Tooling is a large investment for any manufacturer, so what do we need to be wary of..?
Andy Bartlett, an experienced British product designer who has 25 years of experience in product design, development, and working with manufacturers in China, returns to join us again on the podcast for a lively discussion about the kinds of issues and common pitfalls that can come up when developing, approving, and maintaining tooling for your plastic injection molded products.
You’ll learn why supplier selection is key, how to protect your IP, tooling budgets, managing the process, and much more besides, as our CEO Renaud, hosting, and Andy both have many years of experience in dealing with mold fabricators and the manufacture and design of plastic injection molded goods.
Just hit the play button to start listening..!
Listen to the episode right here 👇👇👇
Here’s a summary of key sections of this episode:
✅ Introducing the episode & our guest, Andy – tooling with a focus on plastic injection molding. How to go into tooling once prototype plastic parts have been made and are ready to go into production? How to go into tooling? What kind of defects may we see? Covered from the angle of the most common mistakes to avoid.
✅ Mistake 1. Going straight into the fabrication of the tooling from a 3D CAD drawing without doing DFM, DFQ, & DFC reviews – Andy suggests using the interference check with CAD software and looking for issues in the tooling design like knife edges and radius adding, understanding where the cooling channels are, etc. These checks have a high impact on final product quality.
✅ When is the real golden sample ready? – actually, it’s after tooling has been fabricated and used, as this is when you see flow lines, gates, etc. A 3D-printed prototype, even if it’s great, doesn’t mean the final molded products will be like this. Plus, Chinese suppliers like to rush into tooling and mass production so they can get paid, but this is not always in your best interests.
✅ Mistake 2. Not giving enough time to iterate tooling and verify tooling – the first parts that come off will probably prompt you to need to make changes to tooling, so factor that time in. The process to get it right could take around 6 weeks for a standard part. Andy suggests budgeting an extra 10-15% of the cost of the tooling for changes to it (and harder steel = more budget).
✅ Mistake 3. Getting tooling made in China without making sure to use an enforceable contract – less experienced importers may feel that signing an NDA or an agreement from their own country is enough, but then find that they don’t ‘own’ the tooling and can’t be pulled out. Some Chinese suppliers subsidize the tooling costs or design it for free in order to retain ownership. Your P.O. needs to include the contract of ownership stating that you are the owner and there’s no ambiguity.
✅ Mistake 4. Purchasing tooling from a supplier on Alibaba, etc, without confirming who designs and produces the tooling – if you have large production volumes (say 1m+ pieces) you can find top mold suppliers on the platforms like Alibaba, but for most importers whose volumes aren’t large enough to attract China’s top tier suppliers who commonly work with automakers, etc, it’s dangerous to go with tier 2 or 3 suppliers you don’t have a relationship with without performing due diligence on them. Risks include your small project being outsourced to a tooling shop you have no knowledge of which means a lack of control over your project, your IP, etc. You may never be able to get access to your tooling’s drawings as they weren’t even created by your supplier.
✅ Horror stories where toys have been copied and sold on the market before your original product has even come out – if your tooling design and fabrication is outsourced, perhaps the outsourcer might also decide to produce your tooling again and sell it to someone else to produce your product themselves if they like it! Andy has avoided this by only working with trusted manufacturing partners and visiting the factories to get an understanding of the supply chain and see what parts of the toolmaking process they handle in-house and what may be outsourced.
✅ Assessing toolmaker quality – A tip is to look at the floor of the tool shop of your tooling fabricator. If it’s clean and well-managed, you have a good chance that they’re able to produce quality tooling. Checking how tooling is stored is also a good way to gauge if the fabricator is professional.
✅ Mistake 5. Not maintaining the tooling carefully – if tooling needs to last for a number of years, it’s important to store and maintain it carefully in order to avoid rust and damage. In China, it’s common to see tooling stored inappropriately and this will have a negative impact on product quality.
✅ Mistake 6. Not getting a guarantee for tooling – Andy reminds us to make sure that tooling is provided with a manufacturer’s guarantee that it will be usable for the right period of time appropriate to the quality of steel used in its construction and projected volumes. However, the liability for problems can be difficult to pin down, as increasingly tooling might be made in China and used elsewhere for production, such as in Vietnam, so if there is a quality issue both sides will blame each other and making changes to the tooling will be expensive if the toolmaker won’t take responsibility.
✅ Why from a designer’s perspective it’s better to have a cohesive alignment between the manufacturer and toolmaker – this reduces overall risks of things going wrong and also the effort needed to solve problems if everyone you’re working with has a relationship (so ideally you’d work with a trusted manufacturer’s toolmaker).
✅ Mistake 7. Not keeping visibility over the state of your supplier’s business – if they start to struggle this is a big risk for you as the temptation could be there to keep your tooling hostage or sell it for scrap to cover costs. Andy has experienced tooling being ‘lost’ in China. Therefore performing due diligence on suppliers is so important.
Have you run into any issues when having tooling fabricated in China (or Asia) that we haven’t covered in the episode? Please share your experiences or advice by leaving a comment.
Additional content related to today’s episode…
- Tooling Management for Plastic Injection Molds in China
- List of 12 Plastic injection mold fabrication companies in China
- Selecting a Plastic Injection Material for China Manufacturing
- Common Design For Manufacture Improvements On Plastic Injection Molded Parts
- How to move Plastic Injection Molds between China Factories [10 Tips]
- Read our plastic injection molding resources page – this includes lots of videos explaining the production process and various related posts to tooling management and manufacturing
- We also wrote a guide to rapid tooling prototyping – this gives information about the selection and tooling management for mods which will be used to quickly make small quantities of products instead of large production runs
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