When does the clock start?

MoldMaking Technology's Leadtime Leaders share their definitions of exactly when and where in the process leadtime begins.


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In this first of a series of regular columns MoldMaking Technology magazine has invited the six winners of our First Annual Leadtime Leader Award Competition to share some of their expertise about some hot topics in the industry. The award - designed to recognize outstanding U.S. moldmaking shops and their ability to succeed in today's global mold market - recognized six shops that showed outstanding performance in the following areas: leadtime, current and projected sales growth, innovation in the moldmaking process as well as innovation in the business side of moldmaking, technology, industry involvement and customer service.

This month the Leadtime Leader experts explain their views on when their leadtime clocks start ticking. For more information on how to enter next year's contest, or if you have a question for any of the Leadtime Leaders, please e-mail them to sbarack@gardnerweb.com.

Steve Johanns, managing director, business development, Advance Tool, Inc. (Blaine, MN)
Managing the customer on the front end as well as through ECOs plays a critically important role in meeting leadtime expectations. We always make sure to understand what the customer's critical milestone dates are and let them know what information we will need by when to make the milestones, as well as what will happen to the schedule if we don't get the information. The obvious clock starters are a complete database and shrink, but you have to have flexibility through communication built into the process.

Jason Jepsen, Tech Centre manager, Eimo Americas (Vicksburg, MI)
For us the clock typically starts ticking once we have reviewed and approved the final part data from our customers. This means that our PDM (product data management) department has deemed the part file(s) toolable. Once PDM has blessed the file(s) we are kicked off for tooling and our CAD/CAM department begins the design phase immediately. Generally our PDM department has a lot of up-front involvement with our customers to aid them during the initial design stages to help ensure that their products can be tooled and molded. The design phase is included in our leadtime, so high emphasis is put on speed to quickly get prints, CNC programs, electrode and steel square up sizes, etc. out on the shop floor and into our machining centers. We at Eimo have taken measures to automate the design process as much as possible to help reduce leadtimes.

Rich Burman, president, Graphic Tool Corp. (Itasca, IL)
The delivery start time should be simple; the customer usually calls you up and tells you that you have been awarded the job. At the same time he issues a P.O. number that enables you to invoice a down payment. The clock is now running. Variables that affect the delivery are as follows:

1) Incomplete database, they haven't finished designing the part.
2) Have not determined the shrinkage of the material.
3) If you are asked to start without a P.O., you must consider whom you are dealing with.
4) Problems encountered with the database as you proceed with the tool design.
5) Failure to get timely answers to questions that need answers.

These are usually the primary reasons deliveries are impacted. All things are negotiable to reach a fair, or not so fair solution.

Mike Richard, president, M&M Tool & Mold, Inc. (Green Bay, WI)
Our official policy is that the clock starts when we have a frozen database to work with. However, in today's moldmaking climate it usually starts when we are awarded the project. We do what we can on the mold while working with the customer obtaining that database. Once received, most times we agree to a delivery date (although compressed already).

Brian Evans, CAD/CAM designer, Peterboro Tool Co., Inc. (W. Peterborough, NH)
When does the clock start? Hmmm. Well, for us the answer has evolved over time. In the past, when prints were received and a cost and delivery was given, a verbal affirmation was given over the phone that the job was ours. From that point, the clock had officially started. As time went on and electronic files/email/internet came into the picture, the point at which we start our clock has altered a bit. To quote a job nowadays, we are given an assortment of items for quotation, such as a stereolithography model, a sketch or picture (mailed, faxed or emailed), or a preliminary electronic file. From these items we can give a ballpark estimate for cost and delivery, with the agreement that the clock will start only when we receive an acceptable, readable electronic file. This file must be a very close match to the one that was used to quote the job. If the part model has altered to the point at which it affects the complexity of the job, and the original cost and delivery, then the customer is notified and new prices and leadtimes are discussed.

Another factor we deal with is mid-project changes. With the abundance of electronic modeling of parts, the engineer/designer now has the ability to quickly edit his/her original designs. Because of this, we, the mold builder must sometimes make changes to our mold designs midstream. At times the changes are minimal, and other times quite drastic, especially if we have already done a significant amount of CNC machining of the mold. If the changes to the mold are major, we will request the delivery and sometimes cost of the mold to be pushed out from the original agreement. If the customer's change is important enough and it is dependent on the overall aesthetic value, fit of the part in relation to others, or even safety (if an aircraft part for example), then they will more often than not, agree with the added cost and extended delivery times.

Wayne Shakal, business development manager, Ultra Tool Group (Grantsburg, WI)
The clock usually starts ticking as soon as we have a database. We know up-front if the database is a build-to file or whether it requires redesigning on our part to make it more moldable. We also spend time with the customer determining areas of the database that may be changed later on and will work around it.

Completion dates can be handled in different ways depending on the customer's requirements. Some of the following may be:

  • Mold ship date
  • Mold sample date
  • First-article inspection
  • Qualified part and process

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