Mold Shop Cures the “Curse of Knowledge”

In this Webinar from Cimatron and MoldMaking Technology magazine, mold supplier Industrial Mold & Machine describes how it handled what shop management termed the “curse of knowledge” among its production employees.

That curse relates to the difficulty of conveying skilled expertise. In a mold shop, the experts have so much expertise that they forget how much they know. Meanwhile, the apprentices don’t know how much they still have to learn. In between are the employees in their 30s and 40s­—a group that is practically a lost generation in manufacturing, because so few skilled manufacturing employees are in this age range.
Industrial Mold & Machine describes the unusual steps they have taken to ensure knowledge transfer from the experts to the apprentices. The shop created a social-media-based knowledge sharing system that is effectively a Facebook for the shop’s jobs. Files and information exported from Cimatron software can be easily viewed and shared within the system via iPads used by shopfloor employees.

Learn much more by listening to their presentation here.


By: Peter Zelinski, Copyright © Gardner Business Media

iPads Give IMM Leg Up on Technology

iPads Give IMM Leg Up on Technology

By: Rhoda Miel
Published: October 22, 2012

Good mold making has always been a craft of technology and precision. Now it’s increasingly a combination of that craft, and knowledge, along with digital data and new ways to drive that information through the tool shop.
“The old adage was measure twice, cut once. Now it’s plan and design twice and then program once,” said Jeff Mengel, a partner with consulting group Plante & Moran PLLC of Chicago. “You’re seeing a lot more tools built directly to math data. Having that data accurate so the individuals can plug in that information and machine with some confidence really enables the speed of the mold to get through the shop fast.”

And speed is the competitive watchword for North American toolmakers who have learned to use technology and lights-out manufacturing to compete with low-cost mold makers half a world away.

Those capabilities also are moving across the tooling industry. Technology that was once limited to large shops employing more than 100 people now are cost competitive and show up in shops with 10 or 12 workers. Wireless connections are allowing firms better access to information.

“Everyone’s networked, where it used to be that everything was hard-wired,” said Dave Lange, sales director for DME Co., a Madison Heights, Mich.-based tooling components supplier. “The flow of information is speedy and much more accessible.”

Technology is only as good as the planning that goes into using it, Mengel pointed out. Too many shops spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on the latest automated production machine, only to see work back up elsewhere in the shop.

“Keeping the equipment busy isn’t as important as getting the tool through faster,” he said. “Wait time is still the biggest issue for a tool shop. It’s not 10 minutes here or 20 minutes there, it’s four hours here and eight hours there. If I’m comparing myself to a Chinese shop running 22 hours a day, that’s a big issue.”

Twinsburg, Ohio-based Industrial Mold & Machine has focused on communication to improve production flow, finding answers from an unexpected tech device — the iPad.

IMM had already launched an in-house “wiki,” using a cloud-based computer network, allowing its people to readily access needed information about their ongoing projects, said Wendy Wloszek. At that point, workers accessed the data from the computers at their desks. It was not readily available from the production floor.

Once they had iPads, the CNC operators could get that product information from anywhere on the shop floor. It became a new way to access and share real-time data, she said.

It quickly became apparent that the iPads could become a strong lean management tool, and IMM bought more. It now has about 40 of them, nearly one for every employee. Workers still must put in a request for an iPad, but the value is seen throughout the production floor.

A typical employee can check the work schedule from home over coffee, know what will be happening from the moment he walks in the door, Wloszek said. When a mold is finished in one machine, the operator quickly notes that.

“They’re communicating in real time to the entire system that the project is done,” she said. “I don’t have to wait until they walk over to a kiosk when they have time and enter it.”

That updated information now appears on the electric discharge machining schedule and shows up on the programmer’s schedule. Industrial Mold’s polishers just requested iPads so they could use them to better track when molds would be headed to their workstation.

“We’re able to adapt without needing to bring everybody into a huddle,” she said.

IMM recently had one project page on its wiki edited 180 times to reflect every moment and adjustment as the tool traveled from pre-production design, to the arrival of the steel in the shop and finally when it was completed.

“It used to be that when we had a question come up about how we handled some project in the past, I’d have to say: ‘Well, I know how we planned it,’” she said. Now the company can call up the project’s history and see exactly how every issue was addressed.

For experienced toolmakers, the iPad and wiki combination provides them with a place to share their knowledge about how long a piece will spend at each step of production. For newer employees, it provides information about the setup on every machine, and why Industrial Mold uses that setup.

Now, rather than stepping away from the machine to hunt down information or worry about interrupting a more seasoned mold maker — or worse, just assuming they remember correctly — a younger toolmaker simply checks the information at his fingertips.

The iPads are not just a workplace tool locked away at the office. Industrial Mold encourages its workers to take them home, play with them, load music and movies on them so that workers are comfortable with using them. A game of Angry Birds could help a more experienced worker get the feel of rotating around a 3-D diagram of a tool back on the shop floor.

If a shop owner trusts workers with a half-million-dollar piece of equipment, they should be able to trust them with a communication tool.

Even as the tablets and wiki are aiding production at IMM today, Wloszek said the company is also trying to determine more ways to use the data being generated by real-time feedback to best help the company bid on future projects.

Toolmakers are not the only firms trying best to harness the data revolution. AST Technology GmbH — part of Progressive Components International Corp. of Wauconda, Ill. — makes the CVe monitoring system that molders and mold makers can place within the tool to determine the optimum time for cleaning and maintaining the molds.

That already provides good production information to keep tools running smoothly, said Tom Knight, an AST system monitoring development engineer.

The information CVe systems are collecting could take production improvements even further as developers and users dig into the data stream.

“There’s some high-end analytical and predictive tools to look forward to and determine what happens next,” Knight said. “If you’re not using technology, you’re not going to be competitive long term.”

Other tablets and smartphones are also changing communication between toolmakers, their suppliers and their customers, DME’s Lange noted. Videoconferencing that was once limited to large firms is now at the fingertips of mold makers who have face-to-face communication systems built into their phones.

Questions about how a tool is progressing can include a quick video shot on a smartphone that is emailed directly to the customer, or even live video streams from the floor at minimal costs.

DME is weighing the best way to use new technology to connect and communicate with its customers, Lange said. He expects mold makers will only continue to adapt, especially as younger people move up in companies.

“You’ve definitely got two communities,” he said. “The community that is more comfortable with technology is going to help their organizations move forward with both technology and communications.”

Entire contents copyright 2012 by Crain Communications Inc. All rights reserved.

Manufacturing and Supply Chain

Manufacturing and Supply Chain

Published: August 24, 2012

Social media vendors are leading the charge to break down communication barriers and enhance the flow of knowledge throughout the workplace, regardless of business function or geographic boundaries. By enabling social software initiatives that span across departments, markets and businesses globally, they have obtained a strong sense of how effective collaboration tools can alleviate many of the common problems related to communications and workflows in every business.


The leading social media technology vendors provide platforms that are able to cater to each customer’s unique needs for business productivity, employee engagement, customer service, collaboration, social connection (both internally and externally) document management and project management. The real-time information the system provides is used for decision support.


In the case of social manufacturing and social supply chain, organizations are trying to find a way to adopt this technology to benefit and ease often-disjointed collaboration between departments, trading partners, customers and suppliers. This also leads to miscommunication of information and processes between departments and trading partners which can create costly errors or time delays. Social media technology is bridging the gap for internal and external uses that were not available before. The use of this technology and now the addition of mobile capabilities have catapulted organizations to look to non-traditional software vendors for help in facilitating collaboration, decreasing cycle times, reducing errors and even scheduling of resources.


The convergence of technologies and areas in which now comprise the Social Business software category has recently exploded to incorporate many functions that were often separate systems that did not talk to each other at all, causing information silos and communication breakdowns. The social business category has consolidated several system types such as CRM, PLM, document and content management, partner portals, project management, scheduling, customer service and HCM. These system types are rapidly evolving and as organizations find more uses, the category will continue to expand going forward and creating it will include several more categories going forward to create a new social platform. Open API’s, integrated capable workflow engines and easy systems integration enables organizations to leverage their current IT investments and share data among many systems. Many social software vendors now can aggregate many feeds, data types and databases for ETL purposes thereby collaborating to include ERP data for accurate and transparent information dissemination. Social software has evolved so quickly workflows and business process integration can reside within the social software to further leverage existing systems by consolidating the data to make it readily available and convenient for customers to use.


Social software now serves many functions and can provide the organization a platform to enable multiple business tasks and operations from one system. The use of mobile has further increased the capabilities of social software to provide a flexible framework that capitalizes on social technology collaboration even at the shop floor level.


The case study below is from Socialtext which highlights how a manufacturing company not only decreased cycle times, saved money, increased collaboration and assisted with scheduling of resources. This is where social technology was applied to a non-traditional environment (manufacturing) of which the results speak for themselves.


One of our greatest success stories comes from custom mold and manufacturing leader,Industrial Mold and Machine(IMM). They have been leveraging Socialtext not only to address their core communication issues, but also to improve manufacturing processes on the production floor. IMM implemented Socialtext as a way to share information from order to production, in essence uniting front and back offices with unified information. Additionally, IMM uses iPads, which are provided to all of their mold makers on the production floor to tie order details to the manufacturing process. Leveraging Socialtext on the iPads, enables IMM to smooth and accelerate the production process, which typically is a dynamic one, with the need to react and implement changes in real-time. With Socialtext, those changes are communicated, recorded and centralized for future learning and innovation.


This sheds light on and supports the perception that social collaboration works beyond the standard knowledge worker use case. Lawrence Housel, IMM’s Head of IT and the person responsible for implementing Socialtext internally, feels the biggest effectsocial softwarehas on the manufacturing industry is the way it supports and expands teamwork:


“Manufacturing is done by a group of people working together, passing information and material back and forth. When manufacturing organizations are focused properly and executing in unison they are capable of unprecedented production. This type of “in the zone” manufacturing can occur in any successful company, but social software helps make it a more consistent and repeatable circumstance.”


One of the challenges for IMM was keeping IT simple for their employees of all levels and ages, enabling apprentices to connect with experienced leaders and facilitate teamwork with digital collaboration. The Socialtext platform provides the infrastructure for IMM to train the next generation of apprentices, which is nothing short of imperative in this line of work.


According to President Wendy Wloszek:

Collaboration is how you turn an underperforming employee into a companies’ asset, creating a system where everyone can be a winner within. We always try to view the uninformed or unskilled as a challenge to create an environment where they can be successful. Converting the expertise of industry veterans into information that can be redistributed to others in need of it has been area that we have had success since implementing Socialtext.


IMM quickly realized the return on investment with Socialtext and has obtained significant measurable results, in fact they have seen a 20% increase in “cut time” with a 40% decrease in labor hours. Industrial Mold is almost 100% mobile, incorporating the use of iPads on the production floor. Combining the mobility of the iPad with the information and collaboration Socialtext provides, has transformed their business and enabled them to successfully recruit a new crop of apprentices in a very tough labor market.


While all industries alike can benefit from sharing knowledge throughout employment ranks, it is wonderful to see the industrial sector and companies like IMM realize the benefits of social technologies, even on the shop floor. Socialtext emphasizes keeping it simple yet effective, and through this approach has strived to provide businesses like IMM with the social tools to achieve success and continue molding the future of social collaboration.


Social business is rapidly evolving and redefining this software category daily. Larger companies using Salesforce with Chatter can attest the to the collaboration aspect gained in manufacturing and customer service. This new exciting software category has changed significantly changed even within the last year to include several new social aspects and system unification strategies. Social business software has come of age and will change traditional system classifications by combining several disciplines.


About Socialtext: Socialtext accelerates business performance by making it easier for employees to find the colleagues and information they need to solve challenges new and old. By simplifying people’s ability to share expertise, ideas and corporate data, Socialtext removes knowledge silos that have traditionally hampered companies’ ability to respond to change and serve customers efficiently. With Socialtext, people collaborate openly around key business processes in a secure, internal environment, and work together to drive new business opportunities.


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Bridge the Shop and Office Communication Gap

Bridge the Shop and Office Communication Gap

Published: January 31, 2012

An Ohio manufacturer becomes an example to the industry, connecting shop workers to office workers in an innovative new way.

It sounds like a lot of manufacturing companies: Office workers at individual desks with up-to-date computers on one side of the wall. Shop floor workers on the other side with shared, old computers in just a few places. Plus the culture divide between them.

That was the situation at Industrial Mold & Machine in Twinsburg, Ohio, not long ago, according to a recent article on It changed when Larry Housel, knowledge and information manager, outfitted all 37 employees with iPads. Everyone now has constant access to e-mail and the company calendar, and can perform tasks like making vacation requests and getting work assignments – at their work stations or from break rooms.

Business users typically find the iPad is easy to use, carry and keep clean, is inexpensive relative to a laptop or desktop computer and has an intuitive interface that appeals to employees who may not regularly use computers. According to the article, a user group meets regularly to discuss how employees are using the iPad and any applications they think the company might use. For example, one app allows drivers to sign electronic forms when they have picked up or dropped off a shipment. That signals to the office that a supply chain transaction is complete. The user group also lets Housel know when people find an app harder to use than he anticipated.

The company’s use of iPads to tie disparate employee groups together represents a new effort to use technology to bridge the communication gap. Many other companies have made inroads by outfitting shop or offsite workers with smart phones. Now, tablet computers can equalize the type of information available to both desk-based and machine- or truck-based employees.

IMM Plant Tour

IMM Plant Tour Workshop Tops the Charts

Published: January 31,2012

Over 45 moldmaking professionals met in Twinsburg, OH , on November 10th to explore the inventive ways Industrial Mold & Machine (IMM) uses 21st century technology and advancements in social media to engage the next generation workforce. As part of the Plant Workshop Series from the American Mold Builders Association (AMBA), Rolling Meadows, IL , the workshop at IMM gave participants an eye-opening look at how the goal of “instant information” works on the production floor.  Titled “Innovative Knowledge Management Systems – How Productivity, Quality and Customer Service Improve when Everyone is on the Same (iPad) Page”, the IMM tour demonstrated how sales staff, CNC machinists, programmers and seven apprentices utilize 19 iPads (and still counting) to access a social network created by IMM. The network, dubbed IMM Connect, contains everything from employee handbooks and MSDS sheets to logout/tagout information and details about each job that runs within the shop. Employees use iPads from wherever they are to log into IMM’s social network and view current jobs running on the production floor or to prepare for the next job. Each job has its own page on the network, containing the steps that need to be taken to produce that piece, detail drawings in both 2D and 3D and programming sheets. 

After the tour, critical cross-talk occurred between IMM staff and tour participants, providing the opportunity for best practices exchange between industry peers. According to IMM President Wendy Wloszek, “IMM continues to move forward to become a resource for others who want to move toward a technology-based workflow.” The next step is an interface that will allow IMM’s social network to pull data points from the company’s ERP system for clean and quick delivery of critical information. For Wloszek, iPads and social networks are part of a necessary culture shift. “The apprentices we have now – the people who will be the future of IMM – come from the technology generation,” said Wloszek. “We’re starting this now to prepare the company for the next generation workforce.”

Plastics Industry Shows Resilience

U.S. Plastics Industry Shows Resilience Over Last Five Years

By Tony Deligio
Published: December 15th, 2011

Even as the number of people employed by the plastics industry in the U.S. declined by roughly 24% from 2005 through 2010, the total value of shipments from the sector rose by nearly one billion dollars, climbing from $301.1 billion to $302 billion, a testament to greater processor efficiency via productivity gains.
That data and more from the Society of the Plastics Industry, which released the findings of two in-depth studies: one addressing the size and impact of the U.S. plastics industry and the other examining global business trends in the plastics industry.

Bill Carteaux, SPI president and CEO, and Michael Taylor, senior director of international trade, presented a sampling of the studies’ findings in a webcast, with Carteaux noting the resiliency of the U.S. plastics industry, which has recently benefitted from strong exports fueled by a weaker dollar and cost-advantaged resin produced from cheap, domestic natural gas.
In 2010, the U.S. plastics industry accounted for more than $341 billion dollars in annual shipments and directly employed more than 876,000 people in over 16,600 facilities, with representation in every state in the union. Overall employment in plastics is declining, however, with 192,132 fewer employees since 2005. Over that same time period, the number of establishments has also shrunk by 8%.
Overall plastics manufacturing employment has been flat since 1980, while the value of shipments has grown 2.4%/yr and productivity expanded by 2.3%. All manufacturing, however, has seen employment slip 1.6% over that same time, while real shipments and real value add grew by only .2% and .6%, respectively, and productivity expanded at a lower rate than plastics: 1.9%.
The rankings of the individual U.S. states in terms of employment changed little over the last five years, with the total number of plastics workers largely tied to each state’s population. Generally speaking, the Northeast and the Midwest gave some ground to the South, which has become a greater center of manufacturing in the U.S., driven in large part by the automotive industry.
In terms of plastics employment concentration, or the number of plastics workers/1000 non-farm employees, there were some big movers, with Alabama rising from 20th to 16th, Pennsylvania climbing from 15th to 11th, and Connecticut jumping from 24th to 15th.
The top 10 states in terms of plastics concentration go: Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin, Kentucky, South Carolina, Illinois, Tennessee, Rhode Island, and Iowa. (Ed. Note: Tomorrow PlasticsToday will review the data SPI presented on global trends for plastics, focused on trade flows).

Training Apprentices

 Training Apprentices Requires New Methods; Part I

By Clare Goldsberry
Published: November 8th, 2011

When John Sergot began his apprenticeship training in the late 1970s, it required five years and 10,000 hours (eight hours per day, five days per week) on the job. Some larger shops trained their apprentices by rotating them in 6-month shifts, with 6 months running a drill press then shift to 6 months running a milling machine, etc. The shop where Sergot worked started him out with blueprint reading and laying out locations of holes that needed to be drilled. The shop foreman would check the work to approve it before the apprentice was instructed on how to drill a hole.

Each Apprentice at Industrial Mold & Machine (Twinsurg, OH) is given an iPad to help them negotiate the company’s cloud-based internal social network and review training materials.

As the worker progressed, he was allowed to take on more responsibility by not requiring shop foreman approval on every step. If the shop foreman felt the worker grasped the function of the drill press, he introduced the worker to the next piece of equipment. There was no set time period or level of experience before progressing to the next level. The apprentice was introduced to new equipment based on the needs of the shop at the time. By the third year, students were into advanced tool design.

“It’s important to note that all of the classes in related theory did not include training in using the metric system in manufacturing,” he said. Sergot has seen the apprentice move from paper blueprints and solving problems long-hand to using calculators, computers, and CNC machining centers. Yet, he adds, “According to the websites of various industry trade associations like the AMBA and TMA, the system is basically unchanged. I believe this is a mistake, perhaps not only in the U.S. but in other countries as well. As anyone in the trade can tell you, if you can perform a tool making job with a high level of expertise you can find work virtually anywhere in the world.”

With the problems of finding skilled employees looming large in an industry in which the average age is somewhere nearing 50, most mold company owners have taken it upon themselves to develop apprenticeship programs that match the skills they need with the interests and abilities of today’s younger generation.

An iPad with your apprenticeship

Industrial Mold & Machine , a mold manufacturer in Twinsburg, OH, is doing some unique things to attract, train and retain a younger workforce. The company’s apprenticeship program is fast-paced and geared toward the social media generation. According to Wendy Wloszek, President, the company recently hired an apprenticeship facilitator, Meredith Crock, to oversee this program. “She’s currently going through the program herself to get a better understanding of what mold manufacturing is about,” says Wloszek.

Each apprentice spends 1-4 weeks in all the functional areas of mold manufacturing including CNC, EDM, mold polishing, mold design and mold assembly. Then based on the interest and skill sets of that apprentice, they got to a specific area such as EDM or CNC to learn that operation in a “deeper way” for a period of about 6 months.

Each apprentice is given an iPad so they can navigate the company’s internal social network, which is cloud-based. “The iPads are the delivery device for all the information about the company, the industry jargon, understanding molds and materials,” says Wloszek. “Meredith is our miner – she mines the company for information to build more training programs. For example, she developed a page about heat treated materials. The apprentices can get into our social network and can look up heat treating. We’ve included a lot of videos so they can see what the various processes are and how they are done.”

Identifying with that next generation workforce and learning to operate in their world is critical to the success of attracting, training and then retaining younger workers. “This is their world,” emphasizes Wloszek, explaining that previous apprentice candidates were teamed up with a journeyman mold maker 40 years older, “and these younger people got bored out of their minds. I told management that we’re not hiring any more young people until we find a way to train them in their way.”

Currently, Industrial Mold & Machine has nine apprentices out of a total workforce of 41. “Taking someone doing this for a long time – at first it was really hard – the experienced guys didn’t even know what to say or how to teach the young kids. Meredith is the translator. We had problem filling positions and this is our way of battling it.”

Sergot agrees. “The jobs of the future will come from technological advances we see in today’s world,” he says. “It has been feared in the past that new technology will eventually eliminate jobs and create widespread unemployment. Economists have seen this is not true. New technologies typically create far more jobs than they destroy. The new jobs are created at various skill levels, which is why our skilled workforce must continue to learn how to change. In a sense, they must look at their jobs with a sense of metamorphosis. We must take advantage of new opportunities presented by change and be willing to take the steps necessary to maintain a globally competitive edge.”


The View from 30 Feet

The View from 30 Feet: Industrial Mold & Machine’s iPads and Social Network

By: Plastics Business Magazine
Published: Fall 2012

Business gurus often talk about the view from 30,000 feet – the big
picture that provides a look at overall operations. Perhaps, however,
the focus should be on the view from 30 feet – a close-up of specific
processes and procedures that make an impact now.
When those involved in plastics processing talk about upgrading
technology, they often are replacing outdated machinery on the plant
floor. At Industrial Mold & Machine (IMM), Twinsburg, OH, technology
upgrades have put iPads in the hands of 19 employees and are changing
the way the company communicates.
“Instant information – that’s how we’ve branded our goal,” explained
Wendy Wloszek, president of IMM. With 37 employees and 19 iPads, that
goal is being met for sales staff, CNC machinists, programmers and
five apprentices who use the iPads to access a social network created
by IMM. The network, dubbed IMM Connect, contains everything from
employee handbooks and MSDS sheets to logout/tagout information and
details about each job that runs within the shop.
Employees use iPads from wherever they are to log into IMM’s social
network and view current jobs running on the production floor or to
prepare for the next job. Each job has its own page on the network,
containing the steps that need to be taken to produce that piece,
detail drawings in both 2D and 3D and programming sheets.
“We’re changing the workflow,” Wloszek said. “We’re trying to cut the
ties from printed sheets of paper and blueprints.” When asked if the
goal for IMM is to be completely paperless in the future, Wloszek
pointed to the overarching goal of instant information. “If you have
to go look for a print, you’re wasting time. Paperless is just a
result of instant information.”
Wloszek admitted that the journey hasn’t been seamless “There’s not a
huge resource to look at and see how others have done it,” she said.
However, IMM continues to move forward, becoming a resource for others
who want to move toward a technology-based workflow. The next step is
an interface that will allow IMM’s social network to pull data points
from the company’s ERP system for clean and quick delivery of critical
For Wloszek, iPads and social networks are part of a necessary culture
shift. “The apprentices we have now – the people who will be the
future of IMM – come from the technology generation,” said Wloszek.
“We’re starting this now to prepare the company for the next
generation workforce.”