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Why would a medical device OEM benefit from a tooling audit or a tooling evaluation?

Wed, 06/27/2012 - 1:39pm
Paul Mulville

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Being pro-active when it comes to mold tooling pays dividends. Even with the best of intentions, a solid maintenance program and the ability to react to mechanical breakdowns, tooling with a lot of miles on it becomes a cost and a risk to supply.

Contrary to popular belief, mold tooling is rarely “plug and play”, and when it comes to moving tooling to another supplier, there is added value in assigning an engineer (project manager) familiar with the inherent issues associated with “used” mold tooling. Performing an audit or evaluation up front provides a snap-shot of what you’re dealing with, and is always preferable to picking up the pieces later on.

Off-site tooling is out of sight, and therefore “intangible”, - rarely considered unless there’s a supply chain interruption. The expectation is that vendors will be vigilant about maintenance and repair, and typically they are, often going overboard in an effort to shorten cycle times, and reduce down time. That said, we can depend on a vendor to keep the tooling running, but an OEM has a greater interest and insight into product life-cycle, acquisition or tooling transfer activity /intent, and budget forecasting that make it an imperative to understand exactly what they have, where it is, and what condition it’s in?

So what is a tooling audit?
Going beyond asset value and depreciation, the purpose of a tooling audit is to create a central repository of tooling related information that translates across all departments of the OEM. Planning, purchasing, engineering, operations, QC, and finance all have a stake when tooling is transferred or acquired, but each have a different interest. By capturing the essential mold tool hardware, - (tool classification, age, number of cycles, cavitation and physical parameters), press size & type, peripheral equipment, spares, material designations, inspection techniques, documentation, performance attributes and all relative intelligence prior to a vendor to vendor tooling transfer, (or immediately before or after an acquisition), an OEM now has visibility over the entire tooling inventory, and can plan and prioritize according to inventory needs and resources.

What’s the benefit?
All OEM departments now share a common source, enabling data based decision making, and dramatically reducing the number of meetings and participants necessary to gather and exchange information.

By capturing and sharing the data up front, the new supplier has the vital information that takes the guess work out of initial start up and qualification of transfer tooling, - shortening the “ramp-up” time significantly.

A tooling evaluation differs from a tooling audit, and is designed to capture “current tool condition”, and performance concerns that will enable action to address high scrap rates, mechanical breakdowns, and supply chain interruptions, allowing an OEM to preempt issues, understand risk exposure, and plan accordingly, - and will often provide the justification to support capital appropriation and ROI for replacement tooling where risk exists.

Beyond a bench evaluation, a tooling evaluation is an overview of what the tool is producing (output and quality), how the tool is currently performing, – (is it in the maintenance shop every other week?), and whether it is sustainable, - (is it showing signs of age beyond normal wear and tear?).

A typical OEM owns 50 to 500 off-site mold tools that run constantly, with suppliers that run the gamut from a mom and pop shops to a top tier molder. These tools get regular routine maintenance, but now they've got upwards of a million cycles on them, (like a car with 300,000 miles), longevity and risk come into the equation. Demand is constant, really pushing the tooling inventory to the limit, but is regular maintenance enough to make the tools last indefinitely? A tooling evaluation will highlight and expose fatigue, extreme wear items, damage, and blocked cavities, providing key feedback that will determine whether the tooling is sustainable.

Each of these procedures has a purpose, but when combined, a tooling audit (what have we got?), and a tooling evaluation (what condition is it in?), provide an OEM with a truly “global perspective” of their entire tooling inventory.

Paul Mulville is the owner of Tooling Transfers, a tooling services company based in Maine, USA. A graduate of Carshalton College, Surrey, England, his career has encompassed toolmaker, tooling manager, tooling engineer, and global project management (India & China), he has worked both sides of the fence, - for custom and captive molders, and also for Giant OEM companies, serving medical device, consumer goods, electronics and automotive.

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