What gives a mold shop an advantage in today's competitive global marketplace?
The latest machining technology clearly provides an advantage. That's certainly one of the themes that this issue of Modern Machine Shop is meant to convey.
A shop's workforce of designers, programmers, machinists and other skilled employees should be another advantage. To the extent that they are boldly innovative, talented and well trained, a workforce is a tremendous asset. Some mold shops have an advantage because they have the kind of customer who is willing to help the shop attain world-class capability. A customer like this stands to gain having access to top-notch mold builders.
I've heard of companies in Japan, certain large automakers for example, that take this approach. Apparently, top managers recognize that superior mold tooling is critical to their success. Having molds that run efficiently and reliably and produce consistently superior parts helps make the company's factories more competitive. To promote this interest, the automaker forges relationships with a select group of mold shops. The automaker helps these shops adopt the best technology so they can give the automaker an edge with its molds.
Consultants and technicians may be provided to help the mold shop implement new approaches to mold making. The automaker may advise the shop about what equipment to buy and how to integrate and automate this equipment. It may help the mold shop finance the investment in new technology. The automaker refrains from setting payment terms that essentially force the mold shop to finance mold production out of its own pocket.
Whenever possible, the mold shops and these customers collaborate on design issues to keep mold production costs down. Cost reduction goals are clear and urgent, so pressure on the mold shop is still strong. But no unnecessary obstacles are raised.
U.S. mold buyers ought to take note, especially those in the U.S. auto industry. If their overseas competitors have an advantage by virtue of better relationships with their mold suppliers, then U.S. buyers need to work hard to take this advantage back. They can do this by developing even stronger relationships with their own tooling suppliers.
Likewise, U.S. mold shops need to do their part to invite greater cooperation. They need to promote their willingness to work with design engineers early in the development cycle, for example, as vigorously as they market their mold production capabilities.