An onshore source for offshore molds

If you  are sourcing a mold from China, why risk technical details getting lost in translation? A Colorado company with personnel in China says it ensures that you can get just what you want  faster, better, and cheaper.

If all an American firm had to do was dial up a broker to act as an intermediary, request bids on new projects, and then choose the best of the lot, procurement of overseas molds would be a snap. But some U.S. companies have found that the risks far outweigh the rewards when trying to do business with offshore moldmakers. Also, the broker hired to smooth the way actually may impede progress due to inexperience with the language, unfamiliarity with the culture, and a misunderstanding of the basic engineering concepts practiced at a moldmaker overseas.

Take Robert Hollis, for instance. For three years Hollis has been a senior project engineer for Emerson Tool Co. (St. Louis, MO). He has seen the best and worst of overseas business transactions. Before joining Emerson, Hollis worked for a firm that blindly engaged the services of a Chinese moldmaker and paid dearly for it.

It was a nightmare, Hollis relates. Everything was wrong with the mold. We patched it up as best we could. But we limped into production, and then had to have a second tool built.
Beyond e-mail, brokers often have little interaction with the firms they deal with. They are merely the stateside go-between soliciting the order, and then marking up the price to cover their fee.

But when it comes to refining engineering designs, communication breakdowns can lead to a great deal getting lost in translation. And with little or no oversight in China, or elsewhere, substandard materials and unacceptable QC too often become the order of the day.

Transnational presence

Another option for sourcing molds built in China, or elsewhere around the world, is through an onshore firm with offshore personnel The global eyes, ears, and conscience of the company. Such a company can provide local training services and hands-on experience. And it can demand from an eager, but often less-experienced, workforce quality standards that equal or possibly surpass American standards.

But what if your own company has neither the resources nor the personnel willing to begin a new life as an expatriate by setting up shop on Chinese soil?

揈verybody knows you can get some good prices in China. But it’s difficult to deal with them unless you have a presence on the ground, says Hollis. you flat-out have to have someone standing over them. We don’t want to do that, so we use the services of a company that does.

Unwilling to work with brokers, and reluctant to invest capital into an overseas factory, Emerson enlisted the services of Offshore Molds Inc. (OMI heatridge, CO), a full-service management company with more than 125 years of combined moldmaking experience. Worldwide, OMI uses the latest-generation CNC equipment, and has at its disposal 1000 professional moldmakers.

Hollis says his association with OMI has proven to be an ideal way to take advantage of the large discounts China offers without sacrificing quality and dependability. OMI  bid on the Emerson project was about 30% less than the closest U.S. moldmaker. And its deliveries were as fast, if not faster, than other U.S. firms, according to Hollis.

Thorough support

As the molds were being built and tested in China, they went through a 100% tear-down and inspection process before they were shipped to OMI抯 Colorado facility for incorporating additional engineering changes prior to being sent to Emerson抯 Mexican manufacturing facility. All warranty and support services were provided in the United States.

When an adjustment was required on one of the tools, OMI sent an engineering team to Emerson抯 Mexican plant to quickly resolve the problem. 揙MI抯 support is excellent梔efinitely not fly-by-night,?says Hollis. 揃uilding relationships is important to them, so you get good sales support. They want to make sure you抮e happy with your purchase.?

OMI established its own offices and personnel in China more than five years ago when it recognized that many U.S. firms were getting burned by broker-assisted deals. The major problems they saw included:

昐ome molds used inferior parts.

昑he steel grades and some components were of poor quality.

昑he engineering was done by recent graduates, who, though proficient in engineering software programs, lacked hands-on moldmaking experience. The demand for inexpensive Chinese-built molds has grown so fast that many young and inexperienced people have been cast into positions of responsibility for which they were not properly prepared. By setting up its own team in China, OMI can manage the entire process, while teaching its Chinese partners to build molds to U.S. standards.

Rapid response

Hollis was dispatched to OMI抯 operation in China to oversee the final production stages of Emerson抯 project, a project that involved sophisticated, complex tooling. He found there was little reason for such concern, since the early stages of production had gone so well. Emerson抯 engineers had created the 3D designs and, though concerned that revisions would slow down the process, they sent them to OMI for further review. Design revisions were necessary, but OMI reacted so quickly that by the time Hollis arrived at OMI抯 operation in China, he was not disappointed.

OMI抯 personnel in China helped coordinate the design revisions and managed the shop floor, while their colleagues in Colorado were communicating with Emerson抯 stateside engineers. OMI remained intimately involved at every stage of design, production, and delivery. 揑 traveled over there and reviewed the facility,?Hollis says. 揑t抯 first class梫ery impressive. They ran the tools onsite, and had the parts inspected the same day. When we made changes, OMI responded quickly. China is halfway around the world, but OMI was there to make sure the tooling design met American standards.?

With approximately 50% of domestic firms now sourcing molds overseas, the demand for full-service tool management firms with in-country facilities will likely grow. That抯 just fine with Blane Stone, OMI抯 VP. He has but one request: 揓ust don抰 call us a broker梐 lot of people have been burned. We understand what American molders want when it comes to molds and tooling, and we manage the process for companies that don抰 have the resources to travel over there and do it for themselves.

If you are going to be successful, you have to manage the Chinese. Educate them to quality standards and engineering techniques, and everyone will be happy.

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