Understanding Injection Molding Tool Transfers
Whenever an original equipment manufacturer (OEM) chooses to move its injection molding work from one injection molding company to another, it’s a huge deal. Validating complex molds can take several months from start to finish, with all the requirements that must be met. Molds for medical devices, for example, must meet requirements set forth by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and fulfill all the other aspects of changing manufacturing partners.
Injection molding tooling transfers require a great deal of planning upfront and clear communications between all stakeholders to ensure everyone is on the same page throughout the process. Add to this the substantial investment needed to change providers for injection molding tooling, and transfers can become expensive and complicated. Yet injection molding tooling transfer should neither cause so much stress nor be overly expensive, and there are many ways in which this process can be made simpler and less costly.
An Overview of Injection Molding Tooling Transfers
The steps in transferring tooling resources from one injection molding company to another should be taken very seriously, as failing to do due diligence will lead to problems once production with the new vendor begins. A potential partner’s capabilities and the manufacturer’s need for quality injection molding products require careful assessment to ensure the collaboration will work. However, though the process may be difficult and there will likely be complications, it also offers an OEM a means by which to receive a thorough evaluation of the mold’s current condition from a neutral third party. Though in the past there were major challenges when seeking to obtain detailed records for older injection molding tooling, transfers have been made easier through the advancement of digital technologies.
Best Practices & Other Considerations for Injection Molding Tooling Transfers
There are best practices that should be followed whenever an OEM transfers injection molding competencies between two vendors. Even though available technology has made the process quicker, reasonable timelines should be adopted to ensure everything moves forward smoothly. One of the most important considerations involves explaining the motivations behind the transfer, as this will help the new vendor better deliver what an OEM needs. For OEMs, the new vendor must also be financially stable enough to take on the work.
Other best practices for injection molding tooling transfers include:
- Checklist: During the injection molding tooling transfer process, it’s important to make a checklist to ensure all information is current, which should include:
- Tooling diagrams
- Quality history
- Quality assessments
- Maintenance history
- Last shots
- Dimensional records
- Depictions of components
- Auxiliary or robotic requirements
- 3D digital files
- Dimensional layout: An injection molding tooling transfer is an auspicious occasion where the OEM can reevaluate plastic parts and their dimensions to improve quality.
- Manufacturing capabilities: If possible, it’s a good idea to physically inspect a vendor’s equipment and production facility to ensure they can meet an OEM’s capacity needs.
- Materials: A new third-party provider ought to have sufficient competency not only in processing the specific resins an OEM requires but also in sourcing these as well.
- Quality control: As with any third-party vendor, an injection molding company should have robust quality control protocols to manage the quality of the products they manufacture.
- Software: For injection molding tooling transfers done these days, the most advanced vendors will have mold simulation software to validate designs that should include insights into ways to easily and inexpensively improve the component’s geometry.
- Timelines: Most injection molding companies need a week or more to evaluate the mold and replace any implements, while other analyses should also be given sufficient time.
Additionally, while the quality provided by an injection molding company may be excellent, it’s equally important that it has the right equipment, a reliable logistical supply chain, and an experienced workforce to ensure it can ship parts to the manufacturer as needed. This helps guarantee that an OEM won’t need to slow down or stop production due to a lack of essential components. The OEM should also establish that any new vendor has a step-by-step plan to ensure their employees know expectations from when the tooling arrives to the start of production.
Technology drives the design process for injection molding tooling. Transfers should look at the third-party provider’s design capabilities to ensure it’s not considered separate from prototyping and production. Design should be integrated into the manufacturing process so that all facets of the transfer of injection molding tools go smoothly and that there are no unnecessary delays. As part of this process, a management and engineering staff team should be responsible for the injection molding tooling transfer.
Who Should Be Involved in Injection Molding Tooling Transfers?
A team should be put in place to manage most or all aspects of injection molding tooling transfers.
Normally, this will include:
- Account manager: This person will have the final say in the matter and is involved in a coordinated and integrated effort to ensure the transfer occurs within budget, while also understanding the objectives of all stakeholders.
- Project manager: This should be a technically adept employee with plenty of experience who understands the basics of each aspect of the engineering involved in the project; generally, this person will be in charge of the engineering support team.
- Tooling engineer: This ought to be a tested leader who has the support of the tooling shop and is in charge of all documentation regarding the analysis of the transferred molds, making note of any modifications necessary to ensure a quality product.
- Quality engineer: This team leader is responsible for assessing components, fixtures, gauges, inspection reports, prints for components, and records, along with creating any instructions regarding measurements.
- Process engineer: This engineer leads a team to ensure that the mold functions properly in the new facility, along with certifying that equipment works with the transferred mold and that operators understand any nuances.
Stages of Injection Molding Tooling Transfer
Every stage of the injection molding tooling transfer process is important. This is especially true when it comes to validation. To mitigate any issues during this process, it’s important that the teams working on a transfer have sufficient expertise, particularly with the latest technological advancements in plastic injection molding. Tooling transfers require in-depth technical experience, so the more proficient the team, the lower the likelihood that any problems they can’t manage will occur during the transfer process.
There are eight basic stages in an injection molding tooling transfer:
To safeguard both parties, everything possible should be established beforehand and put in writing. Written contracts institute a legal commitment between the parties, protecting the interests of both the OEM and vendor.
Both the OEM and new vendor need to establish and maintain communications throughout the process of reassigning injection molding tooling. Transfers should take place in an environment where the two entities openly communicate and collaborate with each other. Both partners should dedicate a team to the project, empowering members of each to help guarantee its success.
This involves conducting an onsite assessment at the injection molding company’s production facility so as to transfer the tooling seamlessly. At this point the project manager’s transfer team works with the vendor’s team, assessing all the functions from ordering to shipping out the finished components. It’s during this evaluation that information that hasn’t been documented properly is recorded. Even with tooling that’s been used for years, there may be unseen or ignored issues.
Many times, shortcuts aren’t noted or shared with management, especially those managers without sufficient technical knowledge. The discussions that take place between toolmakers and process engineers help smooth the transfer of injection molding tooling. Transfers should also help the new vendor understand the actual protocol to take during production. Often this is when the new third-party injection molding provider makes the OEM aware of any information that hasn’t yet been recorded, along with incorrect and incomplete process reports.
After the onsite assessment, a schedule needs to be developed for the injection molding tooling transfer. This task is shared by the OEM and new vendor, with a schedule of when parts and tooling will be transferred.
Typically, this takes several weeks to build up to ensure the OEM doesn’t run out of stock of the needed component. The OEM should determine the amount of safety stock they need, while the OEM’s previous vendor’s production facility should follow the scheduling requirements for the tooling transfer. Injection molding companies may additionally see OEMs wanting an onsite inspection to determine how much stock they require before they begin the transfer. Though usually a six week time frame is normally sufficient, it’s important that enough time is allowed for the transfer of injection molding tooling. Transfers will usually also mean overtime for the production staff of the OEM, current production facility and new vendor, often including extra shifts and weekend work.
When it comes to equipment and injection molding, tooling transfers are a good time to look at options for new equipment, such as tooling, spares, inspection gauges, fixtures and other tools needed to produce a product. The new injection molding vendor will normally be responsible for standard maintenance on these items, though major repairs would still require quotes be submitted to the OEM prior to approval. Additionally, the new vendor may need to purchase unprovided yet necessary equipment critical to production.
When molds go from one injection molding company to another, rather than directly from the OEM, it’s unlikely the previous provider will sell the specific production machinery for injection molding. Tooling transfers that come directly from an OEM will often include the presses and other previously used injection molding tooling. Transfers often result in initially exceeding the new molding company’s capacity, so often new machinery is necessary.
The main objective of the validation stage involves obtaining approval from the OEM for each component to be produced via injection molding. Tooling transfers to a new vendor thus seek to keep processes as similar as possible in the new facility, often through the use of golden samples. There should be a certain amount of flexibility during the transition, however, as many companies have specific controls over production. Generally, the validation and other teams involved in the injection molding tooling transfer will experience greater challenges the more extensive the changeover is.
The list of tasks during the validation process is particularly extensive, with each task needing to be repeated for the tooling of every component involved in the transfer. In addition to these undertakings, the documentation and record keeping involved is also very comprehensive. The new injection molding provider’s project management team should focus on managing resources internally both for the activities involved in the transfer and any documentation.
More on the Validation Process
There are five basic steps to the validation process, each with its own requirements.
- Document disclosure, which will likely include:
- Bill of materials (BOM) and routing documents
- Blueprints and maintenance records for tooling
- Component production records
- Control plan explaining methods of quality control
- Gauge and fixture documentation
- Gauge repeatability and reproducibility for both fixtures and gauges
- Golden sample – sometimes called an approval sample – to provide an example of a “perfect” part
- Instructions on molding procedures and changeovers
- Non-conforming material report (NCMR) history
- Process capability over the course of the previous year to measure dimensional process variability
- Converting documents for the new vendor, which might include those that:
- Assess criteria for passing or failing finished parts with a visual inspection report
- Calculate dimensions of golden samples
- Establish schedule for identifying and calibrating gauges
- Involve an input file for BOM in material requirements planning (MRP) system to speed time to production
- Make work instructions to guide production
- Produce inspection report from gathered data
- Quantify measurement instructions for components
- Set up system for tracking and identifying tooling
- Tool evaluation, which may include:
- Establishing an initial schedule for preventive maintenance
- Measuring size of gateways through which molten plastic will flow
- Noting any wear on the tooling
- Recording all relevant features on the tooling
- Validation sample, which often will include:
- Documenting any issues related to the tooling
- Establishing process window documentation to explain parameters in the manufacturing process
- Measuring samples
- Producing visual instructions for setting up
- Recording any issues related to the manufacturing process
- Running a production part approval process (PPAP) to confirm tooling capabilities
- Qualification process, which likely will include:
- Capability index to measure dimensions for variation within processes compared to specifications
- Control plan for each team involved in the transfer
- First article inspection (FAI) to validate that the first parts or batch of parts conforms to the OEM’s requirements
- Gauge repeatability and reproducibility (GR&R) to evaluate accuracy of measurements, mainly for automotive components
- Material certification to determine chemical makeup and quality of raw materials
- Part acceptance form (PAF) to show that the new vendor accepts the tooling
- Process failure effect mode analysis (PFEMA) for each team involved in the transfer
- Process flow for each team involved in the transfer
- Record sheet to document qualifications
- Tool validation documentation
- Warrant to authorize the tooling transfer
These days, much of the documentation involved in injection molding tooling transfers comes in digital format.
Once the validation process is approved, the new vendor’s production team will begin to produce plastic components in accordance with the signed contract. Though each stage in an injection molding tooling transfer is important, the most extensive is the validation process. It’s largely this stage that produces the bulk of expenses, given the time and number of technical personnel involved.
Injection Molding Tooling Transfers to Spaulding Composites
Spaulding Composites Inc. has the expertise to answer just about any question related to injection molding tooling. Transferring injection molding work between companies or between an OEM and an outsourced provider need not be an overwhelming decision. Spaulding has close relationships with mold makers both domestically and globally, while also having the proficiency to advise on numerous aspects of the tooling transfer process. To learn more about our capabilities, contact our tooling team today.