MOLD MAKERS CREATE FUTURE
We all constantly hear about how this fast-paced industry is getting even faster. No surprise at most mold shops, where one job follows another and customers press for faster delivery of their work — within ever shortening lead times. As a result, shop owners rarely have time to look ahead and address the bigger issues facing their business. If they do, it’s only far enough ahead to react to immediate concerns rather than actually designing the shop’s future.
Regardless of endless market pressures, I’m confident shop owners can design their mold shop’s future. This doesn’t involve gazing into a crystal ball, but merely getting into the discipline of staying on top of the latest industry advancements. This practice can help shop owners determine how to effectively meet the challenges facing mold builders.
Getting Out to Get Ahead
Staying on top of the latest machining advancements requires each shop owner to step away from the day-to-day pressures and challenge themselves. More than just listening to rumors from your tool builders or the trade associations, but literally setting aside time periodically to visit machine tool, CAD/CAM and tooling manufacturers. By visiting several manufacturers, shop owners can witness today’s latest technologies and often get a glimpse of what to expect six to twelve months down the road.
Unfortunately, most owners rarely get out of the shop. They know technology is important, but their busy production schedule won’t allow them to escape. This pressure is understandable, but since their machine tools are one of their largest investments, they owe it to themselves to research and investigate these technologies to ensure they invest wisely. By investing only one week each year, a shop might realize ten additional weeks in productivity downstream.
Sound impossible? It’s not. Realize this type of dramatic productivity increase happens frequently, but requires a paradigm shift in how most shop owners currently do things - the kind of shift that most shop owners must see in person to believe.
Some prospective customers request machines by specification — looking for the latest version. These individuals aren’t looking for new ways to conduct their business; they’re essentially trying to buy the same machine, tooling and CAM package but with the latest specs. As the saying goes: "If you always do what you’ve always done, the best you’ll ever have is what you’ve already got." Without investigating their options, they’ve gotten lazy without asking themselves if each purchase really meets their future needs.
When another machine is needed just to meet lead time pressures, rather than real capacity issues, it could be a telling sign that the current process just isn’t effective anymore. Instead of assuming more machines, new tooling or CAM software are needed in the shop to increase throughput and decrease cycle time. Shop owners must consider this: they may only need more advanced technology to process the work differently and faster. To truly reduce costs and lead time, more than incrementally, they must reevaluate the way they currently do business.
On-site manufacturer visits allow shop owners to witness first-hand how less can do more. In the process, they should challenge their traditional machining maxims. "What is high-speed machining? What are the advantages to horizontal spindles? What type of training is needed for efficient use of an advanced machining application?"
Filling in the Gaps
To make these visits as productive as possible, there are a wide variety of sources at the moldmakers’ discretion to determine what technologies and which manufacturers are worth further investigation.
Manufacturer Web sites are an on-demand information source without any sales presence. Manufacturer information and trade publications are also an easy way to read up on the latest. These can be tracked down through a variety of methods, but are also available on the Internet.
Trade shows are a good opportunity for shop owners to determine which manufacturers might be worth visiting. Appointments for on-site visits can also be arranged at the shows. Finally, seminars and training opportunities bring the above information together and truly apply it in a realistic setting.
Again, with such a large investment at stake, technology and manufacturer tracking needs to be deeper than just a single "test cut." These investments should be looked at as more than simply a tool purchase; they’re the start of a relationship. They need to set time aside on a regular basis to visit potential suppliers so when the times comes to purchase equipment, they’ll know who to approach. Shop owners need to choose a manufacturer prepared to partner in mold production through application and product support. By keeping up on technologies, mold shop owners can choose a partner that will give them an edge, and more importantly, help them keep it.
Source: Competitive Mold Maker, Volume 3, Number 1