By PTI Engineered Plastics
Sometimes the best-laid plans are unattainable. When this happens during production, the results can be devastating. Time, money, and effort may seem wasted — which is no small loss during a product launch or ongoing production. Just imagine halting the injection molding process of a critical component used in a medical device assembly, creating an interruption in the supply chain.
“It happens,” shares John Budreau, Director of New Business Development with PTI Engineered Plastics, which specializes in full-service custom plastic injection molding services. “It’s not typical, but there are certainly times when a manufacturer, for whatever reason, is unable to continue production or supply the final molded parts, and a customer is left empty-handed.”
Fortunately, there is a solution that can ensure production ensues. A tool or mold transfer, from one manufacturer to another, can save a company from lost production time and or potential quality issues.
“The key here is providing customers with peace of mind. In fact, I was just asked this question the other day, and the answer is yes…there are processes available for transferring a mold,” says Budreau, who is a 27-year veteran engineer with PTI. OEMs invest a significant amount of capital into their injection mold tooling, and it’s important that they understand how their supplier maintains those assets. “Of course, this does not necessarily resolve all issues if part quality is a concern. Due diligence is required, and sometimes mold repairs or rebuilds become a part of the solution. But successful mold transfers are possible.”
Budreau offers some advice for those searching for a new injection molding supplier to transfer their current mold. “Do your homework,” he says. “Verify the new supplier has transfer tool experience and full-service capabilities.”
Selecting a supplier with in-house tooling is important. When a mold is received at a new supplier, the tooling and process engineering teams thoroughly evaluate the mold and review the process parameters. An in-house tooling team will be ready to make any repairs to the mold on the spot, helping return the mold to production faster, and reducing production downtime. Throughout production, routine preventative maintenance will also be conducted more efficiently.
“There’s typically a rigorous validation process that goes with certain products,” he says. “Take, for example, a heart valve repair component used in cardiac surgeries. There’s a high standard of quality and a lot of documentation involved with such parts.”
For example, the process documentation includes a SIM workbook and DOE-level validation is performed to ensure repeatability, confirming the part can be reproduced with the exact same level of quality every time. According to Budreau, a molder with a strong process engineering team more than likely has the experience to accommodate and fully meet those standards.
“Ideally, the supplier should have a cross-functional team leading and managing the tool transfer project,” he advises. “This includes a program manager responsible for the project timing, milestones, and all customer-facing communications. Quality and process engineers are also integral in the communication process. Tooling engineers should also be a part of this team, supporting and managing the tasks related to the mold transfer, including any necessary repairs or maintenance.
A successful project almost always comes down to open and honest communication between the parties.”
As part of a mold transfer, here’s what to ask for and expect from a quality supplier:
- A discussion about the product, including a review of any details that must be addressed before mold sampling and verification
- A first-article inspection of any samples from the previous mold manufacturer to verify dimensional integrity
- A full mold inspection and documented report about the findings
- Final feedback and approval by the customer
“Ultimately, the collaboration between the customer and supplier throughout the molding evaluation process is critical for the timing of the transfer and for the success of the entire project,” says Budreau. “The value of good communication for a smooth mold transfer cannot be understated.”
A Mold Transfer Done Right
If you’re searching for a new injection molding company to take over a project, there are a few important steps that, if followed, can ensure a smooth and successful mold transfer.
- Share as much information as possible with the new mold supplier about expectations and any previous issues to ensure past problems are not repeated and that the goals for production are clear.
- Provide all the engineering, manufacturing, and quality documentation. At the minimum, this should include previous part drawings, quality records, process documentation, and production samples.
- Specify the validation requirements.
- Detail the bank quantity of parts needed to satisfy your production needs to ensure there’s no gap in your product supply chain and customer deliveries can be met during the tool transfer process.
- The timing, quantity, and validation should all be factored into the quote received from the injection molding supplier and, ultimately, the tool transfer timeline.
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