There’s no question the American mold industry has taken a battering from imports in recent years. But there’s a new report just out from the China Die & Mould Industry Association that may surprise Yankee toolmakers. Mold imports into China actually surpassed mold exports by $300 million in 2006! Chinese domestic production of molds rose to $3.1 billion in value in 2006, but still only accounted for 74 per cent of domestic supply. The Chinese, however, are not complaining about their mold imports. In fact, the imports are desperately needed to meet expanding demand and high technology requirements. “Plastic mold producers should develop large size, high-precision and complicated molds with high technical content and longer lifecycle,” comments Zhou Yonghai, vice secretary general of the CDMIA. Chinese mold makers “are still far behind” in precision, cavity surface finish, production cycle and life cycle, says Yonghai. Foreign companies, such as Nypro, operate leading-edge mold shops in China, but most Chinese shops lag behind. The Chinese system of traditional state ownership and collective ownership “cannot deal with these challenges”, says the association leader. There’s a tremendous lack of qualified professionals. Meanwhile, prices for molds are dropping while costs of materials, energy and labor are rising. Those last two points sound all too familiar.
What does it mean to design engineers?
Well if you want to take an ambitious product development project to China, you’d better take your tool makers with you.