Click image to enlargeby Tim Wilson

Canada's die and mould industry is on an upswing

Throughout 2014 the manufacturing sector in Canada has been on an upswing. That's good news for die and mould makers, as is the steady overall economic growth that is being seen in Canada and the US. The rebound in consumer spending is helping everything from consumer goods to the automotive sector, with high energy costs and labour inflation in Asia encouraging manufacturers to reshore in North America.

"We are seeing more reshoring for tooling," says Diane Deslippe, executive director at the Canadian Association of Moldmakers (CAMM). "OEM's are putting billions of dollars into Mexico. It will become the new China–and this is good for us because of the logistics of shipping to Mexico."

It might sound strange to argue that what's good for Mexico is good for Canada; however, the truth is that as a result of NAFTA, our manufacturing economies have become more closely integrated. Labour is still cheaper in Mexico, but Canada has an edge when it comes to design and quality.

"Canadian shops have gotten leaner and more efficient, with better equipment and lights out operations," says Deslippe. "We have had to do this to compete with China, and now our shops are working together for cost savings and cost avoidance."

Chart oneClick image to enlargeThese changes are being seen in the type of labour demand within Canada's die and mould industry. CAMM says that in Canada the shortage of skilled labour, along with the fluctuation of the Canadian dollar, stands out as an ongoing challenge–something that is confirmed by educators.

"The big change in the industry in the past two years, and the most significant trend, is that employers are looking for workers with a broad scope of skills," says Romel Cipriani, program coordinator for tool, die and mouldmaking at Seneca College in Toronto. "In the past you might put one person on a conventional machine, but now they not only need to know multiple operations, they also need to know the use case–sometimes including the business argument."

That's a far cry from the old days, when the technology was more straightforward. Now die and mould shops are expected to have tighter research and development relationships with Tier 1 and Tier 2 suppliers to OEMS, and to comply with supply-chain-driven procedures for quality control and assurance. They are also more automated, and more adept at working with different materials, such as composites, to make parts lighter and stronger.

Getting the word out
Organizations like CAMM are working to get the word out, ensuring that the Canadian die and mould market has a presence on the global stage. That's a must, because selling beyond our borders is the only way Canadian manufacturers can stay relevant for the long haul.

"We work very closely with other associations–government offices such as Trade Commissioners, Industry Canada–to help pool funds to keep us in the global market," says Deslippe. "We travel to between six and eight trade shows a year, from the USA, to Mexico, Brazil, and Europe, in order to keep our global presence."

A good year for Canadian manufacturesClick image to enlargeWith the help of the federal government's Global Opportunities for Associations (GOA), CAMM usually brings three to five Canadian companies to the Canadian Pavilion at each trade show. From there, B2B meetings are set up, and leads are brought back to industry-related shops in Canada. The challenge then is to make sure that these shops can deliver on global demand in terms of skills and technology–something schools like Seneca are trying to address.

"We've invested in scanning technology for reverse engineering and quality assurance, as well as a wire EDM," says Cipriani. "Students familiar with these technologies are the ones who find work."

No doubt the industry is being transformed by the promise of 3D printing, and it is in these and other leading-edge technologies where Canada is working to keep up with the best. If manufacturing is to stay vital, then the latest and greatest in technology has to be embraced.

"That includes scanning technology for quality assurance," says Cipriani. "Historically, organic shapes found in mould cavities have been really difficult to inspect. Now, it is possible to compare a true model with a CAD model, and to accurately inspect how well a part has been machined based on the CAD model."

That kind of know-how can keep Canada competitive in the globally competitive manufacturing landscape. We can't change geography, and have limited control over labour costs and currencies, but we can invest in innovation. Ultimately, that will be how the Canadian die and mould industry stays strong. SMT

Tim Wilson is a contributing editor. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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