By Nicole Mitchell, writer, The American Mold Builder
COVID-19 required an abundance of changes and improvements to be made in 2020. In order to keep internal teams and external customers healthy, companies such as Accede Mold & Tool Co. – a leader in mold solutions for medical, consumer, military and industrial companies – were required to find new ways to share information. Typical in-person activities, such as mold sampling and validation, needed creative solutions.
RECOGNIZING THE PROBLEM
Accede, Rochester, New York, had nearly $20 million in sales in 2019, which required in-house visits and mold qualifications weekly. However, the company closed its employee business travel and limited in-house visitors starting in March 2020, placing the company at “ground zero.”
Face-to-face meetings were no longer appropriate to have unless deemed essential by Accede management, such as machine or equipment installations, maintenance or repairs. Thus, sampling team members were required to show products via video chat or web conferencing. For Accede, it took more than one attempt, but now the company hosts multiple mold qualification reviews seamlessly.
TRIAL AND ERROR
The first attempts at virtual mold sampling and validation meetings for Accede were not effective. One-on-one video calls via smartphone were the only option at the time (even though Apple has since created a group FaceTime option), and these calls had poor video quality due to internet connection, camera quality and stability. This restricted the ability to share opinions and ideas, creating a lack of insight from everyone working on a project.
Out of necessity during the pandemic, video sharing sites quickly gained in popularity and availability, so the company had other options. Platforms tested by the company included Vimeo and OSS Studio Software.
Vimeo is an online video sharing platform similar to YouTube; however, there is a cost of service (ranging from $7 to $75 monthly) in order to broadcast videos. Stephen Robinson, program engineer and IT management, estimated that there is a lag time of 40 seconds during each livestreamed video call, which delayed accurate interaction between the client and mold sampling members.
Comparatively, OSS Studio Software is a professional production software and does not offer livestreaming. However, it easily can be tailored to everyone’s needs through its video editing capabilities. It’s free with a large community of users and has sponsors including YouTube, Twitch and Facebook, all of which have their own streaming and video-sharing capabilities.
Today, Accede uses a blend of different applications for the best outcome: OSS for video creation, Zoom for collaboration (the company also trialed GoToMeeting and Microsoft Teams) and Vimeo for archival storage of prior mold trials – although Robinson says that archives soon will be switched over to YouTube.
TOOLS FOR SUCCESS
One of the biggest tips Robinson and others suggested for virtual meetings is to choose the options that allow each molding team to effectively collaborate with clients. One way to do so is by using an injection molding machine for sampling that allows for remote operational capabilities. This gives customers the ability to change the process on their own from their location by giving them the capability to control the machine.
There are different tools that Robinson suggests that ensure an effective virtual meeting, which he coined, “the nuts and bolts of remote mold sampling.” For him, this includes a “decently powerful” laptop or computer, a cam link video capture adapter, a camera, USB microscopes, tripods, studio lighting and noise-cancelling headsets. Production environments can be messy and loud, so stabilizing material is required.
Robinson has tried a variety of these items throughout the last year but has finally found his top preferences. The staff at Accede currently use a Dell 17” laptop with a mid-level graphics card and 16GB ram. A Canon EOS M200 camera with a 15-45mm lens is used to record action in the mold, and an Elgato Cam Link 4k device connects the camera to the laptop and enables video streaming. A USB microscope allows close-ups of mold and machine areas, and tripods, mounts and studio lights minimize vibration and add necessary illumination since production environment lighting isn’t ideal for videography.
REMOTE MOLD VALIDATION MEETING FORMAT
The order of remote mold validations looks slightly different than in-person appointments, and there are four different stages to each appointment. First is the planning stage. Accede coordinates the date and time with the customer and learns the objectives of the project. Next, an invitation to the virtual Zoom meeting is sent to each participant, including Accede’s team.
Before the meeting begins, Accede prepares by setting the mold into the correct injection molding machine or the customer’s press. Once the mold is at the proper temperature, the meeting can begin. The process is tested and shown to the customers via video conference, and adjustments are made as the customer requests.
After the sample is finished and removed from the press, the mold tear down process begins. Accede allows the customer to view this while on the call and give directions for checks, just as the company would if the customer was onsite for the appointment.
The meeting is recorded through Zoom and uploaded securely to Vimeo or YouTube, requiring a password to view. The customer is given this password and can view the video as needed and on demand. Lastly, Accede also archives each remote mold validation to a separate program folder, should something happen to the footage on the third-party website.
CONTINUING PAST COVID-19
In general, customers have reported positive feedback in terms of virtual mold sampling and validation. Virtual meetings are a time saver, eliminating much of the “waiting around” that can occur during in-person mold trials. Specific changes can be requested, made and then reviewed a day later without waiting onsite for these changes to be made. Another positive factor is that customers no longer have to purchase tickets and reservations to travel to Accede. Now they can work in the comfort of their own home or office. Similar benefits exist for the mold building business that hosts the validation – and savings exist in eliminating the entertainment costs that are associated with the sales process when a customer is in the facility.
The owner and president of Accede Mold & Tool Co., Roger Fox, added, “Virtual samples are the most effective and efficient way to keep the focus on the mold and ensure performance and excellence.”
While hosting a virtual mold sampling conference is different than in-person meetings that are hosted onsite, it offers something new that may continue past COVID-19.
“The Nuts and Bolts of Remote Mold Sampling and Validation” was presented by Stephen Robinson and Camille Sackett, Accede Mold & Tool Co., Inc., at the AMBA Conference 2021. For more information and access to recorded sessions for conference attendees, visit www.amba.org.