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Tool Transfer Q&A
   by Mike Juda and Jerry Gorrell, Polymer Conversions, Inc.
   Strategies   Spring  2010
  
Polymer Conversions, Inc. is a custom injection molder located in Orchard Park, N.Y. In operation for more than thirty years, Polymer built much of its early business by redesigning and rebuilding molds that had been transferred from other plastics processors. Availing itself of the opportunity to prove its engineering and productivity enhancement capabilities to new customers, Polymer developed a reputation for its evaluation of production molds. Success with transfer tooling remains a significant contributor to the companyís growth Ė roughly 40 percent of the molds in-house were sent to Polymer Conversions by customers unhappy with their supplier.

Jerry Gorrell, director of engineering, and Mike Juda, tool room/project manager, shared Polymerís perspective on transfer tooling, as well as their own expertise, in this Q&A.

What are the most common reasons for transferring a mold? There are many reasons for customers to transfer projects from one molder to another. It could be as simple as the current molder closing its shop. It could be that product deliveries have become such an issue that the customer can no longer live with the disturbance. Customers may make a change if quality is a concern. There may be situations where a customerís current molder changed its business model in a direction that no longer supports the customerís product, or accepted direct competitive business.

Some potential customers look for another molder for piece price reduction without cost improvement. Polymer has chosen not to compete for transfer programs strictly on price. Almost any molder can meet a customerís requested price, especially with todayís economy. Our transfer program is set up to support customers with difficult molding jobs, providing them with solutions for a quality product and engineering support throughout the life of the project.

What information should be obtained before quoting a transfer tool program? The request for quote process for transfer tooling can be the most important factor in a transfer program. Before quoting a transfer program, gather as much detailed information as possible to ensure a smooth and successful tool transfer for both the customer and the molder. Information could include the following:

  • main reason for the transfer;
  • a list of all quality issues of the product;
  • information on the original tool builder;
  • 2D tool drawings and 3D solid models;
  • maintenance records for the molds, including length of time the molds have been in service and the number of cycles the molds provided;
  • processing information from the current molder, along with current molding press information such as manufacturer and size;
  • quality records in process; and
  • non-conformity issues (including cavity specific issues).

This list is far from complete, but it may provide customers with a clear understanding of the importance in choosing the right molder for their program.

How are the molds evaluated upon receipt? Once the request for quote process is complete, Polymer will provide a written proposal for the cost of tool evaluation, product pricing, and qualification details, noting any specific items that should be reviewed prior to the transfer. Itís important to communicate as much as possible. This lets the customer know exactly what information the quote is based on and what possible holes there may be in the information necessary for a complete assessment. The tooling evaluation fills in the holes, providing a review of the current tooling condition.

At Polymer, molds are fully evaluated using our transfer tooling checklist. Photographs are taken before and after performing the checklist, and the customer is contacted immediately if concerns with the tooling are discovered. The checklist verifies conformance with Polymerís molding equipment. In addition, molds should be evaluated against industry standards. Polymer provides the customer with a detailed list of our findings, along with the completed checklist.

The customer should be encouraged to keep an open line of communication between its current molder and the molder to whom the tool is being transferred. This can be critical if concerns arise. In some cases, customers are not aware of what they purchased as far as tooling is concerned. They may have awarded the project to a molder for a lower tool price, just to find out that they purchased a cavity set and not a full frame mold, or that the quality will not yield the tool life expected for the investment. In some more detailed programs, the proper due diligence was not performed prior to tool design with regards to the use of injection molding analysis software for mold filling, cooling, weld lines, and proper gate location. These can be key attributes for proper tool construction and a successful, consistent molding process.

Another common stumbling block can be found in current mold conditions that are unknown to the customer, but discovered by Polymer during the molding process. We have experienced cracked cavities, leaking or poor-performing hot runner systems, cooling lines that are rusted closed, cavities in a basket, and a parting line that wonít split due to tool construction.

After the evaluation, any concerns should be addressed through one-on-one conversation with the customer. Ultimately, the qualification process for a transfer tool should be treated no differently than building a brand new mold for a new customer. At the end of the evaluation process, a molder should be confident that all the issues based on the tools or materials are known.

How can risk be mitigated for both the molder and the customer? Both companies reduce their risk through the quoting process. The process should include meetings with the customer prior to the quote and after the quote has been submitted. These meetings reveal the reasons the project move was considered in the first place, and confirms justification to move the project. It should be a win-win decision for both companies. If the detailed process required for quoting isnít an option, Polymer has a standard policy for customers that provides them with the confidence needed to change molders. Itís a fairly costly process to move tooling from one molder to another, and customers donít want to find problems and have to move it again. The customer has to have some kind of understanding that the molder will stand by the quoted price.

Polymer believes that our program for transferring tooling is a solid service to our customers and potential customers, helping them to solve issues they might be having with their current molders. Weíre hoping to create a long-term relationship with these customers and being thorough, communicating well, and standing by our service offerings provides a solid basis for the future.

For more information on Polymer Conversions, Inc.ís transfer tooling program, call (716) 662-8550 or visit www.polymerconversions.com.