Nov 05 2006


Published by at 1:02 pm under Uncategorized

There’s a time to go off shore and a time not to.  Before you make the decision to bankrupt your tooling sources by moving all your work off shore here are a few things you might think about.

I’ve watched buyers with the crazed enthusiasm equal to a Crack Cocaine addict place a tooling job off-shore chanting the mantra “Cost is King”.  In all honesty the deck is significantly staked when comparing US mold build shops to those in the Far East.  A large division of Motorola is the latest big consumer of molds and molded plastic parts to literally shut down their US operations and supplier base and make the move.

You’ll never find me disagreeing with the logic of searching for and achieving cost reductions.  Yes, molds have been coming in from China with better quality than they did a decade ago. BUT there is a naïve stupidity many companies make simply jumping at a low quote.  Here’s why:

Simple molded parts have no problems being tooled.  In this instance simply send it out for bid, place the job and, as buyers tend to do, a week or so before the mold’s due date start calling asking for the samples.

Mold shops and molders offer a service that most buyers can’t factor into their thinking when they place a job.  The mold builder wants to build a mold that doesn’t waste his time putting fancy gadgets on it that won’t work.  He wants it to be robust so that nothing breaks and he won’t have  to do any kind of maintenance or warrantee work.  Molders want the same thing.  Well built molds that only require routine maintenance maximize the molder’s profit and usually have excellent delivery performance to the customer.  Prior to the Exodus to China these goals it was not uncommon to find the molder and mold builder either in their client’s engineering office or having the engineer meeting with them at their shops both during the design phase and into the tooling construction program.

Here’s your sanity check.  Ask the buyer or the designer/engineer:  “How many off shore (Chinese) molders/mold builders have made it a habit of coming into the customer’s facility to discuss design feasibility on a part?  How many follow up visits have they made?”  In my case I’ve never seen anyone but a US rep talk to customers and his job is buying lunch and transferring designs.  A few years ago buyers made a habit of demanding the presence of a molder/mold builder for a face to face meeting at the proverbial moments notice.  It’s interesting they won’t/can’t/don’t use that practice now.

Keeping in mind that the rush to going off shore has also resulted in massive downsizing particularly in the tooling engineering function, this now brings us to the question of Who answers feasibility?  Who brings part design and tool design expertise to the table?  Answer: “Joey” the poor guy on the CAD system designing the part and hoping for the best.  Believe it or not I actually had a Chinese mold shop e-mail me questioning why I didn’t do the design consulting then ship the mold to China for construction.  The “Trust Me” factor didn’t even pass the laugh test.  How would I know if they were doing what I recommended?  More importantly, who’s going to pay me?

Hopefully Joey and the buyer know enough to know when they are out of their element.  Let’s say there is an extremely complex electrical housing being designed.  It will require the use of pass-through shutoffs, sliding cores and a few other snazzy mechanisms.  Is this a candidate for blindly shipping the mold off shore?  Is this the time to begin pestering anyone who quotes for the ‘China Price’ even though you realize that Chicago will never be Beijing?   You have to be dumb, blind and silly to answer “yes”.

Yet, these designs get exported with shocking regularity and the tooling invariably fails miserably.  Even though the buyer’s logic is that because the mold cost was a third of the US quotes and he could build two replacement molds if the first one failed, he missed the concept of market introduction dates.  If a mold fails, it can’t make parts that support production to be put into the market on a timely basis.  Nobody can build and qualify a production mold overnight.  Oops. This is a big hit to take financially.

Complex designs that cause any level of doubt on the designer’s part should probably be tooled and molded locally.  At the very least it is good practice to bring in a consultant to give your designs a once over to make sure the mold design and construction will be ‘simplicitly elegant’ as opposed to being ‘laughably complex’. Yup, the tooling and product price is higher locally.  But more importantly this is has the benefit of the quintessential short supply chain and open line of communication.  The project can be sheparded to completion with a minimum of hassles and delivered on time.

When tooling in the USA don’t expect the China Price.  Expect, however you’ll get what you pay for: progress reports, easy face to face meetings, good communication and project engineering, a mold that works and is delivered on time.  If your product doesn’t need any of this, place the job anywhere you want.  In this case you’ll also get what you deserve.

Something to think about.

As with all my articles feel free to share it, think on it, or even take the chance and implement a few things you’ve hopefully learned from reading it.  Conversely you can also hang it on a fence post outside your facility with the confidence it will scare away intruders better than a ‘No Trespassing’ sign.

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