Avoid molders who rely on tribal knowledge
Experience is a valuable asset in life. But if it’s the only source for decision-making in plastic injection molding, it can become a major liability.
So why should an OEM care how a supplier works internally as long as the parts get made? In reality, the way your injection molder gathers and manages knowledge can impact whether or not the parts they produce meet your quality, timing and pricing expectations in the long term.
The idea behind robust knowledge management in an injection molding operation is simple: No single person holds all the information about a customer, project or process. That data needs to be centrally located in a format that everyone can utilize, rather than “stored” in people’s heads or in siloed spreadsheets or notebooks. Finally, knowledge must be built on data, not assumptions. Tribal knowledge – based on experience and gut feel – has no place in a sophisticated injection molding operation.
Stringent knowledge management is an excellent business practice because it allows New Berlin Plastics to continue smooth operations regardless of the presence or absence of any one person. At other companies, if a single person “owns” the knowledge base and customer relationship and he or she leaves the company, it could put projects into a state of chaos.
“Although an OEM may not see the panic and scrambling happening at a molder’s office, it will ultimately become their problem when they start receiving bad parts, experiencing delivery delays and budget overruns,” points out Joseph Mechery, Vice President of Sales.
To prevent this from happening at New Berlin Plastics, knowledge management is woven into the company culture as an important element of its scientific injection molding methodology and business practices. But it’s not enough to just collect reams of data. Data-driven decision-making is only helpful for future projects if it’s available for everyone to access.
“Through proper knowledge management, we have constant checks and balances in place to make sure no one individual is the sole holder of important information for any project or client,” notes Jim Schneberger, president of New Berlin Plastics. “There should never be a holdup or program problem if one member of the team isn’t present.”
An additional aspect of knowledge management involves working cross-functionally within the company, so all teams are connected and have input throughout the project launch process.
“We maintain communication among all members of the team so there’s no disconnect,” Mechery says. “Engineers collaborate on tooling design, as well as those responsible for processing. There’s a continuity of effort to ensure we’re optimizing the entire process from design to production. We look at the total needs of the customer and work to create the best solution as a group. There are no silos here,” he emphasizes.
To ensure information is shared and properly recorded, teams conduct weekly meetings to review all current projects. This gives everyone an update on the status and enables structured input from all operational areas, including quality engineering, project engineering, purchasing, production, sales, process engineering and executive leadership.
The project launch process is managed by New Berlin Plastics’ proprietary LaunchLogic software, which streamlines project management and provides a single location to manage information. It ensures that each project stays on schedule, customers receive weekly progress reports and the right people are involved in the conversation. This ensures accountability and maintains project visibility.
Each customer is assigned a sales contact, customer service representative, project engineer, quality engineer and sales analyst. This team stays consistent throughout their tenure as a customer and is detailed on their project progress reports.
“We always want customers to understand that this is a team effort, not just run by one person,” Mechery points out. “They are aware of all the relevant team members contributing to a project. If an OEM quality engineer wants to talk to his peer on our team, they know who to call.”
At the end of every program, the cross-functional team conducts a review to see what can be learned for continuous improvement. All details about the project are saved in the company’s knowledge management system for later reference by any team member.
The bottom line
So why does New Berlin Plastics think it’s worthwhile to put in the extra time and investment in knowledge management systems and cross-functional internal meetings?
The answer is simple: it makes good business sense.
“We’re doing everything we can to prevent risk to the customer – so parts are on time and on budget every time,” Schneberger concludes. “There are no surprises. The quality of effort we put into our project management is of paramount importance to our success. It’s a big part of why OEMs choose to partner with us.”