Toolmaking sector a key manufacturing component
The last few articles highlighted the important role of designers and the necessity to develop the capability and skills in prototyping and rapid tooling technology in order to enhance product competitiveness of the local automotive industry. The support from the moulds and dies sector is equally important to ensure that efficient mass production of the parts and components being designed is achieved. NAP 2014 is giving special attention to further enhance the moulds and dies sector capable of supporting automotive manufacturing. The tool-making industry, regarded by many industrialists as the “mother of all industries” plays a strategic role in ensuring competitiveness and sustainability in many key industrial sectors such as aeronautics, electronics, packaging, house appliances, rubber and most importantly, the automotive sector. Moulds are tools for the production of plastic parts while dies are used for shaping sheet metal. Liquid metals such as aluminium alloys are shaped into components through die-casting, while jigs and fixture are tools for holding of components during machining, assembling and testing. Fabricating all these tools are recognised as “tool-making” and the specialists are “toolmakers”. The efficient supply of parts and components to the finished goods assemblers or the original equipment manufacturers depend on the tooling quality made for mass production. The success of moulded plastic parts, as an example, derives from the capability of designing, engineering and the right tools (moulds) in their manufacturing processes. Optimum dimensional stability, excellent thermal conductivity, hard, tough and the ability to withstand compressive stress are characteristics of high-quality tools. Tools that are able to produce parts with consistently high accuracy and finishing quality are prerequisites for cost-effectiveness and the industry’s competitive advantage. Apart from the precision machining processes during tool fabrication, the quality characteristics of tools are attained by employing the right tool materials and the heat-treatment process before final assembly. Some 240 toolmakers are now operating locally and are members of the Malaysia Moulds and Dies Association. They are involved in the fabrication of various types of tools for the manufacturing industry. It is reported that some 20 of these toolmakers specialise in making moulds and dies for the local automotive sector. About 800 moulds and almost a similar number of dies are required for the production of all the parts and components in every new vehicle model introduction. These moulds and dies, numbering more than 1,500 sets, are required to be completed within the timeframe set for pre-production and mass production of the vehicles. It is a challenging task for the toolmakers, vendors and vehicle assemblers alike to meet the launching dateline of the new model. Local toolmakers, however, are currently only able to fabricate small- to middle-sized tools, which further aggravates the challenges faced by local automotive players in reducing manufacturing costs. Initiatives towards enhancing the capability to produce larger moulds and dies locally are ongoing but the inability of local foundries to supply the larger casted mould bases and dies sets remains a hindrance. Shortage of highly skilled machinists and experienced tools design engineers, prerequisites for tool-making, are among the setbacks in the industry. Tool-making technicians and engineers are highly paid and highly recognised skilled workforce in the automotive industry of developed nations. Industry-driven tool-making exposure and skill training among the younger generation are therefore essential to produce respected tool-makers for the nation.