerances, and be able to replicate the same job downstream if need be, and in 1984 we started 24-hour operation," Deaton explains. "This created more opportunity for revenue with the investment we have in our equipment. It also offers our customers better leadtimes and gives us the ability to eliminate backlogs/jams in certain processes."

A Company Evolves

The '90s saw the development of an early supplier involvement program. "Clearly, during the product design stage is where not only the cost—but also quality and time-to-market—can be most influenced in completing a plastic product application," Minneman says. "The vehicle to take advantage of this opportunity is by involving the major parties of the supply chain: the OEM, designer, moldmaker, molder and resin supplier. By having this knowledge base surrounding the activity and working together in the early stages of development, we have seen phenomenal results and success. Most suppliers welcome this opportunity to participate without any compensation beyond simply the business opportunity creating a 'win/win' situation for everyone—including the consumer."

Employment levels increased, and Minco made a number of facility improvements. In 1995, gas assist tooling and molding technology were added to the company's capabilities. In the latter part of the decade, its website was designed—propelling them into the 21st century. ISO and QS certification were achieved in 1999, which Minneman says was a "tremendous benefit" to the shop for eliminating waste and documenting our processes.

Today, continuous equipment upgrades also are ingredients in Minco's recipe for success. "We constantly upgrade our equipment and roll over our CAD terminals in engineering every 12 to 18 months," Deaton comments. "With all the number crunching, all the complex surfaces we deal with, it's an absolute must." The last three years the ownership has invested approximately $3 million in equipment—quite an impressive number in a down economy—on high-speed machining equipment, graphite electrode cutting machines and computers. They recently purchased a new five-axis milling machine that just went operational earlier this month.

Lean Strategies

Lean manufacturing also played a role in Minco Tool's success in the late '90s, Deaton notes. "We have not proceeded down the path as prudently as others, with specific lean manufacturing processes, but we are constantly looking for waste within our corporation. Specifically, when we went to ISO in 1999 it exposed a lot of non-value added procedures, processes and paperwork that were in place and we continually challenge all of our activity to see what value it adds to our customers, and are they willing to pay for it."

The backbone of the company's lean manufacturing efforts is Compis (Computer Information System)—an internally developed Product Data Management (PDM) system. "This system streamlines our process from a communications aspect," Minneman comments. (See Streamlined Software Sidebar). "It is what drives every process and every department—including accounting and manufacturing—in both facilities. As a result, we are as close to a paperless environment as you can possibly get and still build a mold."

Another effective strategy has been the combination of Minco's sales team for tooling and customer service personnel into what they refer to as project managers. "Each one has the responsibility to find new business, penetrate current customers, and also handle the internal activity from the beginning to the end," says Deaton. "Therefore, the customer has one primary person that is accountable for the project."

Automation Emphasis

Automation is heavily relied upon to meet strict leadtimes. "Moldmaking is very labor intensive, and to compete globally we must do it through technology, automation and unattended machining time," Deaton emphasizes, "eliminating the labor dollar. In many cases, we have two operators handling activity on seven ram EDMs. One individual will run two wire EDMs as well as a whole puncher—all very effectively. Our CompIS software has allowed use to automate our B.O.M, burn sheets and numerous other processes by automatically extracting the data directly from our design files."

Focus on Training

Minneman and Deaton believe Minco's dedication to training is the backbone of the organization. "Many of our executives and others have been with the company for numerous years—serving in positions such as apprentices, moldmakers and mold designers—growing into their specific positions of today," Deaton notes. "We have always looked within for growth opportunities for our employees. A good example of this is the associates in our Project Management Department—all of whom have held various positions in our organization in the past, and because of that, bring a well-rounded understanding of the mold building process."

In conjunction with its apprenticeship program, Minco uses the local community college, Sinclair Community College (Dayton, OH), to provide the off-site training required for the apprenticeship program. In fact, Minco personnel taught some of the original classes in moldmaking and mold design at Sinclair.
Conquering Challenges

By facing global challenges head-on, Minco has ensured its long-term success. "Our attitude is that we cannot sit idly and let the government protect us," Minneman emphasizes. Deaton adds, "Historically, protectionism has failed. The best example recently is the tariff put on steel. While it may have solved an issue for one industry, it created problems for other industries. Essentially there has to be a fair trade, but it also cannot be one sided. We believe that in true capitalism: competition creates better products, better cost and better timing of which everyone benefits."

"As we continue forward there is not an attribute of our business that we cannot continue to grow or make improvements on—whether it is our facilities, personnel education, processes, departments, equip-ment, et cetera," Minneman points out. "We have to continue to give it 110 percent every day in all facets of our business and continue to strive to be customer-friendly and flexible."