Moldmakers on the Move

The recent Amerimold show featured more mold manufacturing exhibitors than ever before. Here's a look at what a few of them have been up to.
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Organizers have long referred to Amerimold as the event for mold manufacturing, but this year's show proved particularly deserving of that title. Attendees walking the halls of the Douglas E. Stephens Convention center in Rosemont, Illinios June 17 and 18 were treated to displays from not just technology suppliers, but also 19 different mold manufacturing exhibitors--more mold manufacturers than at any previous Amerimold. Representing a diverse array of sizes, specialties and capabilities and hailing from across the country, most of these shops had one thing in common: a very full plate.

That's not just in terms of work. There's certainly no lack of that these days, judging from these exhibitors' feedback, but they were also busy with more than just building molds. These shops are rushing to take advantage of any opportunity to change for the better and insulate themselves against future challenges. Here are just a few examples:

Adding Capacity and Capability 

Most mold shop exhibitors purchased new equipment extremely recently, and even more are looking forward to adding capacity or replacing old machinery in the near future. One such shop is Meadville, Pennsylvania-based Maloney Tool and Mold, which added more than $1 million worth of equipment in the past year alone.

Shops are adding capability as well. For example, Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin-based Omega Tool is looking to automated its sinker EDMs, a step it has already taken with robot-tended graphite- and steel-cutting machining centers. For the first time, Mold Tech can perform laser welding at its own facility in Albertville, Minnesota, and the company is eyeing mold flow simulation capability. Lee's Summit, Missouri-based Creative Blow Mold recently adopted mold flow simulation, which the company hopes will set it apart from competitors in bottle and container tooling. Leadtime Leader Cavalier Tool and Manufacturing (Windsor, Ontario) is in the midst of dramatically expanding the level of automation in EDM operations.

Finding Footholds 

High-level, strategic positioning is on the minds of many of this year's mold manufacturing Amerimold exhibitors. Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin-based Dynamic Tool and Design, winner of this year's Leadtime Leader, honorable mention award, recently added 17,000 square feet of manufacturing space dedicated entirely to scientific mold qualification. In contrast, Suburban Tool and Die has no plans to add injection presses to either of its plants in Eerie and Meadville, Pennsylvania. In the wake of a fire that took out its previous molding operation in the early 2000s, the company opted instead to focus solely on core toolmaking competencies. That general mindset still prevails among current leadership, who say narrowing quotes to only the right work has been a top priority since they took the reins in 2009.

Suburban also reports particularly healthy business in the medical sector, which has become more of a target for a few Amerimold exhibitors. Maloney Tool and Mold is one. Decatur Mold, Tool & Engineering, a North Vernon, Indiana-based operation that focuses largely on prototypes, also aims to grow its business in medical (exhibiting at Amerimold and other events is part of that strategy). Growth and stability were among the factors cited by various exhibitors when asked what makes the medical sector attractive.

Yet, medical isn't the only place where shops see opportunity. Holland, Ohio-based DRS, a shop that's reportedly completely reinvented itself within the past year alone, focuses on aluminum tooling, particularly for the automotive industry.

Focusing on People 

Although DRS' reinvention involved new technology and new processes alike, it also demonstrates that either can go only so far without one essential ingredient: an engaged and supportive staff. That's particularly critical these days, given the oft-cited difficulty of finding skilled people. To achieve the right kind of culture, shop management aims to empower employees by actively involving them in decision-making, as was the case when programmers were tasked with evaluating and choosing among different CAD/CAM packages.

Similarly, at Mold Tech, toolmakers program their own machines, a strategy that's said to help learn from past mistakes and make the shop a more attractive place to work for people who pride themselves on problem solving. Multiple exhibitors, including Suburban, Decatur, Omega and others not mentioned here, also touted the importance of ensuring open communication and free flow of information throughout their operations, including back and forth with customers.

The fact that these shops chose to participate in Amerimold says something about their philosophies, too. As a whole, this is a group that not only has a lot going on, but is ready and eager to let the world know about it. And the world is paying attention, at least judging from feedback garnered at past Amerimolds. One reason for the record number of mold manufacturing exhibitors is the show's evolution into a prime locale for companies hoping to start relationships with qualified, domestic mold builders. Given the potential for exhibitors to develop new business, show organizer and MoldMaking Technology publisher Gardner Business Media has also made a concerted effort to attract more shops to the show. Dave Necessary, director of marketing at Gardner, touches on both trends in this blog post.

We certainly hope the trend continues through Amerimold 2016, which will be hosted in Novi, Michigan. Whatever their ambitions, it's becoming increasingly clear that shops have plenty to gain from attendance at an event designed specifically for our corner of the industry, and it's never to early to start planning. We hope to see you there!