Ahhh, how to keep mold making costs low; that is the question everyone in the injection mold making industry is wondering. Sometimes it seems that, no matter what you do, costs just keep increasing.
I am certainly no accountant, but I do have many years experience as a plastic injection mold maker; in fact, that is all I have done my entire working career, minus a short venture to Alaska to seek fame and fortune. But that is a different story.
One German boss I worked for said, with a sigh: “All angles should be 45 degrees and every job should be for time and materials”. Well put, but not quite in the realm of reality.
Mold making costs in 4 categories
The mold making process is obviously quite complicated, though probably not more than many other occupations. One difficulty, however, is that lead times are quite short and work seems to come in bunches, rather than an even flow. It is this unpredictable aspect that causes many difficulties.
Suppose that a shop’s operation can be divided into 4 main categories: facility, industrial supplies, injection mold makers and materials such as CNC tooling and carbide cutters. By analyzing each aspect and all the components of these aspects, several areas usually might revealed as areas where costs can be reduced.
Mold making facility and equipment
Should you rent, lease, build, buy? Each one has benefits and must be decided upon with the long range plan in mind. It might make sense to rent for a while, until a history is established or profits are realized.
Many a shop has begun in a garage or warehouse, often in a not-so-nice part of town. Yet this is often the best route because it does not burden you with the pressure of a high monthly payment.
I have worked in shops that were old warehouses converted into large mold making facilities, a tiny barn that somehow accommodated 6 mold makers and all the machinery we needed, and at least one brand-new-designed-from-the-ground-up building.
Obviously the new building was awesome, with everything well thought out and managed. The entire mold making process was taken into consideration and made to flow sequentially. We also implemented a 5S lean manufacturing initiative from the start, which made total sense.
Industrial supplies and machine tools
“Do what you do best and leave the rest” is a sound policy when it comes to equipment. Sure, it would be interesting to invest in a CNC Horizontal milling machine, but is that the right tool for the job? Probably not.
If your core strength is EDM or core and cavity work, focus on this and invest in the best equipment you can afford. It is far better to excel and a few things that be mediocre at many things.
Everyone likes new machinery, but used equipment is a bit like a used car: the depreciation is often substantial as soon as delivery is made. Great bargains can be found when other, less fortunate, companies go out of business.
Injection mold makers
One owner told me about a statue of a great humanitarian in the center of his Swiss town. He then informed me that the statue was not of him. A few weeks later he fired all but two of his mold makers, designers and machinists.
He had learned to seek out the best and cull the lazy and complaining workers. This seemed quite harsh to me, but he told me that: “When the body has cancer, you must purge it”. Well, he certainly purged his ranks that day.
I often wonder why employers keep some workers on the payroll, when they are so unproductive, then again, that could have been me.
Today his company has grown immensely and has branched out into other areas, including aerospace. I’m sure there are many reasons, but this cleansing made a lasting impression on me.
Mold makers tend to be talented in several parts of the mold making process, which can reduce the need to hire additional staff. Cross training is an excellent idea and also serves to keep things interesting for employees.
One question that often arises is how to reduce mold polishing costs; should you have an in-house mold polisher or send everything out to a specialty polishing house? Check out the above link to find out more.
Outsourcing mold making
Another common question is that of the benefits of outsourcing. What are the pros and cons, is it risky, how to find a reliable partner and other questions are not so easy to quickly answer. Some clients actually demand that you outsource to low-cost countries such as China, Taiwan or Portugal.
Leading a group of guys of any type can be challenging, and mold makers might be even more difficult. Once their loyalty has been gained, however, you would be hard-pressed to find a more dedicated bunch of skilled workers.
A lean manufacturing initiative, if done right, can be very beneficial in reducing mold making costs. If done incorrectly it will breed resentment and inefficiency.
CNC tooling and carbide cutters
JIT, or just-in-time delivery of mold making materials has certainly saved vast amounts of time and labor in the mold making process. The days of milling to size and grinding blocks are thankfully gone, now that steel suppliers offer this service.
The use of vending machines to dispense and inventory end mills and other supplies is another way to save on materials. Time is money and a lot of time can be wasted by stocking, inventories, looking for cutters and steel, running around to get things ordered and so on.
These are a few of the ways to keep plastic injection mold making costs down, from the perspective of a veteran mold maker. it would be great to get some input from those in management.
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