Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Is the Tooling industry important any more?

I came across this article, which is a couple years old, I thought it made some good points. I think it will be the last of these I post for a while. I am going to concentrate future posts on fixing the problems of the industry. I think it's important to look back from time to time though. Only a fool would not learn from his own mistakes or to be aware of others in his shoes.

Tooling craft rapidly vanishes - 7/11/04

The article is about a tool and die company closing it's doors after 75 years of business. The quote I found most interesting was ....

"U.S. toolmakers were once so coveted they were exempt from the draft during War World II. Now they are losing out to foreign workers who often earn $2 an hour."

I actually have heard stories that not only were they exempt but many that volunteered for the services were rejected because of this or had to lie in order to serve. My, how times have changed.
This company, I'm sure, made many mistakes that led to it's demise. Some they were in control of and others I'm sure they had very little control over. They probably kept many of their workers employed longer than they should have, waiting for a industry rebound that never came. I have been guilty of this, as many have. You hate to lose your key people that you've spent many years cultivating to your competition over temporary work shortages.
It sounds like they didn't invest in modern technology when times were good, as many of us have. It didn't save the jobs at my company, but it did save my company from extinction. I now do almost as much work as I did with a shop full of employees. I can't say it's more profitable. I pay for machines rather than people. I'm glad I made many of these investments years ago, as one did one of the shops quoted in this article did.
The local economic development organization has requested a meeting with me as they do every year. Their main focus will be job retention. It's a little late for that with my company, unless the job they want to retain is mine. However, I will meet with them, as I always do. I will give them my laundry list of things they can to help create jobs, which I'm sure they will never act upon. I'm sure they ask for my support or donations, as they always do. I'm just too small now to be of interest to them and won't generate enough good press. At least they still take the time to meet with me.

NAM, China and the Sheep. Where are the shepherds?

You gotta pay if you want to play.
This is especially true if you want action out of the US government or supposed trade organizations. The tool and die industry is being killed by Chinese currency manipulation and many other issues. The T&D companies are the sheep of American manufacturing, not big enough to defend themselves against the wolves. They will occasionally travel in packs, which helps protect them even though they are picked off daily. The shepherds job should be easier to protect them as they huddle together. Their shepherds should be organizations like the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) . Unfortunately NAM is split on support of a new bill that would seek penalties for China in manipulating its currency. On one side is the small manufacturers who support such measures. The other side is the Large (wolf in sheeps clothing) Corporations. They don't want to upset the status quo for fear of loosing all the money they are able to make by outsourcing much of their work to China. There are some good shepherds out there, but their flocks are too small to defend themselves from the wolves. The Michigan Tooling Association is one of the good shepherds. Their web site( has a few good articles.The Testimony of Laurie Schmald Moncrieff President of Schmald Tool & Die, Inc. FULL ARTICLE I found extremely good.
Tooling people are great problem solvers. It's what they do on a daily basis. I love this industry because it's one of the few in which the B.S. doesn't fly. These guy's know that talking about a problem or pointing the finger doesn't get the job done. They let their work do the talking for them. They are also quite independent, and this will probably be their downfall. They are usually quite conservative and don't believe government can solve their problems. Unfortunately government is the cause of their problems. If herded together under the watchful eye of a good shepherd they could really turn the industry around and start to solve it's problems. 90% of the industry is small companies under 50 employees and most are under 10. They don't want protectionist measures, just a level playing field. They'll never have the numbers or money to get things done in Washington. Who will be their shepherds?

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Michigan Manufacturing hardest hit and hardest Spun

I was watching the evening news today, (a daily ritual) and saw a few items of interest. First thing that caught my attention was the local station had a story about a report that Michigan manufacturing losing the most jobs in the nation since 2000. Well, we may be king but our neighboring states in the Great Lakes Region aren't doing much better. This article in the Detroit News basically mirrors the report. Job study: Mich. hit hardest - 07/27/06 - The Detroit News Online The TV report had an interview with one of the local mold shops in Flint, Mi. Schmalt Tool and Die. President. Laurie Moncrief went on to make a few good points. One was that for every manufacturing job loss there were about 4 others in other industries that were lost because of this. I'm not sure if this is true or not. The Michigan Economic Development commission in this area is always pointing out that for every manufacturing job created, their are approximately 3.5 jobs created. The part I'm not sure about is if the inverse is also true. The MEDC is always stating how many jobs they have created or retained. Most of these seem to be of the Walmart variety, as I see it. I guess a point could be made that any job that is still here is "a retained job" although I don't know how you would go about quantifying that. They seem to be more interested in press conferences with large organizations rather than helping the small manufacturer create jobs. They keep reminding us that more jobs are created by small companies than large corporations, but do little to help them. Michigan has some of the highest unemployment in the country, yet they still go out tooting their own horn on job creation. Ms. Moncrief claims to be a small tool and die company. Again 30-40 employees and 4 million in sales isn't my definition of small, but that is debatable. The fact that they are looking to outsource their design work to India doesn't fair well for her either. I travel in the same circles as these people and frequently run into them at different affairs. I'm always amazed how their able to spin the truth to their advantage. Of course President Bush is quite good at this also. Here's a link to his news conference with the National Association of Manufacturers today.President Addresses the National Association of Manufacturers Of course he only emphasizes the positive. No mention of Michigan, other than the President of NAM is the former governor of Michigan, John Engler.
Being an election year for governor in Michigan, there are many out there pointing their fingers at why Michigan is in such bad shape. Governor Granholm blames Bush, of course. I remember when she was elected how she was the darling of the Democratic Party. If it wasn't for the fact she was born in Canada, she could be President of the US. Now she is barley holding on to her job, and is tied in the polls with Dick Devos. I guess we can look forward to much spin in the next few months in Michigan. The facts are still bad in Michigan no matter how you spin them. A trip down any residential area will open your eyes. The number of homes for sale has to be a record. It seems like every other home is for sale. I have a few friends in the Real Estate business, they're contantly complaining how bad the market is. Well it's not for the fact that there isn't any real estate to sell! I've been looking to purchase a home lately. I can tell you that if the prices come into realm of reality, these houses will sell. Of course a sudden boom in economic development would help also, but I don't see that happening anytime soon.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

The truth about patents. Do I really need one?

I came across this article and thought I'd link it to my site where I have more links and information for inventors.

patents - the truth about - small and home-based business tips - Bizine.Com

In my earlier post on my blog I also disscussed how patents are being stolen from the US patent database from foreign countries.

Monday, July 17, 2006

US Toolmakers need start training now before it's too late!

Big shortages are expected in the toolmaking fields, Tool and Die, Mold Making, etc. The average age of toolmakers is about 60 years old in the industry right now. Michigan the state that employs the largest number of these workers employs about 16,000. That's down about a third from what it was a few years ago due to globalization and the recent recession. The country as a whole is down about 25%. The number of workers right now isn't expected to rise dramatically over the next 10 years or so, but the number of people retiring from the field will be immense. The exodus has started as worker take early retirement and buyout packages. This threatens the industry far more than competition from China or anywhere else. The number of apprentices graduating are about 250 a year in Michigan. Nowhere near the future demand that will be created. Parts of the country have already seen wages top $30/hour with the average being about $25 for a Tool and Die Maker for the rest of the country. Michigan has been able to keep theirs to about $20 due to it's lagging economy but that to is showing signs that it is finally turning the corner.
The industry suffers from alot of bad press due to the downturn in manufacturing and the false assumption that these jobs are old economy. The industry has changed tremendously in the last few years due to economic pressures. Gone are the days of dank and dirty sweat shops, replaced by high tech and advanced manufacturing run by computers and high speed machining.
Many small shops decided to quit training and ended their apprenticeship programs because of large corporate customers were raiding their programs of their 2nd, 3rd year and recent card carrying apprentices.
I have linked to an article in Moldmaking Technology that shows that a career in toolmaking to be a far better return on investment than a four year liberal Arts Degree.
The industry better start training these future employees now because it is not an overnight process. The typical apprenticeship takes 8 years of on the job training or 4 years with 2000 hrs of classroom instruction.

Education/Training - Forty to 200 Percent ROI on Training - 03/06

Is the tide turning on outsourcing and China Molds?

I just got my issue of Injection Molding Magazine in the mail this morning. I thumb through it quickly before sending into the round file nearly every month. In the summer month many of the trade journal and trade groups either don't publish or meet until fall. Many put out out their Buyers guides which are easy for them to publish or combine several issues into one. I'm sure people can find better things to do with their time than read trade journals.
The Injection molding mag was quite thin as to be expected a few things caught my eye this month.
The editor note was The few, the skilled..The fewer. I will be making a post here in the future to give my view on the shortage of skilled labor.
Next was the business forecast, things are looking up. These magazines are typically quite bad at forecasting, every month they're predicting an upturn, and the data by the time it gets to you is fairly old. Looks like the last 5 years have been flat for plastic part production. These magazine are typically supported by equipment manufacturers and if they can convince you the tide is about to turn you may be more inclined to purchase some new equipment.
One of the articles that caught my eye and I did agree with was, Right-shoring designs.The jest is that companies are going off shore because of lower labor costs and it appears to be the "hip" thing to do and they might get a "paid" vacation from it. That many of these products don't have to go countries with the lowest labor rate, they can use technology to eliminate the manual labor and keep jobs here manufacturing the machines. Bravo!! I touched on this in my last post, in this case eliminating jobs low skilled jobs..creates jobs high skilled jobs.
The only other article of worthy mention was the titled "You get what you pay for" an article about how Chinese molds are built with inferior materials and that an affordable alternative might be high grade aluminum molds built here in the US for production. One thing the author should have mentioned is due to the lack of an aircraft industry in China that aluminum molds rare in china. Like most thing I will take a change in the way of thinking about production molds, I agree with many of his premises though.
I was surprised in this issue that they were so many articles slamming Chinese molds and outsourcing. This magazine has been supporting offshoring and is usually highlighting some foreign mold manufacturer or molder in their spotlight section. I suppose you just have to follow the money, All the advertisers in the back of the mag are Asian moldbilders. Maybe the tide is turning after all. Too bad it is hapening during summer and most will never see it.

China Mold SPAM, The real cost of foreign molds

Today I open my email to find several emails from Chinese mold shop trying to let them quote work from me. It's a daily chore deleting all theses mails. They seem to know how to get past my spam blockers easy enough. I recently checked my web log to find that about half the hits on my website are from China. One thing I noticed was that it's always a female sending me this mail. I assumed this was just a ploy and was probably a male pretending to be a female to entice US businessmen. A colleague of mine assured me that these were actually females sending me this stuff. They are cheap to employ and the emails were basically free to send. He also commented that it's probably working for them or else they wouldn't continue.
When I started my business about ten years ago I sent out a few emails to announce my new company. I received some replys back stating they would never give me any work and to stop sending them this spam. You know they never have sent me any work. I think I was penalized for this and learned my lesson. I never again was going to send unsolicited emails to prospective customers. It's bad enough that most of the mold work is going to china. I've made good money fixing that junk. I just wish that my customers would learn the real cost of Chinese Molds. I think if they added up all the costs their probably not saving as much as they think. The bean counters only see the quote in front of them. Not the transportation cost, the cost of trips to china or foreign agents to baby sit their products, the communication costs, the quality and rework issues, the intellectual property that is stolen from them. I suppose the fact that they are supporting the Chinese military doesn't bother them, nor the hundreds of thousands of jobs it's cost the manufacturing industry.
I think I can compete with just about anyone in this trade. If there's one good thing can be said is, it's forced my company to invest in new technology and become much leaner. We do the same amount of work we did 5 years ago but employ about a quarter of the workers.
I just wish the playing field was a little more level. Currency manipulation and government subsidies are just not playing by the rules.
I recently read an article in Forbes magazine about the MYFIP worm that was raiding computers from US corporations looking for CAD files to steal companies intellectual property. They weren't even disguising the fact that the information was going back to China. In an earlier post I wrote about how the Chinese and Korean governments are raiding the US patent office for patents to claim as their own.
I'm hoping someday that Corporate America will wise up, but I have little faith in them anymore. When I try to show them that the real cost of getting their product manufactured overseas and how we are competitive. They always tell me their hands are tied and they have been told to source work overseas. I've been told many times that if I don't have overseas manufacturing not to bother quoting a particular job. I know we can compete if given the chance but the chances are becoming fewer and fewer.
Low cost labor is a great enticements to these corporations but more and more labor costs are being driven out of manufacturing due to increased technologies. The American way has always been to work smarter not harder.
A friend of mine makes processing equipment. He's doing quite well selling to the Chinese. His equipment is quite automated and he sell to US companies also. When he produces a machine for the foreign markets he is told by his customer to strip off all the automation they can. They would rather employ their people than benefit from the advances in technologies. I'm sure if he could run the machine but hooking it up to a giant treadmill where a hundred people could run on it they would buy it.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Me in the eyes of goggle, my cyberspace adventure

The several months ago I thought I'd "goggle myself "or actually my company name in goggle. I do this once and a while to see if anyone really knows I'm out there. To my surprise I had been literally wiped off the Google world. I decided to try this on some other search engines, like Yahoo, MSN etc. I found myself quite easily, and even found myself by typing in a few words that I thought some prospective customers might find me by. I was surprised that I was listed near the top on some of these searches. I mean, the competition is fierce for someone in my industry and I've really never spent any money promoting my online presence.
Maybe I should consider it.... I've done a bit of business online, I don't sell anything on my site it's just informational stuff about my business. It's on some free space that came with my AOL account, I built the site myself and it's far from professional. I've had some people download me prints to quote and stumble onto my site that's led to some work. For what I have into it I can't complain.
So here I go with the complaining.... I've "Googled" my company before and always found it. Why is Google punishing me? Have I done something wrong? Am I just a small fish in a big pond? Am I not worthy anymore of the great Google?
I figured I better do a little research to find out what's going on. Well... I guess the online world has changed a bit since I put up my site several years ago. The first thing I did was to e-mail them. Not really expecting an answer I was surprised to find a response in my email. Turn out it was just a form letter. I'm sure they get lots of these requests. At least it directed me to their site where I might find some answers.
Well the first thing I found out was there are theses Robots or spiders I think their called. These scan the internet jumping from site to site though the links on the site sucking up and indexing all the information. I was to check for bad links to make sure I was not being penalized for being out of date. I did find some bad ones so I eliminated them. They also suggested I check my Page ranking. I downloaded some software and found out I had a ranking of 3 out of 10. Not great, but I wasn't trying to be the best site on the web, just included in the web. It turn out that these spiders have become very intelligent. When they scan your site they are looking for keywords to make sure your site is relevant or worthy of google. It turns out that people have learned to trick these robots and the robots have responded by getting smarter. They work on a formula that the call an algorithm. I also added a counter and updated the site a bit. I reapplied for submission and waited. A few weeks went by and I tried it again. Still no Mark Mold and Engineering on Google. I checked my ranking and to my surprise I was now a zero. I have made thing worse.
Back to the drawing table. I did a little more research and made a few more changes added a sitemap so the robots could navigate my site easier. I check out who was linking to me, I guess spiders like to see that people have linked to your site. When I did this before I found a hundred site or so linking. Now I have 3. I guess it's not only the sites that link to you but their ranking that goes into the equation, also the ranking of the sites that you link to play a part. I checked the ranking of the site I linked to, didn't figure I could do anything about the sites that linked to me. I dumped a few good sites but they didn't rank so they had to go. I kept a few that I though were important, if they penalize me I didn't care. I was already penalized. Waited a few more weeks for the robot to visit. Still no luck.
My guess is that Google has implemented this Adwords program where you pay for these keywords. When someone looks up your site using these words you have to pay them an amount of money that specify though a biding process. I wasn't interested in that. I figured that google tighten up their algorithm so they could make some money buy making people pay to get hits. I gave up on the process after many more changes and tries.
Several months have passed and I keep checking once in awhile but with not much luck. The Governor of the State of Michigan was on the News the other day and announced that Google has decided to bring a 1000 jobs to Michigan because of their new Adwords program. I guess Google is making plenty of money by tweaking their search engine. It's an election year and Governor Granholm wasn't going to miss an opportunity to get her mug infront of the Camera saying how she created some jobs. Unfortunately Michigan is still dead last in the country in job creation and has one of the highest unemployment rates.
I wrote a scathing article about Google the other day in one of the newsgroups, I figured they couldn't punish me more than they already have.
I just Google my company again. Guess what? It's back on their index. It still has a zero page rank and is about as far down the list as you can get, but at least if you type in Mark Mold you can find my site.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Tool and Die Industry woes.

The facts are staggering and the future doesn't appear to be so bright for the Tool and Die Industry. In the last 5 years over 25% of the industries toolmakers have disappeared. In Michigan, the state that employs the largest number of these workers (about 30% of the nations tool and die makers) nearly 1/3 have vanished and expected to rise to 50% with a few years. With an unemployment rate near double the national average, Michigan is the barometer that manufacturing industry must watch.
Many factors are to blame, increased productivity due to advances in technology and outsourcing due to the global economy are the two biggest to get the blame..

Friday, July 14, 2006

Overseas Manufacturing/Patent stealing

Check out this Report to the Federal Government.

China and American Inventors -- Selected Consequences of Proposed U.S. Patent

I draw serveral conclusions from this.

1. That the Patent Reform that they speak of probably isn't nessesary.
2. That Patent theft is rare in the US and when it does happen there's a good chance your going to get paid anyways.
3. By applying for a patent your probably setting yourself up for foriegn competititon. It appears the real theft, is happening right under our noses, from foreign countries from the US patent data base.
4. I believe their is a case to be made that the foreign governments are sponsoring this.
5. Probably the best way to find a knock-off product next to yours on the shelf (probably selling for alot less) is to have your product manufactured overseas.


I've created this blog to discuss the prototyping and the injection mold process such as protoype methods, rapid protoyping and prototype building Somethings, covered here would be inventor and prototyping issues. The patent process, provisional patents and non disclosure agreements. Many thing can be found at my website
I can also be reached at my e-mail