Aalbers Tool & Mold possesses the best component division in the business, and that is what not only keeps existing clients but garners new ones as well. When last we spoke in 2015, the manufacturing company had reached into Mexico, and that venture has been so successful that it expanded, doubling the size and scope of operations. Much new equipment has been purchased, and growth is imminent. We spoke with President Toni Hansen.
The component division gives Aalbers a little bit of leverage as far as competitiveness. Other companies have these components for sale, but Aalbers has the advantage as it can make the quantities needed and store the rest. It does not overstock but keeps enough to cover anticipated orders.
“We have our bill of materials, and it will go to the floor, to manufacturing and to the purchasing department. Manufacturing will go through it first, and everything we have in stock will be used,” says Toni.
For example, if twenty parts are needed, then the crib that handles the components will be checked. If only fifteen are available, that will trigger the component department to manufacture the balance. When the fixture is set up, it will run thirty of them, take the five needed and put the remainder back on the shelf for next time. In this way there is not a huge cost for inventory storage, but Aalbers is prepared for the next order.
“If a customer has a problem and, for some reason, he broke a mold component, it will be on the shelf, and it can be shipped to him. This helps from a customer standpoint because they know that the components are always ready if needed,” says Toni.
The new part is sent to the customer with no real wait time other than shipping. This helps Aalbers to be competitive because it does not buy the component, it makes it. It has six people dedicated to components. Aalbers controls the tolerances and knows the components are of the highest quality, and the molds have a high tolerance as well. “Our pocket has a plus tolerance, and our component has a minus tolerance, so they automatically fit. We do expand that as well,” says Toni.
For new customers that want a component that is a little different from the standard components, the company will look at the volume the customer intends to send as far as the tooling package. It will then determine if the customer will be long-term and will expand as needed or get rid of some parts if the customer may no longer need certain pieces. It is a matter of constantly monitoring and adjusting.
This is a difficult market to judge. Five people will give five different answers on where the manufacturing, tooling and automotive industries are going. Some see a drastic downturn and others see the next five years as thriving.
“If I had a crystal ball to tell you exactly what was going to happen, I wouldn’t be talking to you; I would be on my own island somewhere. We benefit with a strong market and protect ourselves when it is weak,” says Toni. The current political atmosphere makes it particularly difficult to predict where the manufacturing industry will go, making flexibility a must.
The facility in Mexico has expanded to the next bay over and doubled the square footage from 8,500 to 17,000 square feet, opening more markets for Aalbers. Labour rates for the automotive sector in Mexico are low, but that does not apply to tool making. Still, the value received from the factory in Mexico is advantageous.
Because of the size of the market, there are not going to be enough of certain models of vehicles made in Mexico to cover all the part requirements. “If you are building a car in Mexico, and you need all the parts, sometimes two molds are required. One of my larger customers in Toronto will issue us a [request to] quote a package; they have plants in Mexico as well as Toronto so we will build two molds. One for Canada, and the other for Mexico. That is the market that has been opened in Mexico,” says Toni.
The new plant in Mexico opens so many opportunities, and customers understand that if a mold is being built in Mexico, there is a plant there to support it. It is due to the existence of that facility in Mexico that these large Tier ones and OEMs give Aalbers the opportunity to quote on packages that have dual tools. It is easy for Aalbers, as it only needs to build a second mold. Recently Aalbers finished a big package for a large OEM, with some of the tools going to Mexico and some to Virginia to run.
“Any molds we ship to Mexico, if they need service, maintenance or repairs, my team in Mexico can handle. I don’t have to go and find an outsource company to handle my molds. When molds go to the plants, you must support them with a toolmaker, program manager or polisher,” says Toni. Aalbers supports its tools.
Equipment has been upgraded with a second and third large electrical discharge machining (EDM). One of the older ones was sent to the Mexico as it still works very well and can be used for engineering changes and repairs. “The new Eagle machines were bought from Germany and are [computer numerical control] EDMs, with tool chargers on them that run unattended. They will even call you on a smartphone if the program is not working well. We replaced one, and I added another for capacity,” says Toni.
Aalbers also purchased a DMG Deckel Maho five-axis palletised machine. Other purchases include a Makino MCC from Japan, which replaced a roughing machine. “Now we can rough approximately three times faster than the old machine, and we also purchased another Deckel Maho for replacing boring mills. We have had these mills from 2000 to 2010. They are Kuraki boring mills one of the best brands on the market. We rebuilt them as they are very strong and reliable,” says Toni.
The older, slower equipment has been replaced with faster machines. However, some heavy-duty machines can still be used for roughing blocks out and have a long lifespan.
In this industry, finding qualified help is an issue as there are not a lot of young people who seem interested. The industry is very technical, and prospects must be sharp to succeed. “These are very high-end, high-tech machines, and you need to be very intelligent to run them and to become a toolmaker and machinist. You always did need that technical ability, but the computer software today goes even farther,” says Toni.
Aalbers works with high schools in the area and coordinates with the Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Program (OYAP). The mechanical areas in the schools find out if students are interested in coming to a tool shop for a placement. They come to Aalbers where someone will mentor them the basics of molding, and the company will determine if there is any potential as a future employee.
“We usually get three per semester, and out of that, one or two will end up staying. I have a few of the OYAP students that have been here for a couple of years, and they are doing well. We will also pay for their schooling if they are a good fit,” says Toni.