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OK, I admit it, I’m a manual junkie. I read them, critique them, and collect them. Did you know that the oldest known English technical manual was written in 1391 about how to use and take care of an astrolabe, an early version of a sailor’s sextant (navigating instrument)? No? Don’t care?
I am also aware that real men are not supposed to read manuals or ask for directions. I am guilty of both, simply because worse than having my machismo questioned, I hate going the wrong way or redoing a task if there is a deadline involved. Being under the gun to hurry and figure out how something works inside a mold or how it comes apart mutes the pure joy of the challenge. Mistakes made and time wasted in doing something wrong or out of sequence can have potentially disastrous results for expensive components. But with a good manual in hand, everything makes sense—and quickly.
So even if I had 1000 different molds to maintain, I would have that many manuals. Yes, that’s a bunch of manuals to store. I did the math and figure that would take seven shelves 1-ft tall × about 12-ft long to hold that many inch-thick three-ring binders. That’s also lot of wall space—which I would gladly give up and still feel good about it. And at about 50¢ a binder (when bought in bulk), cost is hardly an issue.
WHY BOTHER WITH MANUALS?
In this age of electronic data, manuals might seem an inefficient holdover from a bygone era. But organized maintenance manuals can offer an advantage that electronic data cannot.
First, they offer flexibility. For electronic information to work, there must be connectivity between departmental and company systems, or the data is not readily accessible. Supervisors and managers must either share folders on a server or rely on each other to send spreadsheets or other data via email in a timely manner.
Manuals allow the user to store and utilize a variety of information from different sources more quickly than most people can find it on a computer and pull it up on their screens. And for molds moving from plant to plant, maintenance manuals can easily travel with the mold. For transfer molds, much of the maintenance disconnect that shops experience today is the result of molds moving from plant to plant with no history. This means at each stop, mold characteristics and repair techniques must be relearned by repair technicians—a lengthy and expensive proposition in many cases.
Second, manuals accommodate “old-school” skills. Many toolmakers today are Baby-Boomers who are not “PC trained.” They feel much more comfortable analyzing data with something they can hold in their hands rather than fumbling through different computer screens. For many, when troubleshooting for a defect trend or pattern, laying out past cavity positions (mold maps) by run/repair sequence on a table is a faster, more accurate method than seeing these condensed on a small monitor. Many craftsmen are spatial people who sometimes need to grab something, hold it, or see it in on a drawing to better troubleshoot mechanical issues.
FILES & LOGBOOKS VS. MANUALS
There is a difference. Mold files typically contain a bunch of old greasy work orders of completed repairs. The W/O’s never stay in sequence and get ripped out of a binder and are a pain to sort. Other things like Excel spreadsheets, cavity layouts, tooling inventory lists, and notes on napkins and scrap pieces of paper all make their way into a mold file.
Logbooks are nothing more than manual (journal-type) entries of everything that happens to a mold during the run/repair cycle. Logbooks don’t hold other data that is needed. Both methods are like a box of chocolates: You never know what you are going to get.
Manuals contain all the above information and more, but in specific sections. What separates a useful manual from one that is not is the type, amount, accuracy, (current, legible, and correct), overall size, and accessibility of the information. A properly formatted manual is such a great tool to use that few toolmakers can do without it once it becomes part of their daily troubleshooting and maintenance process.
A manual is a collection of live, working documents, whose information can change at any time—such as upon discovery of a quicker, more accurate way to perform a specific repair task, or the root cause of an issue that you have been struggling with. As more is learned about a mold, this information is constantly updated or edited. Building a manual means creating sections, or tabs, to keep different types of information separated. Then as the mold runs, performance and repair data can be added, removed, or changed quickly and easily without disrupting the order of the manual. Mold-manual layout or sections can be generic among your molds for the most part, so navigating through the tabs for specific information is easy and learned quickly by repair technicians.
Most manuals in use today usually come pre-populated from the mold builder. Many have a full set of prints, maintenance tips, and hot-runner specs. The problem is that these manuals need to be 3 to 4 in. thick to contain the prints and other information that is not typically needed for every repair. The sheer size makes manuals cumbersome to use and store on a daily basis. For this reason, prints should be stored in a separate filing cabinet, and only current run/repair data be kept in the manual.
It is quite easy to store all the info you will ever need in a 1-in. or 1½-in.-thick three-ring binder. A binder that size will handle most molds. A 2-in.-thick binder may be required if the mold has a hot-runner system and came with a large service manual that you want to keep in the main mold binder. The idea is to have handy in the main manual only what is needed during typical repairs, and not everything about the design or build of a mold. You can go get that other info when required. Keeping the manual current will keep it smaller.
Maintenance manuals should contain these aspects of mold history, separated into specific sections:
- A years’ worth, or at least 12, past Repair Work Orders or Repair Sheets. These should be numbered prominently and sequenced by the run/repair cycle at the top corner of the page and kept in the sleeve of the front cover.
- A cover sheet showing an image of the part or parts that a mold produces, including product changes.
- Tooling configuration list for the above product changes.
- A troubleshooting guide that contains specific defect terminology, images, probable causes, and corrective and preventative actions
- A Tech Tips section that explains specific, critical sequences, practices, procedures, or special tools required for disassembly, cleaning, polishing, and assembly.
- A Final Check procedure.
- Digital images of mold plates and components in various stages of repair are also extremely helpful.
- The sleeve of the back cover is a good place to keep other run/repair-related email or miscellaneous hand-written correspondence from other shops that have run this mold.
To keep manuals current and accurate, it is necessary to periodically edit and update the information within. Even a manual needs regular maintenance to remain a useful tool. It should be noted in your company’s Standard Operating Practices that the manual is part of the required maintenance documentation to be reviewed by either the toolroom supervisor, lead man, or repair technician every time a mold hits the bench—not just when it is fat with old data.
If possible, a good spot to store mold manuals is right next to the toolroom supervisor—like right behind or next to their desk—and in easy reach when on the phone. In a busy shop, the supervisor fields many calls and conversations concerning mold performance or repair and assigns relevant tasks. Storing work orders in a manual that is located in the office provides the repair tech and supervisor a chance for a quick overview of planned repairs when handing the manual off. Repair technicians help by also keeping an eye open for inaccuracies in manual data and inform the supervisor when changes or updates need to be made. This way, terminology stays consistent and accurate. And for supervisors, the act of editing manuals keeps you current and informed, since you are not witness to every repair, cleaning, or tooling change made.
Maintenance manuals effectively bridge the gap between completely paperless systems and those that are totally ad hoc or “by hand,” and manuals combine the best features of the two for faster, more accurate, and safer repairs.
About the Author
Steven Johnson is the operations manager for ToolingDocs LLC, part of the PCIC Group of Companies. Steve also has is own business, MoldTrax in Ashland, Ohio. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (419) 289-0281.