Like other contract manufacturers, plastic injection molders and toolmakers have unique challenges when it comes to obtaining comprehensive, affordable product liability insurance.  First, we serve a wide variety of markets, from medical to electronics to consumer products, and cannot predict what type of products we will be making from one month to the next.  Second, we usually make only a single component part of our customer’s product, and thus may not know how the completed product will be used or what its risks are. These two factors alone make it hard for an insurer to properly evaluate its exposure for the products of a typical contract manufacturer.

Suppose you make a plastic “clip.”  A diligent insurer will ask where that clip is going - on a pen, in a car, on a blood vessel?  An insurer may refuse to cover a risk it does not understand, or may only cover it to a very limited degree and at a very high price.  Not disclosing or mischaracterizing to your insurer what you know about the nature of your product could be a big problem in the event of a claim.  On the other hand, if you have disclosed it and the insurer then declines to cover you, how would you like to tell your customer that?  If the coverage is available but the premium is astronomical, can you add that cost into your quoted price and still be competitive?  These questions may not have easy or pleasant answers, we’ve found.  But simply ignoring them could have far more unpleasant consequences, so we think these are things every contract manufacturer needs to ask.

Written by:

Rita Johansson
Office Manager

It's been said that training is the lifeblood of an organization.  Yet over the last few years, finding money for training and educational purposes has been a challenge.  As our economy struggles to its feet, it's high time we realize that the only way an American manufacturer is going to thrive (or even survive) is to throw every available resource towards ensuring that his employees are better coached than the competition's.  We can't wait for our government to level the playing field when it comes to free (and fair) trade.  The core of the free market concept is rooted in competition driving us to improve

quality and innovation, lower prices, and thus be able to sell more and grow.   Our competitors in low cost manufacturing locations are using the same equipment that we do.  In many cases, their workforce

is younger, more hungry, and certainly more plentiful.  How do you compete with that?  By making sure your employee is thoroughly trained, in both the latest technology, and old world craftsmanship that can be

passed down from the senior toolmakers and designers who built tooling prior to the age of computers.  Old world craftsmanship is often not available in these low cost manufacturing countries.

The opportunity to get involved at the ground floor is an opportunity not to be missed.  Apprenticeship programs are struggling, and if they are allowed to fail, we have failed.  Opportunities abound in local vocational and career training programs for mentoring, donating time and resources, and ensuring that there is an influx of future talent for hire.  Our company is active in numerous trade associations, including the Tooling and Manufacturing Association (TMA), the American Mold Builders Association (AMBA), Society of the Plastics Industry (SPI), Society of Plastics Engineers (SPE), Illinois Manufacturing Association (IMA), the American Society for Quality (ASQ) and the Manufacturers Association for Plastics Processors (MAPP), to name a few.

So as manufacturers, we are left to our own devices to stay in the game.  But without training, we are certain to have a more difficult time competing in the future than we currently do today.

Breadboard parts

At Matrix Tooling, we design and build injection molds for a wide variety of advanced materials and processes, including metal injection molding (MIM.)  While it is possible to build a very accurate injection mold, getting the actual molded part to meet the print specifications often requires more.  

Resins with predictable shrinkage rates allow you to confidently machine details to a specific size without having to invest additional time "sneaking up" on them after processing.  However, when working with MIM tools, not only are the shrinkage rates significantly higher (often representing a large percentage of the part size) but they are also less predictable.  Subjecting the molded MIM pieces to the next required stage of heat treating further complicates things.  Re-compounding the feedstock to adjust the "green" part is a common method used to achieve the required shrinkage and physical properties.  But because each round of sampling entails the secondary processes of debinding and sintering, qualifying a MIM part can be time consuming.

While our industry's conscious efforts to reduce lead times have benefited the development of medical devices, certain parts are proving more difficult to qualify quickly.  MIM parts seem to be among them.  In order to address this challenge, Matrix has worked with our customers to develop "breadboard" parts: small quantities of machined finished parts, made to the database using conventional machining technologies, and made from the same raw material.  This approach has numerous benefits.  Since the initial test launch of a device may require as few as 3-6 units, machining breadboard parts is a more timely way to sample components that are destined to be produced using MIM.  Any problems that crop up during the testing of the breadboard prototypes can be remedied prior to cutting any steel in the MIM tool, saving both time and money.  Being able to prove out the concept more quickly and inexpensively with breadboard parts results in a faster release of MIM tooling for production and a smoother debugging and qualification process.  

Written By:

Paul Ziegenhorn