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Why Molding Is Coming Back Home

Reshoring of injection molding tooling is helping U.S. firms address manufacturing headaches.

Brian Buntz

Reshoring isn't just a buzzword. In recent years, there has been a big upswing of industrial production marching back to the United States from low-cost destinations such as Asia and Mexico.

And few companies have had such an opportunity to witness the reshoring as C&J Industries (Meadville, PA), an injection molder founded in 1962. In a four year time frame, more than 135 molds were transferred to the company from abroad.

But the tools that are being sent back from countries like China pose unique problems for U.S.-based injection molders. "What is coming back is not what left." says Mark Fuhrman, director of sales and marketing at C&J. Few of these tools are compliant with Society of Plastic Industry (SPI) Mold standards, which specify part tolerances and cosmetic finishes among other things for U.S.-made injection-molded plastic parts.

Many of the tools returning from abroad are not production capable. When in use, such tools created parts needed secondary operations like trimming or painting to mask the defects they created. "I have been over to China several times and have taken pictures of individuals painting product after molding," Fuhrman notes. Sometimes the hardness of these tools doesn't even measure on the Rockwell scale.

Now, companies like C&J Industries have become experts in improving the quality of tools made in low-cost destinations.  "We did not ask for this. We had all of these tools come to us from many different customers all in a relatively short period of time. It happened organically," Fuhrman says.

When the offshoring trend began to pick up steam, most of the tools that were shipped to low-cost destinations like China were SPI-compliant and American made. "The only issues you dealt with then were the logistics," Fuhrman says.

Now, companies that are continuing to ship their tooling offshore often have to deal with not only flawed tooling but also an uptick in the cost of doing business in places like China and occasionally intellectual property concerns.

In addition, the risk of such foreign-made tools failing during routine operations is considerably higher than is the case with those that are SPI compliant.   

"More and more companies are starting to look at that value proposition and say: wow, offshoring is not making the same amount of sense it did before," he says.

In addition to the advantage of having a shorter supply chain, U.S. manufacturers have invested heavily in automation technology, which has served to lower costs of domestic manufacturing.

The reshoring of tooling is also an issue that has unique challenges. "When has reshoring of an industry happened in the U.S. before? It's not often. This reshoring of business is a new thing and different, and it has its own issues," Fuhrman says.

To help ease the process of tool reshoring, C&J has come up with a checklist of criteria (outlined in more detail in a recent whitepaper) to collect before tool transfer to a U.S. based supplier:

  • Mold dimensions.
  • Mold drawings.
  • Information on hot-runner switches and hydraulic connections.
  • Process information including cycle time, pressure settings, and mold temperature.
  • Spare mold components or specialty maintenance items.
  • Special gauges or inspection fixtures used.
  • Secondary equipment such as sonic welding horns or custom jigs and fixtures.
  • Photos of the outside of the tool as well as the core and cavity.
Stop by C&J Industries' booth (#1574) at MD&M East in New York City, June 9-11, 2015.

Brian Buntz is the editor-in-chief of MPMN and Qmed. Follow him on Twitter at @brian_buntz.

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