China is in a lockdown. Italy is in a lockdown. Those kinds of things will certainly put a challenge on any business. Volume mould suppliers are going to be particularly affected, given the reluctance of OEMs to buy tools from a jurisdiction affected by the coronavirus.
Given the rapid spread of COVID-19 in North America, however, sourcing moulds from virus-free domestic suppliers might be easier said than done. Just to make things worse, in mid-March GM, Ford, Fiat Chrysler, Toyota, and Honda announced they would be halting some vehicle production in North America to protect workers and clean their facilities. While temporary, such closures threaten to wreak havoc on the die/mould supply chain.
Looking to the Future
The lack of new vehicle models means less demand for stamping dies and plastic moulds. As a result, 50 to 75 die and mould shops might go out of business in North America over the next five years, noted the report.
At the same time, it’s vital to keep your machinery, software, and equipment up to date, he added.
This is particularly true if you’re looking to form a partnership with a Tier 1 or Tier 2 supplier.
Collaboration is a great thing; forming relationships or even a partnership. Invest in new machines and equipment if it means it can hold hands and go into the future for five to 10 years.
Become More Efficient
Other evergreen tips are reduce waste, invest in technology, and speed up your processes.
Buy software to do faster, more efficient cutting paths, and automate more so your guys aren’t going up on the machines six or seven times. All those things make you leaner.
Pointed to predictive technologies, the latest machining capabilities, and lightweight materials as important trends that should be in the crosshairs of tool shops.
Predictive technologies include remote monitoring, machine connectivity, and the internet of things (IoT).
These high-tech tools let shop owners gather data from the field to be able to choke back or ramp up maintenance schedules for machines and adjust cutter speeds, among other things.
Also lightweighting as a trend to watch.
For the past two years, it’s been the No. 1 ‘megatrend,’ especially in automotive. Aviation and aerospace have been doing it since conception, but automotive really has embraced the lightweighting initiative lately.
This is because of regulations passed under former President Obama’s administration that set strict rules about improved fuel efficiency in traditional gasoline engines. The advent of electric and autonomous cars has also spurred moves to making vehicles lighter while also stronger.
Is Additive Manufacturing the Answer?
Industry experts give mixed reviews about additive manufacturing (AM). The 3D printing process remains very slow, making it unsuitable for high-volume automotive production. Given that auto work is a mainstay of the die/mould sector, 3D printing won’t replace conventional mouldmaking methods any time soon.
It can augment traditional methods, however.
Moulds are large, so 3D printing is not an economical option. We are, however, looking at our first 3D-printed insert right now. I don’t think there’s anybody in the world that will tell you that additive manufacturing is not the wave of the future. We’ve been using subtractive manufacturing forever, cutting chips away.