Past LLA Winners Celebrate 15 Years of Moldmaking Excellence

Winning MoldMaking Technology’s Leadtime Leader Award helped these shops realize their strengths and recognize their weaknesses.


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MoldMaking Technology has recognized excellence in mold manufacturing through its annual Leadtime Leader Awards Competition since 2003. The time seemed right for the magazine to revisit a few past winners to find out where they are today and to determine the role that winning the Award played in getting them to where they are.



How would you describe the company’s growth since winning the Leadtime Leader Award title?


Andy Baker, strategic account manager, Byrne Tool + Design (Byrne): In 2009, we were blessed to be recognized for the Leadtime Leader Award (LLA), which validated our lean and continuous improvement strategies and created great energy for our culture. We planned and achieved consistent, sustainable growth, doubling our revenue since that time. We continue to invest in people and technology. Last year alone, we invested 20 percent of our revenue in new equipment and disruptive technology, specifically in 3D-printing equipment and the printing of mold cavities for real parts with the actual resin. We continue to invest in training our talent on new technology skills, leadership development and team cohesion.

Brian Bendig, president, Cavalier Tool & Manufacturing (Cavalier): We obtained the Leadtime Leader title in 2015, and since then our workforce has grown from 96 to 145 people, which lead to the start of a human resources department. In that same period, our sales increased from $24 million to $30 million (projected), which prompted a $12-million investment in infrastructure expanding our building’s footprint by 30 percent. We filled that space with an array of new technology, including a Hermle Flex C42, Apex, Huron KX50 and Huron KXG machines, a Millutensil spotting press, five cranes and a Peterbilt truck. We also increased our trade show presence, opened Cavalier Tool Design & Engineering Services PVT Ltd. in India and hired a dedicated Midwest account manager.

James Bouwman, president, Commercial Tool & Die (Commercial Tool): We won the Award two years in a row. The feature for our second win in 2009 mentioned that we were poised for growth and consistent reinvention through continuous improvement, new technology investment and talented employees. This mission sustained us through difficult times and propelled us on a steady path of growth. Today, we envision more growth through process, leadership, relationship management, engagement of people, improvement, evidence-based decision making and customer focus.

Ray Coombs, president, Westminster Tool: Our growth since 2014 can be best described as evolution. We were in the beginning stages of becoming strategically focused on human capital when we won the Award. Today, we are a much younger organization (with an average employee age of 33), which is laser-focused on getting the right people on our team to advance the organization faster. During this transition, we still have managed to improve throughput and advance our internal training program.

Jeff Lucas, project management manager, Minco Tool & Mold Inc. (Minco): After our win in 2005, we remained competitive through bi-weekly, continuous improvement meetings and streamlined processes. For example, we invested in a gun drill, two large vertical mills, 2 five-axis mills, a boring mill, a large wire EDM machine and fixturing and palleting. We also continued our apprenticeship program and employee cross-training. Also, we hired a full-time sales representative, updated our website, increased our trade show presence, improved our global capabilities, refined our repair and engineering change capabilities and boosted our customer service via the use of customer scorecards.

Justin McPhee, vice president, Engineering, Mold Craft: Since 2010, many things have changed, but ultimately things still feel the same. We maintained a great company culture, fantastic employees who help produce an outstanding product with the customer as our top priority, and we are still pushing the limits of innovation. For example, we established a tech center for sampling micro-molds with our customers’ material in our Wittmann Battenfeld Micro Power 15-ton press. We also launched our Production Quality Prototypes (PQP) process, which involves molding micro parts at the initial design approval phase. This is a specific program using Mold Craft molds with custom components installed in our quick-change frame to mold a handful of small molded parts made from any customer-provided material.

This Award was a gateway for us to make a difference in our industry. It helped us become more involved in the things that mattered to us.

Tim Peterson, vice president, Industrial Molds: A strategy we use since winning the Award in 2012 is assessing how a new piece of equipment will work with our existing automation. Technology automation, such as our Erowa workholding for unattended machining, has eased employee on-boarding as the thought process is already established. For example, proven methods for holding a workpiece in the work cell and ways to prevent orientation challenges by identifying the front of a workpiece. Today we also periodically send out customer surveys to monitor our service, and we hold quarterly department meetings to establish future goals and review performance.

Mike Zacharias, president, Extreme Tool & Engineering (Extreme): When we won the award in 2008, we had increased our sales to $7.2 million, and employed a 37-person workforce. In the calendar year 2017, we had 80 total employees and $16.5 million in sales, indicating that our growth curve remains positive. In 2007, we purchased a second building and installed our first molding machine. Today, that same facility houses eight 50- to 500-ton state-of-art molding machines that are fully equipped with modern robotics. Our growth strategy is more conservative than in the past, but we continue to be blessed with good opportunities and more importantly, with great people. Our employee pipeline is stable and strong, which I attribute to our location, commitment to employee development and culture.

What are the Award’s short- and long-term impacts on the company?

Baker (Byrne): The Award motivated us to continue improving while helping to spread the continuous-improvement mindset throughout all levels of the organization. In the early 2000s, nobody knew who Byrne Tool was, but in 2009, with the help of the Leadtime Leader title and other industry involvement, we gained respect and recognition. This Award was a gateway for us to start making a difference in our industry. The Award also helped us recognize the talent gap, so we started a formal apprenticeship program through which many apprentices have come, the majority of whom still work there. The Award created great energy for our team and a little pride in who we are today. We would all love to win this award again!

Bendig (Cavalier): The team felt a sense of accomplishment after the win because there is nothing better than peer recognition. It boosted employee morale and helped validate the opinion we hold of ourselves. Let’s face it—the win gave us bragging rights, and the exposure raised our credibility, both locally and industry-wide. The Award also helped generate our website traffic, which led to more trade shows and a bigger presence at each. All of this has been instrumental to our growth.

Bouwman (Commercial Tool): Winning the Award twice is part of our heritage and part of our legacy as an organization. Being recognized provided validation that our shop could take positive action to improve delivery times. We took current resources, technologies, tools and techniques and made changes that positively impacted our lead times. The Award created a renewed sense of pride in our workmanship. All employees received a copy of the issue, and we still find them around the shop. We also received accolades from customers, suppliers, former employees, the township and our insurance provider.

In the long-term, winning the Award gave our team confidence in our systems, processes and approaches to improvement. And, leadership also knows that winning such an Award has a larger meaning. We entered the contest as part of a long-term plan to improve as an organization. As with most Award programs, it’s the journey that matters. Along with this journey, we learned new, more efficient ways of doing things and many of these methods are still in use today.

Coombs (Westminster Tool): Brand recognition was the immediate benefit of our Award. The long-term benefit was helping us establish lasting relationships with friendly competitors with whom we share best practices. These relationships have helped us to improve our organization. The win also introduced us to the American Mold Builders Association (AMBA) shop tours and ultimately helped us establish the Plastics Technology Alliance, a joint venture with Leadtime Leaders Extreme Tool & Engineering and Mold Craft.

The Award created a renewed sense of pride in workmanship.

Lucas (Minco): The Award immediately puts our name in front of all MoldMaking Technology subscribers—mold builders, molders, and original equipment manufacturers (OEMs)—opening the door to additional opportunities. Long term, this Award made us realize what it takes to be at leader among such an outstanding group of mold shops who have taken the title in the past. 

McPhee (Mold Craft): Notoriety was the initial impact. From the initial announcement at Amerimold, we were perceived by our customers as a premier mold shop. The level of inquiries from the medical device market segment increased substantially and not just from our existing customer base, but from new customers as well.

Peterson (Industrial Molds): The Award gave us industry recognition of our timing abilities, and the magazine article gave us a marketing tool to use with our customers. It was a good conversation starter.

Zacharias (Extreme): The publicity we received from the Award was very important, considering our facility’s remote location. The win helped put us on the map. Plus, in 2008, we were a “young” 10-year old company, so the Award process helped us build and support our brand. Our company gained the Leadtime Leader title twice, so in the long term, the Award established Extreme as an industry leader that was here for the long haul. The credibility we received from this Award solidified our brand and mission.

What has been the biggest change within the company since winning?

Baker (Byrne): The biggest change is how we view the company. We used to think of Byrne as a tool shop. Now, we think of the company as a brand. Our services have evolved strategically to add more value and innovation to the go-to market of our customers. We view the company as a collaborator of innovation with our client. We bring the simplest idea into a real hand-in-part solution. We bring integrating product development, industrial design and 3D printing on the front end into validation, fixture design and development, molding and end-of-arm tooling on the lifecycle and launch side of product deployment. Mold manufacturing is now only one of our many services.

Bendig (Cavalier): The internal and external recognition as a player in this industry has been the biggest change for us as a company. We experience an increased shop capacity that required a process change, and that is a close second. The Award also helped us change from a small company to a big one, which boosted our drive to be successful as a team.

Bouwman (Commercial Tool): There have been so many big changes in the organization since 2009. Take, for example, the threat of losing organizational knowledge and our organizational knowledge management methods to combat this challenge. Or take, for instance, changes we have had with apprenticeships, job fairs, mentor-protégé relationships, succession planning, best-practice documentation, on-the-job training, grant-funded training and more. Today, we have a very solid human resources team in place.

Coombs (Westminster Tool): We have become laser-focused on who we are, what our differentiator is and how we can best serve our customer, which is summed up in our current value proposition: Your Challenge Is Unique, So Is Our Solution. Today, we are also a more data-driven organization focused on advancement, not perfection. We recognize that we are only able to improve if we admit that there is a better way to do something. This mindset allows us to make the necessary changes and learn from our shortcomings.

Winning the Award (twice) is part of our heritage and part of our legacy as an organization.

Lucas (Minco): Our biggest change has been our global presence with the flexibility to build domestic, hybrid or complete tool builds in a competitive marketplace.

McPhee (Mold Craft): Some of the biggest changes involve improvements to the customer experience. For example, we use a Design for Manufacture (DFM) questionnaire and a mold specification sheet to determine the successful path to mold design and molded part inspection qualification. We also use our enterprise resource planning (ERP) system more today than we did in 2010 to improve process efficiency, gain visibility into the organization and enhance the customer experience. We use it to track customers and quotes, improve workflow and track shipments. We use the data to create weekly project status updates for our customers. We also provide shipping status upon request.

Peterson (Industrial Molds): Finding our “sweet spot” in automation has been the change that has allowed the company to excel. We now purchase machinery with unattended machining in mind, using our work cells and a team of people who always push themselves.

Zacharias (Extreme): Maintaining the culture and agility of a small organization as we continue to grow is a big change and a daily challenge that requires constant monitoring. Growth as a larger company is more complicated than that of a smaller organization. The easiest way that I can put it is that as an owner and president of a 37-person organization, I had my hands on everything we did. I am blessed to be surrounded by great managers and employees. However, today the wins and losses are both much more significant as a larger organization.

What advice do you have for shops considering the 2019 competition?

Baker (Byrne): Absolutely do it. Put yourself out there. Challenge your culture! Steel sharpens steel. This Award has become a benchmark for best practices.  

Bendig (Cavalier): Do it! Winning produces a great feeling of pride, but don’t discount the value of the entry process. It forces you to do some introspection and self-evaluation. Not only do you realize the areas that make the company great, but you also recognize the areas needing attention.

Bouwman (Commercial Tool): Treat lead time as you would any other organizational, quality or business objective. Develop lead time as a Key Performance Indicator (KPI). Define lead time. Does it start when you accept the job and end when you ship to the customer? Determine methods for monitoring, measurement, analysis and evaluation for the KPI. Integrate this and other KPIs into your management system. 

Coombs (Westminster Tool): For anyone who is on the fence about entering the competition, I say, jump! This is a great opportunity for reflection on your business because the criteria and entry questions require you to truly evaluate your organization. Additionally, the MoldMaking Technology team does a phenomenal job of creating brand awareness for your organization. The exposure and marketing material we received was invaluable.

The biggest change is the way we view the company now. We used to think of Byrne as a tool shop, now we think of the company as a brand.

Lucas (Minco): We recommend that all shops sit down and create a company profile to see where they may be as a leader in the market or target an area to improve their processes to be competitive in the global market place.

McPhee (Mold Craft): This Award is serious business. Make sure you have a great marketing person on board and collect a lot of data, including where you are with quality and commitment.

Peterson (Industrial Molds): Don’t be afraid to push yourself. You can only win!

Zacharias (Extreme): One of my favorite statements is, “There is no such thing as bad press,” and I believe it. You have to be willing to “toot your own horn” once in a while if you want people to listen. Even if you don’t win, there is great value in moving through and learning from the process. I place our Leadtime Leader Awards at the top of my list of those our company has ever received.