We run into people all the time who worked in China, purchased their tooling from the supplier, and then the supplier fails (or goes bankrupt, or steals product designs, or has bad quality control). They face the immediate challenge of purchasing their tooling and beginning again with a new supplier.
Here are 5 questions you should ask your suppliers before you pay for your tooling.
#1: What machine are you making the tooling for?
Most injection and molding machines are built around a basic standard and should be able to transfer tools. However, their injection assembly and port locations are not. These are usually custom built to support your injection needs and are not transferable.
- Try and get the model number and the type of machine. If you ever need to move your tooling, knowing this information can help your next factory integrate it faster and simpler.
- If you don’t have this information, then the only option you have is to move the tooling to them and have them review it in person. This takes time and moving it again from them can delay things further as they don’t have the incentive to help you if you’re not driving business to them.
- We also recommend having some contacts on the ground that can visit your existing factory to get that information.
#2: Will you provide me with photos, material, dimensions, and serial numbers of the completed tooling?
All factories have to care for the tooling and identify it. If they are a larger and well operating factory, they should have operations that already require capturing this information and recording it.
- You might struggle to get a serial number applied to the tool. This is ok if the factory has another way of identifying it.
- Ask for pictures of the tooling when they are complete. These pictures show your tooling in the best possible condition, and you can use them for comparison if you ever need to move it.
- If you need to move your tooling and it’s covered in rust, mold, or damage, you will want that photo to confirm the factory made it correctly. This prevents them from blaming some outside force for the tooling condition.
#3: What is your process for caring for the tooling?
Good factories will complete a periodic inspection of the tooling if it’s in storage and should inspect it every time it’s used for production. They are aware that if your tool is damaged, the product will not be made correctly. Bad factories don’t, and will send you whatever comes out of the tool.
- Check for rust control processes. This usually is similar to taking care of a cast iron skillet. They should be oiling the tooling and make sure that it’s not rusting. It can be normal to see some small rust on the outside. This is acceptable as long as the inside and injection surface is free of rust.
- Asia coastal towns have high salt content in the air which makes it harder to avoid the natural degradation. If you have a factory that has a tooling center in-house, then this is awesome. They can repair and clean the tooling at any time.
- Also check and see if they have a tooling manager on staff. If they do, you know they have the resources to inspect and care for the tooling accurately. Sometimes the floor manager or the owner performs this check.
#4: What is the approval process?
- Many times, a factory will modify the tooling to improve efficiency and production times. Many times they don’t tell people. 80% of the time, this doesn’t cause any issues to the product and the clients’ expectations. However…..
- You should review their approval and modification process. If they have a formal process, ask them to include you in this as a point of contact. This will give you more exposure to the care of your tool and the proactive nature of a good supplier.
- Tooling takes time, trial and error, and revisions. Make sure that the factory sends you samples of this process, that you have input, and can sign a final sample and return it to the factory. A golden signed sample is critical to the execution of the product over time. It also facilitates good communication across language barriers.
#5: Can you tell me how you calculate the price of the tools?
- Tooling can get very complicated. (i.e. hot runners to keep the material flowing, injection pins for back draft, different materials, cutting time) Find out and drill the factory on some of these points. Doing so will open up the vagueness of the manufacturing process.
- The factories need to make a margin on the tooling to cover the cost of the project and the investment time. That is usually about 30%.
- Knowing some of the details can help you understand if there’s more negotiation room or if the factory is trying gouge you.
- Pay attention to the complexity of the tooling and the material they are using. Bad tools are made from aluminum. (Sample tools are usually made from this.) Good tools are made from hardened steel.
If you need help purchasing your own tooling or switching to a new factory, we are here to help. Learn more about our 6-step product manufacturing process here.