My company is in the process of negotiating a mold tool for a large plastic enclosure for an acoustic device. It is expensive and we hope we get what we pay for. Unfortunately, in my experience, getting a decent tool means working with a contractor partner in China and not bringing the tool back to the U.S. Usually a qualified CM does not want to have a high reject rate so they work with their tool supplier (or molding partner) to get it right the first time.
The tool prices mentioned in this article must be for large tools. For a small molded ABS part (say it's slender and 2 inches long) can be as much as $8k for a good tool with slides.
At some point companies do have to start looking at the total cost of the tool, not just the upfront cost that looks to be less. There are so many costs that are not included. Shipping the tool. Quality, life, hardness, finish. My experience with foreign molds has never been pleasant. Often the part numbers have been backwards, date codes have been incorrect and those are the simpler things we have had to fix.
I have had the same experience. And I agree that the KEY is excellent communication. If you have to send pictures with circles and arrows back and forth to convey your intentions this can become exhausting, and time consuming. On the other hand, when you find a supplier that understands your needs, and willing to work hard to satisfy their customers, the result can be very good. (On the other-other hand, I always feel uneasy having paid for a mold knowing that I will never get to see it, or take possession of it. Maybe its just me.)
I have dealt with several shops in China, mostly resulting in long delays, repairs, and rework to get the molds producing acceptable parts. However, there was one shop I dealt with that was fantastic. The engineers spoke English quite well and provided excellent service. They made 2 molds, and there was only 1 dimension out of spec, total. It was out by only .002" and was on a non-critical feature. On top of that, they hit their promised delivery date, with 3 days to spare..
Mold purchasing in China can be difficult. If you receive a extremely low price quote, you will most likely receive an extremely low quality mold. Just like there are good mold shops in the US, there are good shops in China, but they are few and far between.
The most common sound in tool shops in China is the sound of an air powered grinding wheel. I can only imagine the "precision" fitting that is being accomplished with these high tech grinders.
Also, if you do not have specific requirements for mold construction, you will end up with non-hardened Chinese steel and Chinese hydraulic cylinders for core movement.
It is the same in the states as it is in China "You get what you pay for".
I only hope more engineering organizations, procurement organizations, and overall general management will take note of these kind of findings and rethink some of the rationale around outsourcing to China and other locales. For American manufacturing to survive, companies need to consider the total cost of their outsourcing decisions across the entire lifecycle of the product and account for costs related to quality glitches, delayed deliveries, etc. I'm sure mold design is not the only area that experiences issues with overseas suppliers.
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