mold Components: Industry Changes
Much like the hot runner market, the components sector also has seen faster delivery times. Mike Hicks, North American Sales Manager at DMS (Oldcastle, ON), points out that in addition to quicker deliveries is less expense—with quality a given. “The industry is much more open-minded and single sourcing is now a rarity as there are many innovative good suppliers out there (perhaps too many, which has created a buyer’s market),” Hicks states. “The bar has been raised and the mold shops have many more options and features to choose from. Many suppliers are now sourcing globally to remain competitive. Ten years ago this may have not been readily accepted, but is more mainstream accepted/expected today.”
Additionally, the industry is much more business-like, according to JR Hommer, Vice-President of Hommer Tool and Mfg., Inc. (Arlington Heights, IL). “Gone are the days when you could ‘gut shot’ a quote and either win big or lose big,” he comments. “Margins are too tight to risk any losses. The aversion to risk also has impacted innovation. Today, when an investment is made in technology or capacity it must be justified with quantifiable return on investment. It takes a businessperson to guide and survive in this industry today and not just a talented toolmaker.”
Unfortunately, the number of molds build in the U.S. has declined over the past decade. “Reasons for this include the tightening of product development budgets, optimization of part design to reduce the number of parts and therefore the number of molds required, the number of molds being imported from overseas, and also the fact that entire products are being tooled/molded/assembled overseas,” explains Glenn Starkey, Director of Engineering and Sales for Progressive Components (Wauconda, IL). “Additionally, the simple, open/shut molds are rarer, with thriving U.S. mold builders increasingly specializing in highly complex tools. What that has meant from a component standpoint is that it has become more important than ever to offer mechanisms that save time for the mold builder, and becausethese items are standard, they offer the advantage of being able to be maintained easily by the molder.
“Due to the changes both in tooling complexity and overall business conditions, there is an increased need for standardized lifters, collapsible cores, modular sideactions and parting line sequence devices,” Starkey adds.
Mold Components: Specific Product Line Changes
Standardization and specialty components are continually evolving trends in this market. According to Chuck Azzopardi, Global Product Manager at D-M-E Company, standardized systems have been on the rise over the past 10 years. “Everyone is looking for things to work together more than they ever did before, and products and technology need to serve that market demand,” he says. “The demand for standardized systems for the centering of stack molds has dramatically increased and there is not a product available to do just that. The stack mold and mold building market is projected to keep growing over the next 10 years. And, multi-parting line systems are on the rise.”
Adding to these thoughts is Hommer of Hommer Tool. “The equipment has evolved to have the accuracy and repeatability put into the process so that there is less reliance on the skill of the machinist running that equipment,” he says. “This also has facilitated the automation of processes when the human factors were removed or isolated.”
Lawrence of D-M-E notes that components have become increasingly less expensive. “At the same time we have provided more value to the customer by enabling faster mold construction times and increased capabilities in the mold,” he explains.
Hicks of DMS adds that improved software and equipment has allowed components companies to deliver basic and specialty components faster. “Many mold shops are willing to purchase specialty components that they may have made themselves 10 years ago, but now component suppliers who can quite often make itless expensive quicker and better,” Hicks notes. “Moldmakers need their equipment tied up building molds not components.”
Expanding on Hicks’ sentiments is Progressive Components’ Starkey. “We used to see more call-in/pick-up type orders 10 years ago, but now companies are calling mainly for components to suit the more complex situations,” he elaborates. “For simple component orders, they are often sending them electronically from their electronic purchasing system and shipping via UPS in one to two days. In that regard, planning is better than 10 years ago and there are fewer instances of a ‘stop, drop and roll’ order for components for a new tool.
“Of course, on the repair side there will always be emergencies and, as a result, we’re required to have deeper inventories on the shelf, and an increasingly technical team on the other end of the phone that is ready to assist,” Starkey adds.
Azzopardi of D-M-E adds that customers want to work with companies with broad distribution capabilities. “Getting components when and where you want them—anywhere in the world—is essential now and not just a service perk.”
The Next Decade
All of the suppliers in this article agree that molds will continue to become more complex—and thus the demand for increasingly complex systems and components will continue to increase.
Today’s hot runners and complex controls have the ability to perform processes previously not possible in a production environment. Photo courtesy of Incoe.
Hot Runner Market
Baumann of Husky believes that leadtimes will become even more compressed. “There is no reason why a high cavitation hot runner could not be built within four weeks,” he notes. “The development of nozzles that address specific applications will continue to a degree where each market segment will feature its specific solution to achieve peak performance. Nozzles will shrink further in size to allow customers to direct gate applications that today are either cold or hot/cold gated. Flow Simulation tools will be more widely used to ensure faster mold production start ups and eliminate the need for cavity re-cuts. More so than today, the hot runner and hot runner temperature controller will become an even further integrated part of the mold—including feedback loops from cavity and temperature sensors that provide a picture of what’s going on inside melt channel and cavity.”
Roggenburk of Synventive Molding Solutions expands on Baumann’s thoughts. “Time to market for tomorrow’s products will continue to shrink,” he states. “Therefore, all industries and markets will continue to push their suppliers and partners for faster response times. This means hot runner suppliers must continue to push to be more efficient throughout the process. We must provide faster design information, and be able to coordinate projects efficiently on a global basis. In addition, we will need to provide faster build times, products that work from the start, and the most responsive service organization to support global production.”
Both Catoen of Mold-Masters and Incoe’s Blundy see the consolidation of hot runner companies in the future. “These new companies will offer a broader range of products that will be even more service-based to better address the needs of global customers,” Catoen says. “These companies will fully encompass all technologies surrounding the molding machine.
“I also see continued adoption of hot runner technology across the molding industry resulting in an increase from 40 percent to 70 percent market share,” Catoen adds. “Systems that were once complex will become off-the-shelf items through flexible pitch range options and advancements in modular designs. Development in analysis tools will ensure even the most complex applications with demanding resins will be perfectly rheologically balanced.”
Markel of PCS takes this one step further, noting, “I see mold industry consolidation resulting in very large ‘super molders and moldmakers’ utilizing state-of-the-art technology to maintain competitiveness. Industry consolidation is a necessity to balance supply and demand requirements and will also ripple through the injection molding industry supply base. The North American industry also will specialize in high tolerance multi-cavity tooling.”
Standardization is key to growth in the components sector over the next 10 years. “Molders are looking for higher productivity and so are mold builders,” D-M-E’s Azzopardi points out. “Multi-material and multi-shot applications will definitely be on the rise for the next 10 years.”
Hicks at DMS would like to see that the plastics market continues to thrive in the U.S. “Those companies that continue to embrace technology, seek new markets/products and remain confident in themselves with respect to theirskills/talents will probably still be here—as well as the companies that improve their cash flow or redefine PPAP terms,” he states. “However, there is no sure thing for anyone. Customer expectation on quality, delivery and pricing will always put component suppliers under constant pressure. I see medical, large and complicated automotive molds, and those products that have an R+D element to it will remain in North America.”
Lawrence of D-M-E believes that global factors will influence market forecasts. “Automotive in North America and Western Europe will grow at a much lower pace than the markets in China, India and Eastern Europe,” he states. “The complexity of molds produced in North America and Western Europe and Japan will be lower in numbers but higher in features and capabilities. The most active growth markets overall for molds will be China, India and Eastern Europe (including Russia). Growth markets in North America will be in the areas of medical, agricultural, ‘new’ domestic automotive and energy-related areas. These markets will also grow more rapidly in the Southeast U.S., the Western U.S. and Mexico.
This will cause the market to become even more competitive, Hommer of Hommer Tool says. “I believe that in order to survive, our business must continue to innovate to maintain competitive advantages.”
Finally, the increasing complexity of molds will result in added business for components manufacturers. “Over the next five years, we’ll see less and less molds valued under $100,000 and more molds valued over $500,000,” Starkey of Progressive Components comments. “Highly complex tools for packaging, medical and electronics applications will often feature multiple parting lines, in-mold labeling, in-mold assembly, etc. From a component standpoint, the more typical bill of materials orders for a couple dozen ejector pins, sleeves, core pins, will become less the norm. Molds will more oftenresemble complex machinery,with the purchased component itemscomposed ofa myriad of modular mechanisms.
“With this evolution, the following six to 10 years may see moldmakers take on larger portions of the product development for entire assemblies, and they will produce not only complex injection molds as described, but also stamping dies, blow mold tools and die cast dies,” Starkey continues. “To decrease the learning curve in new, specialized tooling niches, partnerships and consolidation will be on the rise.”
Starkey is optimistic about the future, concluding, “Looking forward, perhaps the greatest rate of change is behind us, and with a focus on engineering, the region from which a mold originates (and the related cost) may become less of a factor than the engineering approach and reliability, which produces value. “Rather than the giddy cost savings mindset of the past, a sober assessment of the tool’s ‘total cost of ownership’ will come to the forefront.”