Is Your Contract Manufacturer Protecting Your Tooling Investment?

For manufacturers in the automotive sector and beyond, plastic injection molds and metal stamping dies are a major investment that largely determines the quality of your end product. When working with a contract manufacturer, you are entrusting them to care for your molds and dies properly. How well they do that can make your programs run like clockwork or cause major headaches every step of the way.

In this article, we will cover how your molds and dies affect your business and outline the steps that a good contract manufacturing partner should take when caring for your tooling. We will also give you a brief overview of how our tooling department at LMC cares for our customers’ molds and dies. 

How Tooling Affects Your Business

No matter what method of manufacturing your parts require, tooling likely represents a significant investment in your business. It’s not uncommon for complex molds or dies to cost several hundred thousand dollars. Return on this investment hinges on your tooling’s life span and effectiveness. 

Effectiveness starts with smart tooling design that includes detailed component drawings. Material selection is key—choosing lesser quality steel may seem like an easy way to save money upfront, but inferior materials will be subject to more wear and tear, leading to increased downtime and eventually shorter tool life. High wear components such as coin blocks (sometimes referred to as perishables) should also be designed in a way that makes them easy to swap out for replacement or refinishing to their original specification. 

In addition to design, maintenance will also impact the end quality of your components. For example, dull edges and residue buildup can cause dimensional variations in parts. At best, these variations lead to rejected parts that wind up in the scrap bin, costing you money, time, and frustration. At worst, this issue can lead to safety failures or even recalls that can put consumers at risk and jeopardize the reputation and viability of your company. 

How Contract Manufacturers Can Help Protect Your Tooling

Collaboration between engineers from all sides can get any part program off on the right foot. From material selection to die or mold design, your contract manufacturing partner can work with your tooling provider or your in-house engineering team to optimize tooling for manufacturability. This can also include running capabilities studies on the critical dimensions of sample parts before your program enters full production.

If you’re working with a new supplier on an existing program, it’s helpful to provide them any drawings or documentation you have on your tooling. If these documents aren’t accessible, then a good contract manufacturer will have the capability to reverse engineer die or mold components to bring them up to standard or fabricate spares to have on hand. 

Your supplier partner should also have a regular, well-documented preventive maintenance (PM) program to ensure molds and dies continue to produce high quality, in-spec parts throughout the entire life of your program. For metal stamping and plastic injection molding, an effective PM program can include several things:

  • Sharpening the tool. Proper edges are critical to achieving in-spec tolerances on metal stampings.
  • Analyzing high wear areas that can impact part quality or tool integrity. These components may or may not be swapped out or refurbished every PM cycle. Contract manufacturers may perform this in-house or work with a tooling partner to run components through a high-speed mill for refurbishing. 
  • Replacing pins and bushings. Like wiper blades on a car, pins and bushings require routine replacement to ensure proper tooling alignment so that the tool will continue to function properly.
  • Cleaning. For plastic injection molds, gases can build up in vents and gating. Molds should be taken apart and thoroughly cleaned at special determined frequencies based on part design, material selection, mold design complexity, and critical characteristics based on performance.
  • Testing. While testing occurs much more frequently than a complete PM, a good contract manufacturer will have rigorous testing procedures in place to ensure that your tooling is yielding good parts.

Tooling Design and Maintenance at LMC Industries

Over the past 75 years in business at LMC, we’ve built a full tooling department to support our manufacturing operations and ensure consistent quality for our customers. Our tooling engineers have nearly a century of combined experience designing, building, and maintaining metal stamping dies and plastic injection molds for peak performance. Here are a few ways they accomplish that.

  • Tooling design for manufacturability. We want your program to run smoothly from start to finish, and we know that begins with proper tooling design. Our engineers work in tandem with you to create robust tooling that often outlasts its expected lifespan. We have the ability to build tooling in-house and we can also work with any outside tooling partner to set your program up for success.
  • Risk analysis of existing tooling. When we take over a program, we want to prevent any potential disruption to production. We analyze your tooling to determine high wear areas or repair needs in advance. Then, we bring your mold or die up to standard prior to its first run and get to work fabricating any spare components we may need to swap out as a result of normal wear and tear. This helps us keep your parts running as we promised—in tolerance, on time, and with the proper cosmetic results.
  • Ultrasonic cleaning. For plastic injection molds, we use ultrasonic tanks to clean every cavity efficiently and effectively. 
  • Regular preventive maintenance. In addition to constant testing during production, stamping dies are routinely set up for preventive activities which include punch sharpening and perishable replacement based on material selection—these activities can impact  significant characteristics of the part that affect end use performance. Based on these criteria, we set tooling PM frequency to ensure compliance for end use.
  • PM documentation. We track and record the details of all preventive maintenance performed on your tooling. 

Is Your Supplier Partner Caring Properly For Your Tooling?

Tooling expertise can prevent many potential headaches for you when working with a contract manufacturer. If you’re experiencing issues with your supplier, it may be time to ask questions about how they are handling your tooling. 

If you’d like to learn more about how LMC can help a new or existing stamping or molding program run smoothly for you, then we’d enjoy having a conversation. Contact us online or call us at 636.282.5214 to get connected.