The Project: Transfer tools from a closing thermoset molder to a new contract molder without sacrificing quality or capabilities.
The Solution: Not only were the tools successfully transferred, but critical elements of the product were reevaluated and enhanced.

Tom Sloane is general manager of thermoset operations Dickten Masch Plastics. He can be reached at

This A-dec chair, created for the dental operatory, features a robust design that does more with fewer parts. It optimizes operator access and patient comfort. DMP now molds the plastic covers for these progressive chairs.
With many contract molders struggling in the recession, and medical OEMs seeking to consolidate suppliers, tool transfers are increasingly common. As many as 360,000 tools may be moved from one supplier to another through June 2010, according to industry analyst Jeff Mengel of Plante & Moran.

Moving tools quickly and without compromising quality is a significant challenge. However, with the right processes in place, a supplier can ensure that a transfer is executed as efficiently and effectively as possible.

For example, consider the case of A-dec, one of the world's largest dental equipment makers. Two years ago, a thermoset molder the company had been working with for nine years was about to close its doors. The Oregon-based OEM needed to transfer the tools to another company to produce four thermoset components, including the dental chair covers for its top-selling line of dental operatories (A-dec products account for nearly 45% of the U.S. market).

To find the right partner for the transfer, A-dec ran several candidates through its supplier qualification procedures, paying close attention to quality and efficiency attributes including ISO certifications and lean initiatives. The job went to the contract molder Dickten Masch Plastics (DMP).

DMP demonstrated technical knowledge and capabilities–in materials, tooling, processing techniques, software programs, and other areas–that set its team apart. In addition, DMP's size, history, and quality measures, including a performance monitoring matrix shared with each customer, fit well with A-dec's goals.

Quality Central to Success
DMP performs a trial run of processing parameters for each transferred mold. The goal is to create the best processing window, including mold temperature, fill speed, and pack pressures.
The first hurdle was to get the tools operational as fast as possible. DMP's tool transfer process included an initial examination of sample parts as well as a full dimensional layout to make sure the tools match the fit, form, and functional requirements of the part. Three of the four tools were older and more problematic in terms of ability to produce on-spec parts. Applying DMP's tooling expertise, the team quickly worked through some of the issues that surfaced with the older tools.

Another key challenge of the transfer was that A-dec's operatories have a reputation for quality and durability that the company was determined to maintain. In fact, many A-dec operatories in the field are over 20 years old. The products are built to last and priced that way, so high quality was essential and striving for zero defects was a top priority at A-dec.

A-dec designers like to use thermoset materials because thermoset parts feel solid and substantial to the touch. In addition, the part density means that color and appearance are maintained throughout the life of the product. The company's salespeople sometimes highlight this attribute by standing on the covers during product demonstrations.

However, thermoset materials come with their own set of issues, such as batch-to-batch variability. DMP's materials expertise, as well as its relationships with top material suppliers, continues to be a benefit in dealing with this challenge. The two companies are currently at work testing potential alternative materials for three of the four parts that will likely enhance batch consistency while lowering material costs.

The result is that DMP and A-dec didn't just transfer the tools successfully, but are also working to improve the quality and cost-effectiveness of the end product. It's a good example and reminder for any medical product designer: A tool transfer is a prime opportunity to reevaluate the design, materials, process parameters, and other factors to make the best product possible for the end customer.

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