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Redefining What's Impossible in Manufacturing
The following article was contributed by Metro Mold & Design.
For a manufacturer with roots in traditional tool making, Metro Mold & Design (MMD) is anything but traditional. Starting out in 1973 as a small operation in Rogers, Minnesota, today the company has evolved into a manufacturer of highly complex solutions that owns and operates multiple facilities. Collectively, MMD possesses a breadth of in-house capabilities that goes far beyond tool making.
At the heart of the company is a can-do attitude toward solving seemingly “impossible” manufacturing challenges in order to achieve drastic cost reduction or breakthrough innovation for its customers. This results in long-term, game-changing value, enabling customers to launch products and capture market share while maintaining the integrity of their business objectives and sticking to their aggressive project deadlines.
What makes a manufacturing challenge impossible? More than just making a difficult part, it means others are no-quoting it. They can’t or don’t want to take it on because they are unable to figure out a way to accomplish a customer’s business objective based on the functionality, timeframe, and cost of the material, process, and scope of the project. At MMD, the team looks at problems differently, seeking to identify their true source and find innovative ways to overcome them without compromising a project’s original intent.
No Quote? No Way
Even when countless other manufactures say it’s impossible, MMD welcomes design for manufacturing challenges with confidence. Why? Because its culture comprises a team of tenacious trouble shooters from a wide range of backgrounds and disciplines that won’t settle until they find an answer.
A Deliberately Diverse Team Provides Fresh Perspectives
Metro Mold & Design’s tenacity for conquering the impossible starts with an executive team that represents a departure from traditional manufacturing leadership teams. Leading the charge is CEO, Greg Heinemann, who identifies himself not as a manufacturer, but as a business leader. With a passion for developing other leaders, Heinemann has surrounded himself with individuals whose competencies in engineering, design, and manufacturing provide an expertise that far outweighs his own.
Of the five members of the executive team, half come from outside the industry, with only one individual having a background on the plant floor. This atypical configuration ensures that MMD’s team sees challenges from fresh perspectives that clearly identify the root of a problem in order to arrive at a better solution for its customers. These perspectives and persistent focus help MMD redefine what it means to be an effective and meaningful supply chain partner.
Beyond the executive team, MMD employs skilled engineers, mold builders, machinists, manufacturers, and others who bring together diverse backgrounds, a range of competencies, and the same propensity for solving problems that contribute to this innovative culture.
Trouble Shooting as a Culture
“Our chief competitive advantage is our team of unique problem-solvers who come from different backgrounds and experiences,” Heinemann explains. “These teams take a two-pronged approach to every project that consists of, one, asking the right questions that lead to better results for customers, and, two, giving all individuals within the team the chance to lead—allowing people the freedom to share their insights and serve as true subject-matter experts, rather than simply following orders from an executive team.”
For example, involving an injection molding expert in a project requiring machining can lead to a unique set of questions that illuminate a new perspective on a problem. That new perspective frequently delivers the breakthrough to a customized solution that meets the business goals of the customer, Heinemann says.
“These customized solutions can include steps for simplifying the supply chain, combining or running parallel processes, increasing automation, and identifying problems early on to avoid costly ‘re-do’s’ or outright failures as products are brought into production,” he says.
A New Solution to a Nagging Problem
When one customer came to MMD, it was experiencing a geometry problem with one of its parts that wouldn’t allow it to be properly sterilized. Clearly identifying the challenges associated with having too many features, which caused tooling problems because of having too many actions in multiple directions with no room, the team arrived at an idea to combine the entire assembly into one part.
By developing a single part design that would allow for six different sizes of the part to be produced by interchanging some of the mold components, MMD accomplished the same customer objective while manufacturing one part rather than six. Only after extensive conversations with the customer to fully understand the scope of the project did the right solution present itself to the team, which consisted of a project manager, design manager, designer, and molding technician.
A Radically Different Approach
By pursuing manufacturing challenges in this radically different and highly creative way, MMD thrives where others cannot or will not compete. Realizing that sometimes even the best and brightest minds can exhaust every possible, foreseeable solution, MMD’s team attacks problems without assumptions or limitations, never settling until they find an answer. Once they uncover the source of the problem, they can attack a challenge with unfettered creativity and innovation.
Having mastered fundamental skills over the years in design, engineering, tool making, molding, and machining, MMD leverages broad expertise to creatively engineer processes that facilitate results far greater than the sum of the parts. With tremendous cross-discipline experience, the company is emboldened to tackle extremely tight tolerances and complex geometries with confidence, having put itself in a position to go well beyond traditional manufacturing capabilities to achieve success.
A Holistic Perspective To Apply During The Design Phase
Being able to see a project holistically allows engineers to not only account for any potential pitfalls along the way, but to also recognize any additional opportunities to:
* Maximize precision and drive performance by combining the right mix of complementary competencies for greater, far more accurate results for even the most complex micro applications.
* Increase speed by limiting unnecessary secondary operations, running parallel processes, or altering sequencing through creatively engineered, vertically-integrated, in-house operations that simplify the supply chain.
* Drive down costs by designing processes that result in more efficient tooling, less wasted material in production, a reduction in inspection time, and minimizing labor-intensive operations.
When you start with the fundamentals, the possibilities are virtually endless.
Creatively Engineering Processes for Greater Results
The advanced capabilities needed to perform the impossible can only be harnessed once a manufacturer has achieved a deep understanding of the core competencies of mold making, manufacturing, and machining. Metro Mold & Design’s range of expertise makes it possible to creatively engineer a combination of the fundamental capabilities to reach levels of true innovation. Here are a few examples of how the MMD team designs processes for better speed and sophistication:
* Combining complementary processes – using certain competencies in concert, like molding and machining, elicits an optimal balance of speed and accuracy throughout production.
* Running parallel processes – synching up operations and production schedules can shave hours off a job without compromising quality.
* Insert molding – essentially combining two components andoperations rather than performing additional, secondary downstream operations.
* Two-shot molding – providing an efficient and economical process for multi-material, multi-color injection-molded parts.
* Automation – infusing automation and robotics during strategic steps in the process can greatly speed up results while reducing risk.
Although many manufacturers may be able to perform a few of these operations, the key is to be able to perform and control a wide range of them, all under one roof. After all, it’s not as much about possessing these capabilities individually, but possessing the talent to view projects holistically, combine competencies whenever possible, and engineer processes in the most creative and efficient way possible.
Beyond the Spec Sheet – Pushing Materials Further
Many times, making the impossible requires manufacturing partners to push the limits of material performance beyond the spec sheet. With extensive knowledge and understanding of how to scientifically test material properties for performance and repeatability, MMD figures out how to get more out of a material and/or reduce costs by finding innovative ways to manufacture it.
When a traditional manufacturing process allows a material to meet several critical attributes for a customer’s application, but fall short of others (such as geometry), it’s up to MMD to figure out how to achieve the required performance without compromising other features. This means pushing the limits of what can or can’t be done, and being able to fully anticipate any pitfalls related to manufacturability.
Upon having a DFM (Design for Manufacturing) discussion with a customer, MMD is able to begin diagnosing issues and testing hypotheses. This might entail using software to do a mold flow analysis and then a DOE (Design of Experiment) to produce samples using processing parameters outside the spec. The process is repeated however many times it takes to get to a result to present the customer in order to support and assure them the attributes are still what they want.
Driving Down Costs
When it comes time to making the investment necessary to penetrate a new market with enough of an impact to deliver long-term results, production costs need to be streamlined and reduced wherever possible. Whether it means finding a radically different way to manufacture a part or drastically cutting the cost of material, innovative solutions need to impact the bottom line to create margins worth pursuing.
Once the MMD team is able to understand the very essence of a customer’s business goals, they are able to collectively put their heads together to begin attacking each project with tenacity. It requires an investment and application of talent from both the OEM and manufacturer. However, by developing breakthrough technologies, which provide substantial – not incremental – cost reduction or revenue gains over time, the long-term results are ultimately well worth the wait and effort. And this strategy only works when the customers’ objectives are met and not compromised.
Simplifying a Complex Process
With an eye toward setting new standards for what companies can expect from their contract manufacturing partners, Metro Mold & Design seeks to collaborate with its customers to drive innovation to new levels. For many companies seeking ways to increase simplification in their supply chain, in product offerings, and beyond, MMD echoes this desire for simplicity and constantly seeks ways to reduce organizational or structural complexity.
For suppliers who make complex parts, the processes and structures behind these parts are often needlessly complex. Complicated organizational structures and work flows lead to wasted time and resources, and even more critically, divert focus away from providing meaningful solutions to the real challenges customers face.
Metro Mold’s organizational structure allows for increased communication and collaboration between all of these teams. For customers, this means simplified operations and more creativity and sophistication in their products as a direct result of MMD’s ideation. Setting its sights on delivering uniquely engineered and complex parts, MMD ultimately delivers:
1. Innovative breakthroughs for the customer.
2. Solutions that take cost out of large programs.
3. Custom solutions based on the business goals of each customer project.
A Demand for Demanding Challenges
The impetus behind MMD’s focus on making the impossible comes from recognizing a need to push the limits of manufacturing and tackle the challenges necessary to achieve critical business objectives. Rather than saying “no” and compromising the original part design to make a part work, MMD seeks more ways to say “yes.”
After all, when it comes to entering a new market or launching a new product, companies need a manufacturing partner who can support their crucial needs. They don’t need someone who will tell them it can’t be done, or that it can’t be done for the budget they need to create the margins they require. That’s the void that Metro Mold & Design fills. When a project gets stuck and there’s no going back, the MMD team will find a way to get it done and deliver the results its customers demand.
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