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Mowing, Minor Leagues, and Molder Selection

Updated: Jul 6, 2021

Lawn mowing services

My son started selling lawn mowing services in our neighborhood.

He started by knocking on doors and asking for the work, leaving a hand written note if they were gone.

As he gained customers he learned about the value of time and tools:

Using a push mower, he had a finite number of yards that he could mow in a day.

But his overhead is low. So, his price is low.

As word begins to spread, he'll eventually saturate his free time.

Buying a riding mower would allow him to service 2X as many yards in half the time.

And because he can work faster, he can also add additional services like string trimming and weed spraying.

But his additional profits would go into repaying the capital expense.

This means the cost to do business would go up, leaving some low paying customers out in the cold.

If he stayed small, he would have a steady stream of price sensitive customers with low budgets.

If he grows, he'll start to attract the higher value clients.

The type of high paying clients that can't risk their high dollar Kentucky Bluegrass to just anyone with a rusty old push mower.

If that happens, he leaves a hole in the market for another young entrepreneur with a rusty push mower to serve the price sensitive clients with low budgets.

By improving his capability, he's moving from the AA to the AAA in the Minor Leagues.

If he sticks with it, he'll eventually move up to the Major Leagues.

…but what does that have to do with plastics?

In plastics engineering, we regularly run into molding vendors that are in different leagues.

I recommend finding a molding vendor that fits your needs and expectations.

Buying from a vendor above or below your level will lead to disappointment from mismatched expectations.

There's the budget molding shops that will crank out a tool and ship the first parts with no inspection.

Parts might be warped, dimensionally out of spec, or molded in the wrong material.

Many people immediately associate overseas molding with this class, but these types of molders are here in the states also.

These molders will accept any job (they can't afford not to).

There's the intermediate quick-turn molding shops, that do soft (aluminum) tooling and molding. ​

Protolabs and Xcentric are two big names in this space. Last I checked they were the #1 and #2 in the US for quick-turn molding.

These companies are perfect for low-mid volume.

Xcentric is more flexible in process than Protolabs, but I’ve been burned when Xcentric misses their delivery dates.

There's the professional molding shops that specialize in mid-volume manufacturing and custom, complex parts.

They're typically smaller shops, and will customize their offering to fit needs of the clients. They understand molding parameters, resin behavior, design limitations, and nuances of material shrinkage.

They are sometimes willing to grow with a customer, taking on new capabilities to help the customer succeed.

I like working with Comdel Innovation in Wahpeton, ND.

Then there's the professional high-volume molding houses.

They can confidently predict tool and part cost, but rarely customize their process to fit a customer need.

Your design should be fairly optimized before engaging with these vendors.

These companies are set up for production. Many do not even make their own tools.

Either you bring the mold, or they outsource it.

They make their money on resin markup, and processing labor not custom engineering.

How do I know which to choose?

If a startup approaches a high-volume molding company, it's unlikely they can afford their services.

It’s unlikely they have the sales volume to justify the high multi-cavity tooling expense.

They might receive a tooling cost that exceeds the valuation of the company!

If a startup approaches a small or mid-sized molding company, they’ll likely be successful.

The startup doesn’t yet have sales hinging on the successful delivery.

Any delivered product is good enough to start the sales engine.

As a product company grows and sales increase, the company becomes more risk-averse.

So they pay the cost of a larger, established company, trading $$ for consistency.

This sourcing strategy really applies to all manufacturing…

Find a company that fits your order volume, and plan to grow out of them eventually.

I’d love to help you navigate your design for manufacturing, and production strategy.

Let me help you get your idea off the drawing board and into the real world.

3D Modeling Quick Tips:

1. Solid modeling features are just surfacing tools in disguise.

If solid modeling toolset feels limiting, just DeleteFace to convert your solid into a set of surface bodies.

Then start surface modeling! Convert back to a solid using Knit / Thicken.

2. Model in Draft from the parting line by creating a 5mm ribbon surface on the opposite side from your part.

This ribbon surface can be deleted later, but it allows Loft and Filled surface to have a reference from which to calculate.

3. Thickness Analysis is your friend.

Before sending out injection-molding parts for quote, use Analysis Tools to find thick areas, and rib them out.

** Thickness is a problem in injection molded parts for many reasons, not limited to: sink, warp, cooling time, cycle time and increased resin usage.

Check out my article from last fall on SORRY the game piece exploration.

Have a great week!


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