Two-Week Mold Deliveries Targeted
Quick-delivery mold builder stokes CAD/CAM production facility with mold component CAD data and technology.
If a mold shop ever starts serving customers through a drive-up window, Cadmold, (Sarasota, FL) will be the first to have one. The eighty-five-employee company, less than fifteen years old, is already doing the rough equivalent of drive-through service in moldmaking. Combining advanced software and machining capabilities with D-M-E Company's quick-delivery mold technologies and web-accessible CAD files, this QS9000-certified business turns out 200 to 220 molds per year. These are not prototype molds, but large programs of production hot runner molds for complex-contour parts with protrusions, undercuts, threads and cut-outs.
While other mold shops today groan, Cadmold has grown. Founded in 1989 by Harry Britt, an English moldmaker since age fourteen, and his son, Andrew, Cadmold grew rapidly and evolved its strategies and techniques as Andrew's siblings came on board, bringing their own diverse and successful business backgrounds to aid the company's development. One of those siblings, Michael Britt, joined the company as vice president of engineering in 1991, bringing a keen awareness of the value of CAD/CAM software, after a stint with Parametric Technology Corp (PTC).
Under the younger generation's management, Cadmold developed into a full-service operation. They have fourteen machines ranging from thirty to four hundred tons, along with extensive engineering services in part design, design for moldability, resin selection and mold building. Working hard to develop its molding business, the company today is about 60 percent processing and 40 percent tooling. "If you can't handle everything, from part design to SPC of the molding operation, under one roof in this business today," says Michael Britt, "you're in some jeopardy. Customers see this combination as a great asset%so we secure lots of molding work by being a mold builder."
Britt's background with PTC enabled the company to transform itself from a "hand-crafted" mold builder to a CAM-crafted builder. "I brought my expertise in solid modeling to the company and we have developed seven-seat capability in Pro/ENGINEER," he says. "We've honed our skills on solid modeling, solid machining and 3-D databases. The key to our speed is the way we use these technologies to their maximum potential in our shop processes."
Taking the fight to its global competitors with a selling position based on quick delivery and price, Cadmold found in D-M-E (Madison Heights, WI) a mold technologies supplier that could support that position. "Everybody is getting squeezed in this industry right now; D-M-E is an industry proponent and has adjusted its own performance to maximize ours," says Britt. "The combination of web-accessible CAD information, aggressive pricing, off-the-shelf delivery for most parts, an in-house expediter for our orders and regular face-to-face consultation with D-M-E is a perfect complement to our strategy," he explains.
"Our business model is to be a volume mold builder that can aggressively compete on price and delivery," Britt continues. "It used to be that delivery was enough; now you have to have both. With tooling margins reduced to the sub-10 percent range, we have positioned ourselves to build production tooling in two weeks or so, and shoot for volume. Volume work has two advantages: it helps offset the loss of margin, and it keeps our shop busy, excited and highly tuned. We're doing double or triple the volume of a shop of comparable size in our industry, based on comments we hear from customers and new-employees."
A heavy user of AutoCAD, Cadmold makes good use of the CAD libraries on D-M-E's website. "It's a real time-saver to avoid recreating these databases," he stresses. "We download the D-M-E database, combine it with our own, and go straight out to the CNC code. For each D-M-E component where we do this, we save several hours, and if you multiply that by two hundred plus molds per year, it has a significant impact on our performance." D-M-E provides files for more than forty-two thousand of its products in more than eighty native and neutral CAD formats through its partner, PartSolutions. Data for D-M-E "A," "B" and MoldBasics Series mold bases and most catalog components, including off-the-shelf hot runner systems, are accessible on the site.
Building and testing the mold entirely with computer simulation tools, such as Pro/E and Moldflow, enables Cadmold to provide concurrent part design, mold design, evaluation and qualification. Simulation of both mold fabrication and injection performance quickly troubleshoots a mold by analyzing cores and cavities in three dimensions. It also facilitates the production of stereolithography (SL) prototypes to test component fit before mold making begins. "Where we really gain time is by staying within one suite of software for design and CNC programming," says Britt. "We can send CNC code to electrode production before the mold design is completed. We use Erowa tooling, so the electrodes go from the CNC graphite cutting room to the EDM department on the same fixture." Cadmold's machining capability includes wire and sinker EDM, machining centers for graphite and steel and a host of precision measuring tools.
The ability to go from concept to production quickly creates an appetite for mold technologies that require instant gratification. "Without D-M-E having stock on the shelf, we could not accomplish some of the things we do," says Britt. "They can usually ship overnight. Our customers often specify D-M-E hot runners, too. The off-the-shelf Meteor hot runners can be a lifesaver, and the leadtimes on Stellar hot runners are very good. We use the MUD quick-change system and D-M-E mold temperature controllers as well."
By keeping its production operation stoked with JIT delivery of D-M-E components, Cadmold can complete projects so quickly that it changes the development paradigm for customers. In one instance, Cadmold completed a hot runner mold for a bezel, with six slides and lifters, in two weeks, as part of a three-mold package. In helping gauge-maker Teleflex meet a deadline for a trade show, Cadmold agreed to produce twenty-two molds in six weeks, though release times extended the final delivery out to nine weeks. "This was a project where the customer needed extensive help to resolve resin selection and design for moldability issues, which we facilitated by sending our designers and project manager to the customer site," says Britt. "This customer had never experienced such service from a mold maker before."
In another instance, a new customer actually had an in-house bet that Cadmold could not meet a quick-turn delivery date. On delivery times of six to ten weeks, this was an ambitious project for a maker of water meters requiring ten complicated four-cavity molds, with side actions, collapsible cores, slides, lifters and hot runners. "We coordinated our production strategy with D-M-E for pricing and component delivery, and came up with a solution that helped us beat the deadline and still earn money on the job. We got support from D-M-E specialists in hot runners and collapsible cores at the drop of a hat, not to mention their local and Detroit-based technical people and expediters. The customer also helped by being very cooperative and responsive as we designed features to take cost and time out of the project."
Turning Offshore Competition into an Asset
Cadmold stands out as a rare success in developing a creative business strategy to turn offshore competition into an asset. "Offshore competition is a fact of life for moldmakers," says Britt. "We realized that if customers wanted to look at this option, we could help them and ourselves if we could be the source for that offshore tooling. This has really opened up a lot of new business avenues for us." After carefully screening and selecting Taiwanese partners with similar internal systems, values and capabilities, Cadmold introduced a program to offer low-priced offshore tooling, backed with its domestic 100 percent guarantee on delivery, defects and performance. Thus, Cadmold can now wrap its customers with the same QS9000 comfort level and value-added services used in-house or offshore-built tooling.
"Our offshore source uses the same D-M-E components we would, and our project management team is involved to the same level it would be as if the tool were built in our shop, including supervision of mold trials," Britt says. "While some would rather lobby against overseas competition, we accepted that our customers would go to overseas sources regardless. So we positioned ourselves to be that source, offer the assurances and services our customers still want, and keep some control over our destiny."
Rather than erode Cadmold's domestic business, the offshore option has actually helped it. Although customers want offshore pricing, they still value a strong relationship with a QS9000-certified, full-service U.S. partner, according to Britt. "This way, they don't have to screen overseas sources; there are no risks; we're available for face-to-face meetings anytime; they do business with a U.S. company in familiar financial and cultural terms." How does this build domestic business? Those customers who use Cadmold's offshore option inevitably have projects that, for time or other reasons, cannot be built overseas. "This keeps us viable for all the work that's out there," Britt says.
Cadmold's performance for clients such as Teleflex, Parker Brothers, Stanley Bostich, Mercury Marine and others has earned the company plenty of referrals. "The match-up of our design and production assets with D-M-E's CAD files and JIT delivery has positioned us to surprise customers on delivery of domestically made tools, while we still have a solution for the offshore issue," says Britt. "In today's very tough market, it's a strategy that has kept us growing."
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