Steven Johnson is the operations manager for ToolingDocs LLC, part of the PCIC Group of Companies. Steve also has his own business, MoldTrax in Ashland, Ohio. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or (419) 289-0281.
The Tools of Tool Maintenance
Measurement and inspection of components of close-tolerance tooling is a necessary maintenance skill for repair technicians to determine how the tolerances compare with print specifications during a comparative analysis or checking tooling stack-ups. The root cause of many mold and part issues are ultimately determined by the ability to measure something within one or two tenths of a mil. Readings with precision measuring tools can determine whether a tooling component is to be reused, reworked, or scrapped out.
Several considerations must be met when using precision measuring tools to check dimensions accurately to within 0.0001 in. The most commonly used repair tools are micrometers, test indicators, and calipers. Some toolmakers have a collection of these tools of various quality, styles, dimensional capabilities, and costs. The quality of the instruments you choose should be based on usage, cost, and the level of professionalism you want to achieve and project. It used to be that a journeyman repair technician’s precision tool selection was as much a part of his qualifications as his ability to use them. Nowadays, the new breed of technician is more about what the company can provide, for the onus of ownership has shifted, and the reverence for using one’s own precision tools is diminishing.
So regardless of whether you purchase your own measuring tools or your company has its own community chest of precision tools (not always a good thing), there is some basic information to consider whenever precision tools are purchased, used, and cared for.
•Conditions of use: The first question to ask yourself is how close do your type of molds and products require you to work? Are you maintaining liquid silicone rubber (LSR) molds or grinding vents for nylon (extremely small flash points)? Or are you molding dogfood bowls where the flash is being trimmed by hand? If you absolutely don’t need to measure to within 0.0001 in.—and most often you don’t—then spend the extra money on tool quality instead. A readout of 0.0005 in. is usually close enough, and in many cases 0.001 in. will suffice. Also consider how often you will use the tool. Even a $45 dial indicator used once a month will last a while, and when it breaks or needs repair you can just toss it.
This brings us to the issue of tool reparability and availability of spare parts. It’s practically impossible to get spare parts for cheap measuring tools or to have them refurbished. It’s especially hard to get parts for electronic tools, as they change in design about every three years.
Many mold-repair technicians working on close-tolerance tooling will be pulling out their precision tools every day, so they should buy the highest quality tools they can afford. Take care of them and they should last a lifetime.
•Reliability/accuracy: Most important is the accuracy of the measuring device. Cheap tools will force you to fiddle with them to get an accurate and repeatable reading—planting doubt in your head that will only cause you grief and stress with their inconsistent and unreliable answers.
Today, there are many more types and styles of measuring tools to choose from, and for much less pain in the pocketbook. Precision tools are like everything else produced today: Their manufacture has spread to foreign shores, resulting in cheap copies. Low-cost devices use plastic gears, springs, bushings, and epoxy in place of cast metal parts, nuts, bolts, and jeweled movements. For micrometers and calipers, journeymen toolmakers and repair technicians will use and recommend those made by the old stalwarts such as Mitutoyo, Starrett, Brown & Sharpe, Tesa, and Etalon. Farther downstream you have SPI and Central Tool, and then a host of cheap tools made in China and Poland. You can identify these quickly, as there is typically no name on the tool and they are unbelievably cheap, like $12 for a 0 to 1-in. micrometer.
For dial test indicators, the best are typically Swiss-made, such as Bestest, Compac, Interapid, and Tesatast. All of these are made by the same manufacturer in Switzerland, and a couple in U.S. plants.
•Type of action/readout: You basically have three choices with precision tools: mechanical (spindle), dial (needle), or digital readouts. The best choice depends on which tool (micrometers, calipers, or dial test indicators) you purchase. As a general consideration, digital readouts have become extremely popular for calipers and micrometers, and some are even solar powered for the “green” fans. They are easy to read and switch from U.S. to metric, and to establish a “zero” dimension in which to perform a comparative analysis. The drawbacks are getting them repaired, as they are easily broken and some cleaning solvents will eat the plastic faces.
Mechanical or dial readouts are still popular with us boomers since most of us probably bought quality tools and kept them in good shape. They must be cleaned often, and depending upon how hard you are on them, nee to be adjusted or calibrated more frequently than digital tools.
Decent electronic calipers are usually of better construction than dial calipers, as there are fewer moving parts to wear out. They also feel smoother in use because they don’t have gears or a rack, and they are great for feeding multiple readings to a software program
•Storage and care: Moisture, rust, dirt, grime, and metal chips are all enemies of precision tools as much as drops and misuse (like cranking down to fudge a reading). Keep tools in their cases or covers and occasionally wipe them down with a light coating of 3-in-1 oil if rust is an issue. But nothing at all is usually the best.
Digital micrometers should not be disassembled or tampered with or stored with the faces of the spindle touching. If you get a chip in the spindle of a micrometer, be very careful not to force the spindle to turn or you can ruin the threads. Send it to a pro to be serviced.
Speaking of pros, there are dozens of other factors that that won’t fit into this article that involve specific brands and types of precision measuring tool one must consider before dropping serious dollars. A great place for information concerning all things precision is the website, longislandindicator.com. of Long Island Indicator Service in New York. They will let you know exactly what they think of certain brands and types of precision tools. They are old-school toolmakers (40 in the shop) who repair the precision tools that we use every day. Listen to their advice, and save some money as well as frustration in order to achieve reliable, repeatable, accurate measurements.
Tool Room Management: How To Lead Your Team
At our training center we preach the value proposition of being efficient in the five factors that dictate a shop’s production andcontinuous-improvement results with regard to mold performance and maintenance efficiency. The leading factor is leadership, and it occupies that spot for a reason.
Although the other four factors can drastically affect a shop’s effectiveness, real progress won’t be made without a qualified and motivated “driver at the wheel” who diligently searches for, and implements, continuous-improvement solutions for the shop. These “drivers” are the quarterbacks of their repair teams. They call the plays and then make appropriate adjustments when Murphy’s Law happens. They lead.
In fact, the amount of attention and methodology applied to the other four factors of the Star System will be a direct result of the leader’s experience, background, and management skills.
The job description for toolroom managers/supervisors carries the same basic theme regardless of the type of mold or plastic product: Keep the molds running. In today’s molding environment, many companies are realizing that leading a toolroom includes not just the ability to prioritize jobs and distribute work orders, but to move forward and make the toolroom committed to maintaining molds more safely, more accurately, and more efficiently.
In other trades, you can attend time-tested courses and earn a degree or state certification because there are proven, documented techniques for doing those jobs safely and correctly. Every electrician is taught how to wire an outlet basically the same way, utilizing “safe and correct wiring practices.” They must learn this technique and many others to pass a test and qualify as an electrician. When they get on the job site, after their work is finished, a field inspector will check to see if they properly followed the local “code” as stated in his handbook. Many of these codes must be adhered to or one risks being stripped of license and livelihood.
A mold maintenance/repair shop can be difficult to lead because there are no industry standards against which to measure the effectiveness of bench or hand-skill practices and work habits. Also, no one will be disassembling molds to see if they were properly cleaned and repaired—the only proof is in the mold performance.
Since there are no documented industry standards or tooling codes for mold-repair work, exactly what constitutes “safe and correct mold-repair practices” becomes a matter of opinion or personal preference. Sometimes they are formalized in a set of Work Order Instructions (WOI) that someone may or may not follow, depending upon their opinion of the accuracy of the instructions and their mood that day.
Compounding the issue, typical mold work-order systems collect mold problems and corrective actions in journal-type formats, resulting in no real method to accurately measure the effects of different practices used during the Eight Stages of Repair (see Learn More right). So mold-performance and maintenance-practice results remain consistently … inconsistent.
This makes for a very frustrating situation and it inhibits a manager’s ability to lead effectively. How can one possibly make rational, effective decisions if they are based on ambiguous log entries, fading memory, and changing shop moods?
In the trade of mold repair, leadership usually comes in the form of a repair technician or journeyman toolmaker whose skills and experience rises above the rest and has a solid reputation in troubleshooting and repairing molds.
Hopefully, the new leader is also a good project manager and has a clear view of the larger picture of an efficiently run toolroom. But trading in one’s wrenches for a keyboard can be a major change of focus and job requirements for the guy who comes off the bench to lead a repair shop to the Promised Land.
When one spends most of his career being handed a W/O for a mold that needs to be repaired or a job that needs to be done, it is easy to get ingrained with the mindset of not analyzing molds on other benches. Just do your best on the mold to which you are assigned, clock out, and go home.
In a management position, this single focus now needs to shift dramatically to an overall shop-wide focus on how to identify and implement mold-performance and maintenance-efficiency improvements. This is a major change of thought process and some, unfortunately, are just never able to grow past the Work Order-completion mindset.
So the shop culture stays reactive, few changes are made, and the newly promoted leader, who wants to help in any way he can, now uses his repair skills to help other shop techs with specific tooling issues on their molds.
He quickly becomes the shop “go-to guy,” running down spare parts and prioritizing work needed, but he doesn’t have the time or tools to analyze mold repair costs from an administrative perspective. He continues to do what he knows best with the tools he is familiar with, only in a larger role. Bottom line—nothing really improves, initiative fades, a reactive culture persists.
LEADING IN A REACTIVE CULTURE
How can you lead in a reactive culture? You can’t. You can only “fight fires,” with work priorities being controlled by the hot jobs and unscheduled issues of the day. This type of culture is extremely frustrating to the leader who wants his shop to become more efficient and his molds to run more reliably. It can also be a boon to someone that is on cruise-control and wants no more changes or responsibility: “Just let me fix molds when they break. I’ll put my best guy on it, and all will be well.”
n order to lead effectively and change a long-standing reactive culture, toolroom managers must base more decisions on accurate data. This data not only tracks and measures high-cost issues, but qualifies specific procedures that must be followed to ensure safe and proven techniques that result in consistent and reliable mold performance. Two words come to mind: structure and accountability.
•Structure: Employ a documentation system that allows standardization of terms in a structured format. The system should ask a repair tech questions about what corrective actions were performed on a mold—not just offer a big text field for them to write in something like “fixed it” in a free-form entry. Most craftsmen hate the documentation part of the job, so anything that makes collecting the information easier will provide a huge ROI on time spent gathering data.
•Accountability: Post in the shop weekly reports that reveal the top 10 mold-stop reasons, defects, and corrective actions by frequency and repair costs (tooling and labor hours). Doing so motivates repair personnel to ensure they use the system properly as opposed to knowing that their documentation efforts are just getting filed away with little or no attention paid.
This public appraisal of shop performance will give the shop data-driven direction and also promote the professional discipline required to focus when no one is looking over your shoulder. It is amazing how many issues seem to disappear simply because the leader is now actively engaged in recognizing and posting mold performance and maintenance efficiency issues.
Real improvement in maintenance efficiency and shop culture won’t come by merely changing cloned leaders. The key is to accurately identify what issues need to be addressed; optimize bench time on molds; and make sure specific procedures are qualified, documented, and followed. Not an easy job, but would you want one that just anyone could do?
Don’t Just Be a ‘Replacer’
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A skilled troubleshooter saves his plant thousands of dollars in premature tooling replacement by determining exact locations and types of defects and their causes, rather than just “replacing everything” to make the mold run better.
The repair technician walks over to the cabinets where tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of mold tooling were stored. Most of the bins are numbered with the appropriate component part number and a manual “check out” sheet hung close by to record what was taken. The technician, under the gun and in a hurry to get his mold back into production, plays the “drawer game” until he finds the tooling he needs to complete the job. After he has secured $3000 or $4000 worth of tooling, he heads back to his bench to install it and reassemble the mold.
When the job is complete, he sends the mold back to production. It starts up running 100% and everyone is happy—a job well done. But was it? Just because the mold started and ran at 100% efficiency, does that mean that the repair was efficient or that the tooling replaced was really at the end of its useful life? What is “useful life,” and how can we tell? What was done with the “old” tooling? Was it pitched or thrown on a shelf or into a “limbo” cabinet?
To better understand the corrective-action choices that a repair technician faces every day, it is necessary to look at the decision process typically used to determine what tooling to replace—or not.
TYPICAL TROUBLESHOOTING PROCESS
There are basically two categories of defects that repair technicians have to contend with. They are mold function issues that don’t directly affect the part, and tooling issues that do affect the part geometry. For this article we will focus on the latter—product-type defects, or those that affect product specifications such as flash, shorts, finish, etc. For this repair scenario we will assume that the repair technician has, according to the hand-written Work Order he received, disassembled the multi-cavity mold and marked up a cavity layout sheet that shows the location of the cavities that have flash over the specification limit. These are the next steps:
1) Examine the defective part samples to determine the exact location of the flash.
2) Determine exactly which pieces of tooling could be causing the flash (core, sleeve, cavity, etc.).
3) Remove and examine the tooling in the area that forms the flashed area of the part.
4) If nothing is obvious (chips, nicks, scuffs, etc.), go to the tool crib and pull drawers until you find the tooling you need.
5) Measure the tooling and compare with print tolerances. If within print specifications, replace. (This is optional for some and mandatory for others.)
6) Install the tooling in the mold and complete the repair.
The above steps are what could be expected of a “tooling replacer” vs. a skilled troubleshooter. There are several things the replacer does not do within these steps to ensure that the decision to replace is the correct one.
Let’s re-examine these steps from a troubleshooter’s perspective to see what was missed and why those missed steps are critical to maximize the life expectancy of mold tooling and the reliability of mold performance, and also to improve our ability to accurately determine root causes and corrective actions.
1) Examine the defective sample parts to determine the exact location of the flash on the part. Actually, it’s more than just the “location” of the flash on the part that must be considered. (Molders take note: This is why samples of defective parts are so important.) The “direction” of the flash must also be known. For example, “vertical” flash is usually the result of an excess of plastic between a core and a sleeve or any tooling where clearance is determined by a running fit. “Horizontal” flash is usually the result of excess plastic between two shutoffs, such as “A” and “B” plate cavity faces or tooling where “preload” (total tooling stack) or clamp pressure and other shut-off factors affect clearance. These two types of flash must be distinguished by the appropriate defect term, since their root causes, and thus corrective actions, can be completely different.
This is a good example of why typical Work Order records that show only the defect term “flash” won’t do. Mold design features that cause ongoing flash issues must be recognized in order to be eliminated or reduced when the next mold is built. When repair technicians are pushed to get a mold back into the press, sometimes “shop culture” will allow this tooling to be replaced just because it’s in stock. No big deal, right? Yes, it is. Premature replacement causes us to miss the opportunity to understand and define the variables that actually create our defects. This is a skill that needs to be continually developed because continuous improvement is about improving our ability to accurately determine if any given defect is caused by mold design, process, maintenance issue, or a combination of all three.
2) Determine exactly which pieces of tooling could be causing the flash (core, sleeve, cavity, etc.): The more complex the part, the more difficult to eject it from the mold due to threads, undercuts, bores, bosses, etc. This typically means that more tooling is needed to shape such a part. A mold could easily have three, four, or more pieces of tooling to mold an edge or other feature on a part.
But not all of these will be worn to the point of causing the flash. Some mold designers take this into consideration when designing a mold, and will have less expensive pieces designed to wear first, to lessen the cost of repair. Maintenance history will confirm or deny the success of the design approach used.
All defects should also be recorded and tracked by mold position so that one can look for patterns or trends that can point to insufficient cooling, heating, or runner/flow balance, as well as gate and venting issues and other process-related root causes.
Not doing so is a huge mistake and can lengthen the time required to discover a root cause. Mold position numbers never change and should be stamped, etched, or ground into plates and tooling so that components get put back into their “home” positions.
3) Remove and examine the tooling that forms the flashed area of the part: Here is another area where the troubleshooter is differentiated from a tooling replacer. First, if two or more parts (cavity positions) have the exact same defect, it always pays to examine the tooling all at the same time vs. skipping around the mold in, say, a clockwise fashion (many do this), analyzing and correcting different defects as you go.
Second, don’t just grab your micrometers, measure the tooling, and assume it’s bad if it’s under print dimensions. There are hundreds of thousands of tooling components that make perfectly acceptable parts (within QA specifications) and are 0.001, 0.002, or 0.003 in. under print tolerances. Print tolerances should be a factor in replacement decisions—not the decider.
Third, develop a standard method to examine tooling, such as the following:
a) Remove the suspect tooling from the mold and make sure all pieces are numbered correctly to their home position.
b) Go to the tool crib and get one piece of new/replacement tooling that matches what you removed.
c) Grab the defective parts, old tooling, and new tooling and head to your good-quality stereo microscope.
d) Orient the tooling in the manner that it fits together in the mold.
Set the power on the scope to 10 for most parts—unless you micro-mold, then higher power is needed. Why 10 power? Typically you will be looking for clearances between tooling that ranges from 0.0005 to 0.005 in. A 0.001-in. gap between tooling looks like the Grand Canyon at anything much over 10 power, which can make a good running fit appear as if it should be flashing. Stay with 10 power as much as possible in everything you do and you will get very good at accurately judging good running fits vs. those with too much clearance. Be consistent in your microscope practices and you will soon recognize the difference between tooling fits with acceptable clearance and the other kind. (Note: Well equipped shops have scopes for each repair technician.)
Compare the mated tooling to the area of flash on the part, being aware of flash direction, length, and thickness. After you have found the area of tooling that is flashing, make a mental note of the clearance between the tooling. Now replace one of the suspect tooling components with a new piece and re-examine the clearance. Does it look smaller or stay the same? If it’s a dynamic fit (core vs. sleeve), does it feel the same? Tighter? Still loose?
Interchange new tooling with old (this takes only a few minutes) to determine which piece of tooling has the most influence on increasing the clearance between the two or more pieces of tooling that form the flashed area. Continue with this method until you have chosen which tooling you want to replace on all similar defects.
This method should not take longer than a few minutes per defect to accurately determine what needs to be replaced. Even if troubleshooting 10 defects took an extra hour or two, it would be much more cost-effective to spend the time on labor vs. the extra thousands of dollars you will spend to replace tooling before its useful life has expired. In addition, we will learn more about our mold’s defects.
6) Install the tooling and document the repair: When satisfied, inscribe (using a small Dremel grinder and stone) the position number onto the tooling you want to replace. This will help avoid any mix-ups in future repairs. Be sure to document in your maintenance system exactly which piece of tooling you replaced to repair which defect. This is necessary to allow a “Corrective Action Analysis” report to discover and target high-cost defects.
Such documentation is also needed so repair technicians can get better at “forecasting” tooling wear over time, and to verify that the correct piece of tooling was chosen for replacement. The right choice will not always be made the first time, and there will be times when it is absolutely necessary to replace everything in sight to ensure a mold runs 100% for long production runs (months). But you will still have an opportunity to save your plant thousands of dollars in premature tooling replacement by using the above techniques vs. “just replace everything” as a corrective-action resolution.
This is the true skill in troubleshooting. A repair technician that practices this technique will get very good at determining which piece of tooling to replace vs. replacing everything that could possibly cause the flash. Anybody can be a “replacer.” To be a skilled troubleshooter is about understanding how your molds function, paying attention to the details, establishing a consistent troubleshooting method, and using historical data to guide your tooling replacement decisions.
Safety Sense in the Shop
Punch “dangerous jobs” into Google and you will see some statistics that may interest you. Fishermen, farmers, and miners are among the jobs that cause the highest numbers of injuries, illnesses, and deaths that are tracked by several government agencies and insurance firms.
Plastics manufacturing is not without its own dangers. As a matter of fact, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, it is one area of industrial manufacturing that increased in the number of accidents in 2010 while the rest of that sector saw a gradual decline as more companies focus on being “safety conscious.” Not a bad idea, because the Liberty Mutual Workplace Safety Index says workplace injuries cost companies more than $1 billion a week in direct workers compensation payouts.
So why is plastics manufacturing suffering a higher than average accident rate? Many factors need to be considered. A major aspect is the type of work required to produce plastic parts. In the typical plastics and rubber plant, there is no shortage of dangerous (and many times old) machinery, as well job descriptions that require lifting, moving, and working with heavy molds.
Disabling injuries are tracked under ominous categories like “caught/compressed, amputations, lacerations, chemical burns,” etc., along with other information that paints a pretty clear picture of who gets hurt, how, and when.
I put together a snapshot of the person most likely to get injured on the job based on stats from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The figuress for 2010 say that if you work in plastics manufacturing you stand the best chance to get hurt on the job if you are a 45- to 54- year-old white male. You work in production, where you have been for five years or more. You will suffer a sprain or strain in the upper extremities of your body (arms, hands, neck, chest—not back or shoulders) as a result of overexertion. You will have been injured on a Monday morning after two to four hours of work. And you were off work for more than 31 days due to your injury (the overall average time off was 7 days).
An interesting statistic is that this injured person was on average a 5-year employee—not a “newbie”—and the logic makes sense, especially in the tool room.
Repair technicians work with their hands on a day-to-day basis, using potentially dangerous hand tools and machinery on tooling and components with sharp edges. It gets easy to become oblivious or “overly comfortable” with potentially hazardous conditions and shop practices that are sometimes “grandfathered” into the environment in which they work.
Another factor that can’t be overlooked is the effect of the economic crash of recent years on reducing head counts that were formerly utilized when performing the above-mentioned duties. Today, the number of repair technicians in most companies is just barely adequate to get molds out the door. The “fat” days of having an abundance of resources to “pitch in” to quickly handle unscheduled mold stops or other critical tasks are long behind us as companies look to streamline and do more with less.
So today, as business begins to pick up, companies are reluctant to rehire technicians, choosing instead to try to maintain head counts and promote a leaner operational strategy. This translates into employees doing more and working faster and possibly in an area where they are not properly experienced or trained in safe techniques and practices. With cross-training of plastics job skills (setting, running, pulling, and repairing) becoming the norm, it just makes sense that so should safety training in areas where correct procedures may be lacking and accidents are bound to happen.
Here are 20 areas of potential danger—divided into two groups—that should be considered when working on molds and components:
Unsafe Shop Environment Factors
•No adequate overhead hoist above benches.
•Poor mold-moving equipment, practices, and training.
•Dimly lit bench work area.
•Greasy, grimy (slippery) floors and poor housekeeping practices.
•Tripping hazards like air/hydraulic/water hoses and electrical cords on the floor.
•Poor general shop layout with benches inadequate in size and number and too close together to work safely among them.
•No designated, clearly marked, and monitored aisles or walkways.
•Molds in transition stored or scattered randomly around the shop, close to traffic areas.
•General disorganization and lack of proper maintenance and care with community tools.
•Lack of a formal safety program where employees are responsible for creating safe, specific repair practices that promote teamwork and job awareness that keep “mold and man” safe and efficient.
Typical Unsafe Repair/Bench Practices
•Splitting molds incorrectly (this requires proper pry-bar techniques and/or the proper equipment).
•Not using “feet” or braces to support standing plates (getting too much in a hurry).
•Sliding mold plates around on rails (potential for the dreaded “domino” smash and crash).
•Using cleaning solvents and equipment unsafely (respiratory, eye, and burn issues).
•Not using mold straps.
•Using incorrect eyebolts/methods for laying molds over/flipping .
•Not having the right tools—or using them incorrectly.
•Using cheap tools.
•Not working as a team and sharing maintenance knowledge.
•Working carelessly, too quickly, or uninformed and not thinking the job through. (If this wrench that I am leaning on with all my might slips or breaks—what will my hand slam into?)
These are only a glimpse of the issues that can cause injury in a mold-repair environment. Working safely with hand tools is all about using the right tool to overcoming resistance (installing, tightening, loosening, and removing). Skilled tradesmen have the ability to “read” and judge the correct amount of pressure needed before something slips or breaks, and they have the discipline to stop and rethink the procedure before taking unnecessary chances just to save a few minutes.
Running a clean, organized, professional, and safe shop requires a team effort that includes an awareness of unsafe practices and equipment that need to be eliminated, replaced, or improved, along with the accountability of all to identify and document safety issues. And then it takes action. Make 2012 the year you finally create and practice common safety sense. I promise it won’t hurt.
The Value of 20 Bits of Data
The idea behind data usage in mold maintenance is to use historical bits of information to guide us like a crystal ball as an indicator of the future. That can provide great opportunities for improved efficiency and change the way you do maintenance. So, in the spirit of opportunity, let me introduce to you 20 bits of data. These 20 bits are not only habit forming, but they will transform a weak, reactionary, “fire-fighting” maintenance culture into one that is stronger, more aggressive, and pro-active towards continuous improvement and company profit building.
These 20 bits of data can be found in the cracks and crevices of your current work-order systems. Useless on their own, together they form an insightful and unique picture of not only how a mold performs in the press but what corrective actions, tooling, and labor hours were required to keep it there.
With these 20 bits of data, toolrooms can drastically lower the cost of keeping molds running and improve mold reliability and tooling life while reducing breakdowns and molding better parts.
SO WHO NEEDS THIS DATA?
Anyone who wants to produce quality parts efficiently and on time. As those in charge of keeping molds running, our job is to devise a plan to eliminate or reduce the frequency of the issues that cost companies money and bog down continuous improvement. It’s as simple as that.
Engineers want to know performance and maintenance history so they can build better molds. Quality assurance wants better quality parts and fewer customer issues. Production wants to mold parts on time. Repair technicians want to be better informed and make better decisions and improve their skills. Shareholders and owners want to make more money and grow the business. It would seem 20 bits is a small price to pay for so much opportunity.
Mold maintenance, like every department, needs goals. Real progress can be measured. When toolroom managers are not challenged with certain KPIs (Key Performance Indicators), chances are they will never be able to set nor achieve goals. Thus the opportunity to build a stronger, safer, and more efficient repair shop is wasted.
To set goals based on measureable data, our 20 data bits need to be recorded in standard terms and collected as shown in the accompanying charts. Our 20 bits are divided into two categories. The first 13 bits involve production information taken at the press during a mold’s run time (Table 1). The final seven bits concern what was done to the mold when it came out of the press–in other words, mold repair data (Table 2).
THERE IS AN ORDER TO THINGS
The 20 data bits are best collected at specific intervals during a mold’s run/repair cycle. The run/repair chart (Fig. 1) shows where the 20 bits should be collected. The report shows information that is actionable and based on the 20 bits. A sample report (Fig. 2) shows information that is actionable, but it is based on only some of the 20 bits. This report shows us what defect was suffered most often over a specific period. Many reports like this can be constructed from the 20 bits.
Look at your data-collection methods and talk to your IT guy about corralling the 20 bits from your data system. Have him provide these to you in a spreadsheet format that allows you to sort, filter, and analyze the 20 bits as shown in Fig. 2. It doesn’t take a gazillion-dollar electronic maintenance system or years to develop and train your employees on how to use the information. It only takes just 20 little bits of data that work and play well together, and provide opportunity.
Maintenance Terms of Endearment
At a recent meeting of the American Mold Builders Association in Chicago, Troy Nix, the group’s executive director, presented the results of a poll in which 115 molders of various products were asked to identify the top challenges their management teams will face over the next 12 months. More than 300 responses to this question revealed two top issues:
Number one (cited by 45% of respondents): Workforce development (finding talent, training, developing technical skills.
Number two (36% of respondents): Seeking operational excellence (lean manufacturing, waste reduction, zero defects, higher throughput, continuous improvement, scrap reduction, efficiency improvement, improving profits, etc.).
So 81% of those polled need higher-skilled help and more efficient systems in which to cultivate and utilize these skills. This is not news to anyone involved in mold maintenance. At our training center, we always have someone asking if we “know anyone” skilled in mold repair or someone with tooling repair experience. As baby boomers fade into the sunset, their skills and knowledge are not being replaced nearly fast enough by a new generation of maintenance personnel coming into this challenging field.
How does a mold maintenance manager develop a workforce that historically has been trained on the job by its “best guy,” who is now in the final phase of his working life? How does a company even know that its “best guy” is performing at a standard industry “best practice” level? They know by starting at the beginning.
Skills Training Techniques
With skills training in anything mechanical, some specifics must be understood. We must know what our job is—from a 30,000-ft overview down to the type, location, amount, and frequency of the grease we apply to our molds. Knowing all this effectively requires a trainee to learn mold character nuances involving hundreds of variables. Historically, understanding these variables happens through on-the- job (OJT) training and informal repair “stories” that are scribbled onto typical work-order forms. This won’t work in today’s maintenance environment, where the focus is on operational excellence (OE). OE is not attained by following the most senior technician around the shop to learn what he knows. OE is attained by working in a structured system with standardized and documented techniques that are measureable in order to verify whether they provide real value or just smoke and mirrors.
Take, for example, the maintenance job description. What does the mold repair department do? What is the reason for its existence? In a nutshell, the toolroom supports molding and other departments to “efficiently produce quality parts on time.”
Success lies in a toolroom’s ability to create proactive tasks and standardized corrective actions to reduce or eliminate mold and part defects. This is the only logical path to make continuous improvements in mold performance and shop efficiency.
The term “proactive” is a bit of a stretch from the historical job description of “just fix it,” which refers to the proverbial maintenance band-aid for “making it run.”
Moving away from this culture means we need to work smarter. It’s not a new concept, but it’s one that’s difficult to implement when we work in a world of maintenance “stories” versus real, measureable data. Specifically, this means we need to understand everything we possibly can about the variables that contribute to part defects, poor mold performance, and tedious/ laborious maintenance procedures.
In order to better understand and measure what we do all day as repair technicians, it is important—no, it’s absolutely necessary—to resist the temptation to speak or document in broad terms when it comes to the language of mold maintenance. Identification of an issue is step one.
Use Mold Maintenance Terms, Not Stories
Moving away from maintenance stories starts with using consis-tent terms to shorten documentation time and improve clarification. Using terms can sometimes be difficult when there are so many that mean the same thing. Standardizing our maintenance language is more important than the “industry correctness” of the term. For example: “A” side vs. “hot half” vs. “stationary side” or “top half,” etc. These are all terms for the same thing. Is it a leader pin or guide pin? Is it a horn pin or an angle pin? Is it a heel block or a wedge lock? Well, that depends on who you ask. The list is long. This fact makes it difficult to find a term that will paint the right picture of what someone needs to convey.
The important point is using the same term consistently vs. knowing the exact, proper definition of a term. Sure, it would be great if all repair techs used the same handbook when learning terms but that’s not the way it happens. Maintenance jargon is usually specific to a shop—and that’s OK—but don’t let the “correctness” of the term bog down the process of using it. If your maintenance software does not readily accept or use standard terms, then simply post a list by your PC that can be used in daily communication with a maintenance program.
If we can’t use standard terms for critical information, then we won’t measure anything, which is certain death to continuous-improvement ideology.
So in this world of maintenance subjectivity, see the accompanying illustration for a few terms that you should use routinely in daily data entries in conjunction with your mold-component terms when describing mold defects. They might not sound like much to the layman, but to a skilled troubleshooter they mean all the difference in the world.
All of these terms point to potential root causes when troubleshooting molds. When these descriptive terms are used consistently (the software used should offer drop-down menus that offer these choices), there is now a means by which to count them for a clearer understanding of where targets and goals should be set.
Also, by including these basic mechanical adjectives in your tooling defect descriptions, tooling issues will be more easily recognized for more accurate troubleshooting and root-cause analysis. It will also help you to more quickly identify areas of weakness that are high-cost (tooling and labor) or high-frequency (efficiency reduction).
Look closely at your company’s maintenance language and formalize your approach to create a clear and concise picture— one that can be measured. You will be surprised at the efficiency improvements that come from better communication.