By using advanced machinery and technology, China's molding and tooling suppliers are able to release better-quality products faster.
China's molding and tooling industry is investing in measures to boost overall capability. Companies are bringing in advanced equipment and technology from Switzerland, Japan and Taiwan.
|Die-cast mold from Gold Space|
In addition to improving the quality of output, such machinery can produce oversize molds for 65in TV housings and 2m generator blades, and electric car and solar panel component molds that are precise to 2 microns.
Among the imported equipment now being used are CNC lathes, and die-casting and drilling machines. CNC lathes from Taiwan have a repeat location accuracy of 1 to 5 microns and can therefore yield very precise pieces. In contrast, locally made units can only go as low as 10 microns. Further, domestic mold-making machines yield molds with bad surface finishes, which affects the quality of the finished product as well.
Sophisticated technology, meanwhile, improves not only efficiency but also the lead time. As such, a growing number of midsize companies are following the footsteps of larger enterprises and integrating CAD/CAM/CAE, 3D and high-speed processing technologies.
Previously, workers at Sunny Mold & Plastic Products Co. Ltd had to carry out additional bench work after the raw molds were finished by CNC lathes to smoothen the surfaces. Adopting high-speed process technology has now eliminated that step as molds already have a smooth surface finish.
The use of advanced equipment and technology reduced lead time at Dongguan Qili Mold Co. Ltd by 20 to 50 percent. New molds now need just 10 days to finish, while simpler ones can be available in five to seven days.
Sophisticated machinery and technology, however, will bring little improvement to quality and efficiency if not handled by highly trained technical staff. As there are not enough skilled workers in the country, mold and tooling companies do their best to retain such employees. Gold Space Metal Products Co. Ltd, for instance, provides regular training to keep the technical team updated on new technology. Most of the company's skilled workers have been working at the factory since it was established in 2003.
Shenzhen Die & Mold Technology Society deputy secretary general Luo Baihui said demand for technicians is so high that their monthly salaries are often 1,000 to 2,000 yuan ($149 to $297) more than regular production line staff.
This has encouraged several vocational schools to include related courses in their curriculum. Among those offered by the Shenzhen Shen De Technical School are mold design and CNC machining, mechatronics, and mold design, programming and operation. So far, all graduates of molding-related courses have quickly found employment.
Apart from introducing advanced equipment, molding and tooling companies are adding value to the services they offer clients.
Instead of relying only on buyers' designs and specifications, midsize and large makers, including Sunny, develop new molds they can show suppliers of finished products. Other manufacturers are expanding into different areas of the production chain, aiming to be a one-stop shop for buyers. Apart from mold making, Gold Space has a factory where transceivers and other communication devices are assembled using parts made in-house. Anodizing and silk-screening are offered as well. By doing so, the company is able to offer lower quotes as molds and components do not need to be outsourced.
More suppliers are paying closer attention to the quality of materials as well. In the past, many molds showed some defects or deteriorated faster than they should because wrong or unqualified raw materials were used. Molds that were designed to last for 10 years, for instance, broke down in just seven.
Suppliers are now adopting materials with high levels of purity, density and uniformity to ensure the quality of molds. HRC52 steel is being replaced with HRC57 or HRC58 steel, while ceramic is used in lieu of plaster. For composite materials, superplastic, and epoxy or polyester filled with metal or glass are used for rapid prototyping.
Note: This article "Sophisticated technology hoists China's molding industry" was originally published by Global Sources, a leading business-to-business media company and a primary facilitator of trade with China manufacturers and India suppliers, providing essential sourcing information to volume buyers through our e-magazines, trade shows and industry research.
All price quotes in this report are in US dollars unless otherwise specified. FOB prices were provided by the companies interviewed only as reference prices at the time of interview and may have changed.
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