|Evaluating Your Mold Maintenance Direction|
|by Steve Johnson, ToolingDocs|
|Solutions Spring 2011|
“How do we compare?” This question has been long posed by companies that feel like their mold maintenance process could be improved, but weren’t sure if the effort would be worth the time and
However, with the recent economic melt-down came a change of perspective, and mold repair – long shunned as an expensive cost center for a company – now is being dissected to see if there is a dollar to be saved.
But day-to-day shop turmoil, combined with a lack of appropriate tools with which to accurately measure critical efficiencies in a firefighting culture, has led companies instead to resort to solutions like cutting staff with hopes that the remaining employees can man-up and get things done. These companies end up missing the bigger picture.
Get a Grip
Mold maintenance work is repetitive by nature. Shops should learn from past experiences so that obstacles faced in the past can be mitigated or eliminated completely.
To aid in the learning process, mold maintenance teams must master five maintenance principles that, together, will ensure efficient production of quality parts on time.
The Fab Five
Historically, shop skills alone kept many companies afloat. Imagine what could be accomplished if a group of skilled craftsmen had a motivating and involved leader who used a maintenance strategy based on data from a proven documentation system in a well-designed shop. Talk about a culture change!
Start at the Top
What is the Plan?
Google the words “maintenance strategy” and a plethora of options appear – from ‘Predictive’ to ‘Preventative’ and many more – all with the same basic goal in mind: to prevent issues before they occur. The difference is how these strategies “fit” with mold repair.
Most companies attempt to use the popular PM strategy, which is basically to clean molds, install new tooling and perform other tasks at a predetermined frequency. The problem is that the correct frequency and tooling replacement has typically not been qualified through accurate data analysis. It’s more a guess based on either experience with the tool or an opinion. This “guess” can cost companies hundreds of thousands of dollars by over- and under-maintaining molds.
Replacing good tooling with new tooling just because a cycle count or date popped up could cost much more than investing the time, skills and tools needed to qualify the decision using a Reliability Centered Maintenance (RCM) strategy. With RCM, historical corrective action reports, along with standardized tooling bench inspections and useful forms, provide the information needed to minimize costs while keeping a mold reliable and in good running condition.
Regardless of what documentation system is used, it must be capable of employing standardized shop and industry terms and their definitions or the data is nothing more than useless journal entries. Accurate information will greatly surprise even the crustiest skipper, who may be more accustomed to navigating by memory or feel.
It’s common for today’s repair technicians to have 20 or 30 years of experience, but from that experience is limited to working at only one or two companies. Their exposure to new ideas, bench techniques and methodologies has been limited to a small pool of fellow repair techs. In fact, getting them out from behind their benches and into a training environment where they can talk and work side-by-side with repair techs from different backgrounds improves not only performance, but also morale and attitudes. In addition, the financial benefits that come as a result of enhancing technical skills are undeniable.
A highly skilled repair technician in today’s lean shop needs to be an expert in defect troubleshooting, wearing the hats of an electrician, toolmaker, welder and processor, while also being comfortable at a PC. Now this is a valuable employee who won’t come cheap, but the continuous improvement of a shop can be stifled by inexperienced, low-balled mechanics just putting in their time.
Too many shops are dark, dreary places to work because someone believes that all a repair tech needs is a bench, some hammers and a few rags. Even though molds are the heart and profit center of a molding company, the operating room too often is set up for meatball surgery with the aim of patching the molds and sending them back to service.
Shops need to take advantage of a “work cell” bench design to minimize the steps and frustration of hunting for the right tool to do a job. Think the repair process through – the tools required are probably already there, but need to be better organized.
Ultimately, mold maintenance is a continually evolving craft in which a company’s direction needs to be assessed and then measured to help it grow. The days of freelanced repairs and unaccountable black art methods are over. Today’s successful mold repair shops exercise maintenance transparency and standardization of terms and techniques for consistent, reliable and profitable production runs.
The time for evaluating a company’s mold maintenance direction cannot come soon enough.
Steven Johnson is operations manager for ToolingDocs, a provider of mold maintenance training and consultation, based in Ashland, OH. His tooling maintenance experience includes eight years as senior tooling engineer for Abbott Laboratories, a leading medical device manufacturer, and 24 years as a toolmaker at Calmar, Inc., rebuilding high cavitation, close-tolerance multi-cavity injection molds, as well as blow molds, cutting dies, rubber compression and silicone (LSR) tools. He also designed and developed MoldTrax™, a documentation software system for tracking mold performance and maintenance. To learn more, call 800.257.8369 or visit www.toolingdocs.com.