Wisdom from the Moldmaking Sector
From processing strategies to shop culture to workforce development, spending two years with our sister publication exposed me to more than a few lessons that other manufacturers can probably leverage as well.
It’s great to be back at Modern Machine Shop!
The last time my byline appeared in this magazine was late 2013, right before I transitioned to our sister publication, MoldMaking Technology. Two years of focusing solely on the needs, ambitions, problems and success stories of plastic injection moldmakers certainly taught me a lot about that industry. Yet, at the same time, on some level, manufacturing is manufacturing. And I have no doubt that much of what I learned will come in handy in my efforts to provide MMS readers with new insights for machining parts and running businesses. Here are a few examples of lessons from the toolmaking sector that can likely be applied to other industries as well:
- A high-mix, low-volume niche doesn’t necessarily preclude standardization and automation. Indeed, many mold manufacturers had the same answer when I asked about the most significant changes in their business during the past decade or so. That is, the industry has transitioned from craft to science—or, as many shop leaders like to put it, from “mold making to mold manufacturing.”
The idea is to make the complex process of building a mold more systematic—more like an assembly line—by reducing it to a series of simpler steps that are honed and improved through repetition. Ideally, designs are 100-percent complete prior to any work, and each department executes its role in strict adherence to the CAD model and preplanned manufacturing strategy, even down to fits and clearances. Primarily by reducing variation, the “mold manufacturing” approach improves efficiency, quality and process predictability while facilitating the use of pallet changers, robotics and other automation. This article on Graphic Tool covers the basics of what that approach entails.