In this episode…
Are you developing a new product which has plastic parts? If so, you’ll need tooling made which including the mold for making the parts and you’re not going to want to miss this episode where we explain how to manage tooling and reduce your risks!
Typically, the tooling (mold) needs to be designed, fabricated, tested, and stored and moved correctly. But how do you manage all of these efficiently and reduce the risks of things going wrong?
Renaud and Adrian from the team discuss the ins and outs of tooling management here.
Renaud will explain what’s involved in tooling management, key risks you face and what to do to overcome them (such as relying on a supplier to fabricate the tooling only to then be told that you don’t own it or its design, or the threat that a supplier that will use your tooling to produce your products and compete with you in your own market if you leave it with them between productions), and what to include in the contract you agree with the tooling fabrication shop in order to keep control of the project.
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✅ Defining ‘tooling management.’ Basically, tooling management is setting your expectations, review what the supplier/tooling shop is doing and confirm it makes sense, double-check and confirm that the tooling reaches your requirements, and retain access and control over the tooling.
The level of management required of the tooling depends on how hands-on you want to be. Renaud gives examples where some customers want to be hands-off and let their supplier develop and fabricate the tooling for them in return for a slightly higher unit price as they like the lower initial investment. On the other hand, some customers want more control, and they will pay for the tooling in order to own it, making their expectations for the tooling (such as their ownership of it and its IP) very clear to the supplier and/or tooling fabrication shop. Finally, your supplier will get the tooling made, test it, and give you samples to approve.
More hands-on buyers will take a lot of actions in order to reduce risks, as tooling can be a very large investment of tens of thousands of dollars and getting changes made to it after it’s made is expensive and difficult, so you will go through a very thorough validation process to cover the risks.
✅ Some of the key risks you’ll face throughout the lifecycle of a piece of plastic injection-molding tooling (and how to overcome them).
- Plastic part design. A mechanical engineer probably designs the plastic parts you need with the correct finish etc, but if they aren’t designed with the injection-molding process in mind it may be impossible to make them, or impossible to make them with consistently good quality, or be too expensive to make them. So here a DFM review is required on the part design to find any issues and make suggestions for iterations that allow them to be manufactured.
- Sourcing the tooling supplier. In your RFQ you need to communicate exactly what you need to the suppliers (tolerances, finishing, shots required from tooling, etc) and have them sign an NNN & development agreement including milestones, payment terms, penalties, your access to the tooling, etc. This will avoid unpleasant surprises later on, such as you being told that you don’t ‘own’ the tooling.
- Selecting the right tooling supplier. Spend time qualifying the right supplier, so assess things like their capabilities, whether they outsource tooling fabrication or create it themselves in-house, and if their cost is too low (this is a red flag as can lead to problems later on).
- Mold design & drawings. Unless you have signed a development agreement for the tooling, your mold design may well be considered as the supplier’s own IP and you will never get the drawings. This isn’t critical, but it can be helpful for troubleshooting the design. A professional supplier will perform their own DFM review on the tooling design, but small buyers shouldn’t expect this as they will probably work with smaller fabrication shops that are less likely to be as thorough.
- Mold fabrication. Typically takes around 20-30 days. A risk here is that your tooling production gets delayed. Planning ahead with a grant chart and visiting the site to see what they’re doing and pushing them (in person or on WeChat etc) are effective ways to reduce delays. Having mature product designs and PP samples before going into tooling helps reduce delays, as doing things in parallel will increase the risk of new product design iterations leading to expensive and time-consuming tooling adjustments.
- Tooling trials & adjustments. These can take several days or a week, and issues must be noticed and fixed. Sending an inspector to check the parts being made in trials or get them to you ASAP so you can confirm them as time is often an issue at this point.
- Transfer of tooling to the injection-molding factory. The tooling shop and your manufacturer need to work together and the latter should formally sign-off that the tooling is accepted, otherwise, they may later blame the tooling for any issues (perhaps unfairly). So the acceptance process needs to be managed and the setup parameters documented.
- Setup of the tooling for mass production. An engineer can be sent to the factory to check the mold’s settings, this is important for reducing risk. Pushing the manufacturer to perform a pilot run is extremely good at reducing the risks of issues in mass production. If efforts have been made to validate the tooling, it’s harder for the manufacturer to blame it if problems occur.
- During production. Definitely good to have someone on-site to provide you with some visibility over the supplier’s processes, efficiency, and also inspect the quality of products being made.
- Pulling the tooling out of a supplier’s factory. It may be more secure to pull tooling out of a supplier’s factory between productions as this keeps it in the best possible condition and reduces the likelihood of it being used without your authorisation to copy your products. Tooling custody and management is something we regularly take care of in our secure China facility for customers.
Doing this regularly will also benefit you if you decide to switch to a new supplier, as your old supplier will be used to the procedure of releasing your tooling* and will not try to retain it and hold it to ransom if they’re unhappy with losing your business *(you should pull the tooling before informing them that you’re ceasing the relationship).
- Tooling end-of-life. Take the opportunity to pour your learnings into the new mold’s design, improving on the old design where possible in order to reduce quality issues, etc, the next time round. If your volumes have increased, investing in more cavities will probably be worthwhile.
✅ If you buy and own the tooling you need your development contract with the supplier to include the following…
These points help prevent you from being hooked by your supplier and unable to walk away (the amount of risk depends on the type of supplier you work with):
- Outline who owns the IP rights to the tooling and its design.
- Clarify the obligations of the supplier to keep the tooling in good working condition
- Indicate how many shots the tooling should be capable of if using the correct materials and processes
- Agree on the process to be followed if you wish to move to another supplier (access to the tooling) and that the supplier will be responsible for fixing any damage or problems with the tooling caused during their stewardship of it
✅ The process to follow when moving tooling between suppliers. There’s a specific process for doing this safely and securely, and it’s outlined in this blog post.
How do you manage the fabrication and use of your tooling? Let us know your tips and experiences by leaving a comment, please.
- Tooling Management for Plastic Injection Molds in China [Guide]
- Tooling custody & management service from Sofeast to keep your tooling safe in China.
- How To Package Tooling Properly So It Doesn’t Get Damaged Or Rust Unnecessarily Quickly In Transit
- 7 Common Plastic Injection Mold Tooling Development, Approval, & Maintenance Pitfalls [Podcast]
- The Conundrum of Investing in Tooling Before a Final Prototype
- Build Of Pre-Production Tooling – (Developing a New Product Series Part 11)
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