Over the last several decades of providing injection molding services, we’ve inherited quite a few molds from other molders. When a customer switches molders it isn’t always about lousy quality or delivery. A molder may no longer want to serve your industry; they might be closing their business; they might not be able to handle the workload; or they can’t provide value-added services. In addition, there may be other factors that the molder can’t control like you moving your business, or a “forced hand” by your customers. So, what factors should you consider when you’re thinking about switching molders? Below we’ll go over some common challenges and opportunities.
Evaluating a New Injection Molder
Given all the challenges of shipping molds, qualifying parts, aligning your supply chain, onboarding vendors, etc., switching your molder is not something you want to do multiple times. That’s why it’s important to know the right questions to ask when you start looking. Although the reasons for switching may vary, the evaluation process for finding a reliable, trustworthy supplier is consistent. Here is a list of considerations when evaluating a new supplier.
Are they listening to you and asking questions?
Understanding your goals and what your part does is important. Your molder should want to know what the part does, where it goes, how it works, etc. If a molder truly understands your part, they can focus on the most important aspects of your project. For example, your part may need to match a painted part, so a consistent color is critical; however, it may not matter to you how the part is packaged or if some defects from old tooling are present. Knowing what is critical allows the molder to maximize efficiency and better serve your needs.
What services do they provide?
Your part may require secondary operations like hot stamping, pad printing, assembly, etc. You want to make sure that your molder has experience in whatever secondary operation you need. Furthermore, it’s essential to consider other areas of expertise that complement the injection molding process. For example, an injection molder with in-house tool building and repair gives them the ability to handle tooling maintenance and repair on site. Having a molder with these complementary services in one place will help you avoidthe downtime and delays caused by shipping tooling around for maintenance and repairs.
How much experience do they have?
In our experience, even the smallest design details can make a big difference. Knowing when and how to apply these details comes with years of experience. Don’t let your project become the learning curve for a supplier. If you have a challenging project, make sure the molder you choose has overcome similar challenges. Otherwise, you may be setting yourself up for disaster.
What equipment do they have?
Making precision components and high-quality injection molds requires talented people, but that talent needs to be coupled with modern machines and technology. Make sure your tool builder has invested in equipment that can produce the level of quality you need. If your project has high annual volumes, you’ll want to consider if the molder has robotics and vision systems available. These tools help drive down costs and increase quality.
Are they a financially strong and stable business?
You’re going to rely on a supplier to provide you with components for years. If they go out of business, how are you going to keep the flow of parts coming to keep your business going? Ask for references and make sure they are stable. Your supplier should also have documented contingency plans for unexpected circumstances.
Is their location convenient?
How are shipping costs going to change based on your molder’s location? How does that change the overall project cost? This factor is easy to overlook, but it should be a consideration.
In a world of remote access, video conferencing, and social media, we still believe on-site visits are essential to building long term relationships. You should check out the inside of a molder’s facility, see what machines your molds are going to run in, and meet the people that are going to make your project a success. When you transfer one of your business assets (your mold) to another location, you are trusting that the new molder will be running and maintaining that asset properly. An on-site assessment gives you the ability to see the culture and environment that your assets will live in.
Transferring Molds and Knowledge
When changing molders, shipping a mold from one place to another is the easiest part of the process. Transferring an understanding of your tooling to the new molder and giving them the best possible picture of your project is more difficult. You should talk to your new molder about previous issues, known challenges, and mold issues. You should also try to get any processing parameters from the previous molder.
Since you already own injection molds and your current molder already has an established process, it’s best to transfer as much information to the new molder as possible. This includes molding machine press size, cycle times, known quality issues, material suppliers, etc. That transfer of knowledge will help the new molder eliminate the guesswork when quoting a project.
If you have 3D cad data on your mold (and you should), make sure to provide that to your new molder. Injection molding machines are mostly universal, but the new molder may want to check ejection system alignment and ensure that the mold will fit into a particular molding machine. Providing this information also gives the molder the data they need to perform maintenance and repairs on the tooling.
Finally, it will be important to run plenty of stock before transferring tooling to a new supplier. As we stated previously, injection molding machines are mostly universal, but that doesn’t mean you’ll drop a mold into the machine, establish a process, and be in production right away. There could be delays related to part qualification, or, in the case of secondary operations, equipment set up and testing could cause delays. Generally speaking, the more time you buy with additional stock, the better. Of course, you’ll need even more time when there are several molds, assemblies, auxiliary equipment, and secondary operations.
Transferring tooling to a new injection molder can be challenging; however, it can also bring up some new opportunities for your project. For example, we’ve had some customers use the transfer process as an opportunity to build new, higher cavitation tooling. So not only do they get on board with a supplier that’s fulfilling their expectations, they will also have brand new tooling and lower ongoing costs. The same can be true for existing tooling. Transferring a mold is a great chance to have your injection molder look over the tooling and resolve any ongoing or future tooling issues.
There may be some opportunities to have the new molder provide some value-added operations for you as well. For example, there could be some assembly or kitting that you’re currently doing in-house. You can talk to your new molder about providing those services for you and evaluate any cost-saving opportunities.
There is no doubt that transferring tooling to a new injection molder can be a stressful process. You need to keep your supply chain flowing while your changing it, which is no easy task. Keeping in mind the evaluation process described above will help you evaluate molders and their ability to provide ongoing program success. From there, you can begin transferring knowledge, building stock, and eventually transferring tooling. Through it all, you can be on the lookout for new opportunities to make your product better and more cost-effective.