Plastic moulding: How to keep costs down without compromising quality
For manufacturers who require plastic moulding, it’s often a challenge to find the right solution. Inevitably you need a high-quality part, but you also have one eye on the purse strings, along with lead time to market. Tooling costs and production costs all need to be considered – but at what cost?
René Slade, Engineering Manager at ENL, has been with the company for 24 years. Here he gives his best advice on how to get most value from your supplier so that you get the best quality and the best price.
Start by choosing a supplier who offers a partnership
On the face of it, a low-cost unit price might be an attractive option. “Whilst it can be tempting to go it alone and go for the cheapest price, or a supply-only service, inevitably you run into delays and issues, which all impact on the cost and quality,” suggests René. He goes on to explain, “Finding a partnership with a supplier and drawing on their expertise will save you so much pain. They will help sketch out the simplest path to the best end result which will save you time, reduce your costs, give you consistent quality and longevity”.
A partnership will protect you from ‘hidden costs’ and your partner should provide security for you as the customer throughout the relationship.
René sees much value in working with suppliers who can manage the entire lifecycle, firmly believing this reduces overall costs, as well as many other benefits, “I’d suggest looking for a supplier with capabilities of managing and manufacturing the entirety of a project. It can be difficult managing cost, lead times and responsibilities if a project is utilising different manufacturers for each project stage and production. If you establish a one-stop-shop partner then you will have also established a ‘bought-in’ ownership to the project part that will pay dividends throughout the lifecycle. A ‘new’ project will transfer ultimately to full scale production. It’s invaluable, if possible, to maintain that continuity and seamlessly transfer, through the NPI process to production supply, with the same supplier. You will have a partner, the continuous support, and will have maintained all the project history, the experience and be able to call upon the partner’s resource at any future point. It’s not unusual for parts to require change or modification to suit market trends or customer requirements at some later point; this is almost always much easier and cheaper with the continued supply, full project understanding and support from the original manufacturer”.
‘I’d always advise potential customers to look beyond the tool build / NPI stage”, advises René. “What production route for on-going supply is required and agreed? If possible, make sure your partner can offer this ‘in-house’. Ask the “what happens if?” and “what’s included?”.
Here, René lists some areas you should be considering and asking your supplier about:
Tool servicing and maintenance; measurement support for compliance; supply chain and material purchase security; stock holding and delivery; tool storage between production runs; accreditation – who or what standard ensures monitors your supplier; contingency plans.
A mould tool is a mechanical assembly and unfortunately as they age having been subjected to constant temperature change and use, they will occasionally require replacement parts or corrective action outside of general servicing and maintenance. So René suggests you should carefully consider and ask your supplier the following: what happens in a breakdown situation? Can your supplier offer immediate ‘in-house’ support? Can this be ‘in-press’ if necessary? Are they a 24 hour operation?
“Most importantly, don’t be afraid to ask questions and ask for explanation of anything outside of your own expertise or that you are unsure about. It is an open, on-going partnership where-in communication and two-way understanding are key ingredients to success”.
A good supplier will guide and advise
René says, “Often our customers will come to us with a pre-conceived idea, for example the type of material to use or the design of the product. With careful analysis, and in partnership with the customer, we will often recommend alternative design and materials that will lower cost and maintain the quality, whilst maintaining strength, integrity and original design intent of the part”.
“We try to guide at every step and give people options. There are always high cost options – of course – but there are usually lower cost options that the customer will not know about as it isn’t their area of expertise”.
Get the most from your supplier by drawing on their capabilities and resources
A good supplier will have many years’ of expertise and knowledge – and as a paying customer, you should take advantage of this resource.
Your tooling and moulding supplier will have a network of contacts and relationships built over years of co-operation that will be available to you. They will be able make sure your project is prioritised to maintain timing, liaise with suppliers and sub-contractors more easily and advise on in-manufacture decisions to ensure milestones and targets are met. Your supplier should project manage from placement through to supply and provide the most cost-effective route to completion, adhering to the agreed milestones and communicating with you the customer throughout.
“This is where a partnership will come into its own [league] because they’ll collaborate. It usually isn’t just one person advising and guiding the customer. For example, I will call upon the expertise of my colleagues in design, tooling and material sourcing to find the most cost-effective solution. We give customers advice on different tooling options, design options, materials and parts as well as options and alternatives to second ops. Over the years we have helped many companies design and bring to market [or production] many different product parts”, explains René.
Ask your supplier for help
If you’re stuck on a design – or you don’t know the best way to produce a part and keep the costs down – ask your supplier.
René comments, “Sometimes we get customers who are completely stuck and frustrated with a project. They have been around the houses and are genuinely stumped. I would always recommend asking your supplier for help. At ENL we like to make it our business to help our customers achieve their projects. No matter how complex, there’s always a solution. An experienced supplier will have answers – they’ll have seen most scenarios and can make even the most complex mouldings work”.
You get better return on investment from longer-term relationships
“There are so many cost-saving solutions and options that we proactively invest in continuously finding these”, says René. “For example, we’ve taken the weight out of components that bring down the overall cost. To start with there is less material, which is immediately a cost saving. This can also impact on shipping costs as there is less material to ship. If there is less component to mould, it reduces the time to mould it, bringing yet a further cost-saving benefit. With consideration, analysis and plastics design experience, the component will be able to maintain its strength even though it may be smaller and lighter”.
There are so many ways to mould plastic components and, when you’re looking for a supplier, you might be faced with many options. By choosing a proactive supplier who can provide more than just production, you will definitely triumph with the lowest possible cost and the highest quality component.