China's growth as a major hub for mold production is driven by the rapid expansion of several manufacturing sectors, notably in the electronics, automotive and security industries.
Although figures are not available, mold sales in 2009 were estimated to have increased 15 percent YoY, while projections for 2010 are at 15 to 20 percent.
These and other developments, in turn, are broadening the network of service providers further. Mainland China is currently home to more than 20,000 local die and mold companies. In addition, it hosts the mold-making plants of foreign suppliers that are taking advantage of the low cost of operating such facilities there.
Aside from actual production, enterprises perform PCB, software and mold design, surface mounting, assembly, silk-screening and QC.
Factories have EDMs, and CNC, grinding and milling equipment procured domestically or in Taiwan, Japan, the US and Europe, with the last three the common sources for advanced versions. Investment in machinery for a small molding facility exceeds $70,000.
Molds are designed using 3D software such as UG, Pro/E, SolidWorks, Cimatron and AutoCAD. To ensure quality, most makers use various standard and advanced apparatus that check for consistency in accuracy levels of mechanical parts. In addition, large manufacturers apply Moldflow technology to prescreen possible defects in a mold's structure as early as the design stage.
Similarly, suppliers invest in manpower, hiring experienced workers and training them to enhance skills further. Personnel provide value-added services such as assisting clients with manufacturing techniques and material selection, and evaluating and redesigning molds to improve performance.
These measures have enabled companies in the mainland to continually raise their mold-making capability in the past two years. Suppliers can now turn out multiposition progressive molds with a precision level of 2 microns. Some even boast an accuracy rate of up to 1 micron.
The technology level of Guangdong province operations is particularly high as enterprises there serve primarily the electronics industry, which has stringent requirements.
R&D targets for the next several years include even greater mold precision and enhancements in efficiency.
To achieve the latter, companies plan to improve computer controls and quick die-changing devices for a faster turnaround.
Wider and stricter application of mold standards is in the agenda as well.
Most moldmakers in China have substantial capability, with more than 500 workers turning out over 300,000 pieces every month.
Tier 1 factories, including Lung Kee, Century S&T and Trinity, usually have at least 600 personnel, although some employ more than 3,000.
With teams of 150 to 300 members, midsize makers cater primarily to the domestic market. Smaller operations have fewer than 100 employees.
Some makers export finished molds. Zhejiang province-based Taizhou Kaiya Mould Co. Ltd, which specializes in plastic versions for electronic and nonelectronic products, ships 80 percent of its output overseas.
Although there are mold-making facilities in the Yangtze River Delta region, Guangdong is the central production hub, accounting for 40 percent of China's total sales in the line. The southern coastal province exported $360 million worth of products in 1H09, up 12 percent from 1H08, according to Huangpu customs data.
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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