How to find the right tooling partner.

mold2Now that we’ve determined how valuable a good toolmaker is, it’s time to discuss finding the right one. The way you choose a toolmaker determines whether you wind up with a partner who helps you build market share, or one who makes production challenging and drives your quality ratings down.

Let’s assume that you have a short list for RFPs, built from online research and referrals, and focus on how one toolmaker should emerge from the pack as the clear choice. Let’s also assume that your prospective toolmakers are cost-competitive — our winner succeeds on the basis of value.

 

Start with experience

If you’re looking for a Tier One or Two die/mold supplier, your shortlist should only have toolmakers who work with your product type. Obviously, they should have the specific mold or die experience you need, with a complete understanding of your materials.

The toolmaker you want will ask the right questions, including “What do you want to accomplish with the tool?” Their engineers know the problems associated with tooling for your components or assemblies. Ideally, they’ve solved them.

They’ll be the guys with a track record for adding value in part quality and production. They’ll also know how to cut weight out of parts, for faster cycles and significant material savings over the life of the program.

 

Big-time resources

These smart, savvy engineers will have all the tools they need. FEA. Plastic mold flow simulations. A lab for rapid prototyping so they can add value in concurrent engineering.

Good engineers won’t stay with a toolmaker who doesn’t have the capital resources they need. Make sure your toolmaker has a record of investments in new engineering and manufacturing technologies, as well as training and certifications — if not, you’re probably looking at a company where the owner’s cashing out instead of investing in customer relationships.

 

Nail down the IP ownership

When the tool moves, the customer needs the data. Despite this, a large number of tool shops won’t give up the 3D data. If you’d prefer to skip the reverse engineering, make sure your terms & conditions state that you own the data.

You want your tool delivered with the paperwork and your 3D data on a drive. If the toolmaker has all kinds of good reasons why that shouldn’t happen, move on.

 

Service after the sale

This is a good indicator of whether your toolmaker values ongoing relationships over transactions. You want to see a dedicated maintenance, repair and mods group (ideally, with a blend of veteran technicians and bright young sparks).

A lot can go wrong over the course of a five-year program. If you don’t want to qualify another supplier to handle preventive maintenance and repairs, make sure your toolmaker understands what unplanned downtime costs you, so they can define what they’ll do to prevent it.

 

Good management

You’re looking for honest people with integrity. Check references! (It’s amazing how many companies skip this).

Once an NDA is in place, the right toolmaker will share financial information. When you ask for bank references, you should receive them without foot dragging (that’s a giant flashing red light).

If they’re smart, the toolmaker’s senior management supports the project managers and engineers so they can manage the projects and customer relationships. They set the direction of the company and hold their people accountable, the same way you will.

 

A cultural fit

This can be trickier to quantify, but keep track of and evaluate your experience as a prospect. It won’t be much different from the customer experience.

When you call, do you talk to someone or wind up in voicemail? Is the company responsive, individually and as a whole? You’re looking for signs of collective intelligence — skilled, experienced people who work together to understand your needs and meet them.

Take a tour of the plant and compare your experience to what the references tell you. Do you feel welcome?

Can you see yourself working with this group — not just at the beginning, when everybody’s on their best behavior, but farther along, when prototyping or PPAP runs into headwinds?

 

The winner

Your winner should be at or near the top of every category on your checklist. They should be the overall winner on paper and the people you want to work with the most.

Your toolmaker will have the best communications and project management skills in the group — because that’s how your winner will deliver on their promises.

And making sure that happens is a topic for another day.

Rich Martin has 39 years of experience with injection molding and die cast. Over the course of his career, he’s worked in process engineering, project, program and plant management, account management, sales and business development. He joined JMMS in 2008 and manages marketing and sales.