AMBA Celebrates 50 Years of Service in Mold Building

View 50-year timeline here

By Liz Stevens, writer, The American Mold Builder

The American Mold Builders Association (AMBA) is celebrating its golden anniversary during 2023. At 50 years old, the association has hit its stride, now leveraging a half century of history and experience, along with expertise of today’s landscape, challenges and tools. Alongside its community of mold builders, it looks towards a bright future of continued support, advocacy and resource provision.

Troy Nix recalled his first assessment of AMBA in 2011 when he became the association’s executive director. “My first impression was that the core of what AMBA provided was unique and valuable,” said Nix, “With a more concentrated effort of data and resource delivery, AMBA would be able to escalate its mission – to be the competitive advantage for US mold builders by creating better business leaders, better organizational contributors and greater bottom-line impact for its members.”

Kym Conis, AMBA managing director, has been with the association since the First Resource management team was engaged to run the organization. “The AMBA has weathered a lot of ebbs and tides, but the fact that it has made it through 50 years – which is quite a landmark achievement – validates the strength of the foundation upon which the association originally was built,” she said. “Some of AMBA’s foundational aspects are mutual respect, collective intellect and connectivity. Those have persisted through the decades and through the different phases and changes that the organization has experienced. With that foundation remaining strong, members still can look to the association and identify the core aspects that make it what it is. That is one of the reasons why we have endured for 50 years.”

For Conis, marking this occasion is a good time to gauge what has worked and to gear up for the future. “Turning 50 gives the AMBA opportunities to not only measure where it has been,” she said, “but also to pause and examine what new opportunities exist that can help the industry get to where it needs to be in the next decade and beyond.” For example, the board of directors has just gone through a strategy initiative, looking three years out. “As we work with AMBA’s board of directors on AMBA’s strategic direction, we truly feel there is no better time to be embarking on the association’s next 50 years,” stated Conis.

AMBA has been helping its membership in a variety of ways over the years. Don Dumoulin, CEO/owner of Precise Tooling Solutions, Inc., Columbus, Indiana, has been an AMBA member for eight years and is the current board president. “The value of the membership to individual members is really three-pronged,” he said. “The first thing is that members are able to benchmark what the competition is doing – our friendly competitors, in most cases – and learn about the best practices in the industry.” Dumoulin pointed out that this might include hearing about business techniques for dealing with delinquent payments from customers, recruiting new workforce candidates, training new hires or learning about the latest technology.

“The second prong,” said Dumoulin, “is the simple fact that we have a partner in AMBA that is looking out for the industry. That is so very important in today’s age of government regulations and tough customers. We have a partner that works on the industry’s behalf every day.” Rounding out Dumoulin’s trio is the value of community. “The third thing that is most important about the membership is just the great people that we get to know,” he said. “We are all in this together, and usually everybody is very cooperative and helpful.”

To illustrate how AMBA is a partner that looks out for the industry, Dumoulin recounted the association’s legislative approach to maintaining US tariffs on molds from China. “Four years ago,” said Dumoulin, “we were faced with the disastrous effects of the lifting of government tariffs on Chinese tools. The tariffs were suspended by the Trump Administration based on some bad advice that had been received. AMBA, along with folks like Laurie Harbour (Harbour Results), myself and our lobbyist, Omar Nashashibi at The Franklin Partnership, took on the problem. Together, we motivated our members to write to and call their Congresspeople and their Senators, and we got the tariff removal overturned.” Today, there continues to be a 25% tariff on all tooling that comes from China, helping to level the playing field for US mold manufacturers.

Tom Barr, president/owner of TK Mold & Engineering, Inc., Romeo, Michigan, echoed some of Dumoulin’s thoughts. “One of the biggest values to being a member of AMBA,” Barr said, “is the sense of belonging. Being surrounded by peers in the same industry and AMBA partners allows us the opportunity to network and share best practices.” Barr also pointed to plant tours, as well as workshops. “My all-time favorite,” he said, “is our yearly conference. Motivational speakers and suppliers at the conference ‘pump up’ the value of skilled trades, remind us why we do what we do and share insight on how to do and be better.” Barr said that AMBA’s strategic initiatives – based on members’ needs – are another valuable perk. “One of the newest additions to AMBA,” said Barr, “is the Work Capacity Tool, which now is on the association’s website. This tool helps companies network with each other when they are experiencing slow or busy stages in their businesses, to find ways to share and balance their workloads.”

Barr pointed out that AMBA membership is valuable on several levels. “I am a third-generation moldmaker,” said Barr, “and I started my own company in 2003. AMBA has been a resource both professionally and personally.” At the professional level, Barr has gained new insight into technology and efficiencies through AMBA partnerships and by networking with other companies. “On a personal level,” he said, “I have made many new friendships and have been able to share both the rewards and struggles of this trade. For me, getting input, sharing my experiences and coming up with possible solutions is rewarding.”

Ray Coombs said that the sense of community he found at his first AMBA conference was immediately evident. Coombs, president/owner of Westminster Tool, Plainfield, Connecticut, has been an AMBA member since 2012 and is a former member of the board. “At that first conference,” Coombs said, “I just realized that I really was not alone. At that time, people in the industry were becoming more collaborative and willing to share. The most immediate value of membership was and is having direct access to our actual peers. They are not our competition – they are our peers – and together, we make up an industry which provides a great quality of life for many people. We have got to remember that. We all tend to get into our own bubbles and think that we are better off going alone, but that is so untrue.”

Coombs credits his membership in AMBA as a significant factor in the success of his company, which was amid a transition/reinvention when he joined the association. “AMBA played a big role in making my company what it is today,” he said, “by enabling me to take a little bit of input from each of the many places that I was able to visit and the connections that I made. The ability to see and talk to other mold builders – to learn what is going on out there – helped give me the resolve that, oh, okay, maybe I’m not out to lunch with my business plans.”

Coombs frequently visits other mold builders and takes plant tours. “I have visited hundreds of plants,” he said, “but the connections with AMBA members are the ones that have endured.” Coombs cites his connection with Michael Bohning, former owner/president of Creative Blow Mold Tooling in Lee’s Summit, Missouri. “Bohning was an accountant by trade,” said Coombs, “and he bought a mold shop. I visited him and what he taught me about metrics and the importance of tracking the right metrics; it literally changed my whole outlook on running my business – just because I met him.” In Coombs’ mind, AMBA is a facilitator. “The association is designed to bring us together and help us gain an advantage in our marketplace as a unit,” he said.

The connections that Coombs has made through AMBA also include suppliers. “The suppliers that participate with AMBA, in my opinion, are people that I want to do business with because they show me that they give as well as take,” said Coombs. “They are committed to the industry, and they are interested in more than just making a profit.” A case in point is Progressive Components, which sponsors AMBA’s “Mold Builder of the Year” and “Tooling Trailblazer of the Year.” Awardees choose an educational institution to receive their cash prize. “We have won a couple awards and Progressive Components gave $5,000 to the charities of our choice,” Coombs said. Spurred by that example, Coombs company now funds the Makerspace program in its locale.

Francine Petrucci, president of BA Die Mold of Aurora, Illinois, and past Chicago chapter president, agreed that suppliers affiliated with AMBA are a special breed. “There is a lot of support for mold manufacturing here in Chicagoland, and right in our own backyards,” she said. “The suppliers always are willing to help out at Chicago chapter events, including supporting us on supplier night when we fundraise for our education committee efforts.” Suppliers also speak on technical topics at chapter dinner meetings, giving members in-depth information on processes or services that mold builders use all the time.

Petrucci values the connections she has made with other AMBA members, especially in the Chicago chapter. “We get to know people well enough,” Petrucci said, “that if we are in a pinch or find ourselves in a situation – an OSHA visit or even just trouble getting paid – we have industry friends to turn to for advice.” She also cites the value of having industry insiders with whom to compare notes on business, in general. “When we are going through times like now that are particularly slow, painfully slow, and then we hear that some of the other guys are slow, too, we are relieved to learn that this is happening to everyone, and we have to just ride it out.”

Troy Nix described how AMBA contributes to the strength of the mold building industry. “AMBA’s members strengthen the industry by contributing knowledge,” he said. “Through the distribution of benchmarking, best practices, connections and more via a network of nationwide mold builders, business owners, management teams and individuals are able to make better decisions about their businesses and become better industry leaders, which then continues to drive the advancement of the US mold manufacturing industry.”

The stronger AMBA is, the more it can benefit the moldmaking industry as a whole. “Advocacy for the industry is a recent effort that widely has been successful,” Coombs said. “AMBA has facilitated it, so we speak with a single voice. I’m involved with my local legislature and with academia, and both are starving to help our industry, but when they hear from us as a fragmented group that is talking in moldmaking and manufacturing lingo, it is difficult for them to grasp our needs. When we come together as a group, it carries clout. In my opinion, that is the greatest value of AMBA – its advocacy for us as an industry.”

Barr knows that workforce education and recruiting are top priorities to address for the association and for AMBA members. “Most people understand that skilled trades will be in jeopardy if we do not continue to advocate, and to build up and train our current workforce,” he said. “This drove the strategic plan for AMBA five years ago, and led to the development of such initiatives as the Plant Tour and Workforce Development Playbooks and the AMBA Emerging Leaders Network (for 40-and-under upcoming leaders in the trade).”

Petrucci agreed that the need for education and recruitment is crucial for the welfare of the industry. “I don’t know how we are going to sustain this industry if we don’t somehow get people interested and trained,” she said. Petrucci got her passion for recruiting young people and newcomers to the industry from her father, who spoke about the industry at local high schools and taught at the school AMBA had for apprentices. Like father, like daughter, Petrucci formed a chapter education committee ten years ago. “The original mission was simply to inform parents, students, teachers and counselors about the career path available in mold manufacturing,” she explained. “We have raised funds and given grants to local high schools, participated in career fairs, and even held symposiums for counselors and teachers to learn about careers in the mold manufacturing industry,” Petrucci said.

In his role as board president, Don Dumoulin has contributed to an ambitious vision for the organization’s next 50 years. “Our toughest challenge is to convince our customers that they need to build tools in the United States,” he said, “and that the global supply chain, while sometimes less expensive, is fraught with risks.”

Dumoulin said that what he thinks about regularly and what has become an AMBA strategy is for the association to do everything it can to influence the government, OEMs and plastics processors that tools made in America simply are a better investment than buying from outside the country. “If we can do that,” said Dumoulin, “the industry will become more robust over the next 50 years.”

While recent history has taught us that it is extremely difficult to predict how the global economy and US manufacturing will change, as AMBA managing director, Kym Conis has focused intentions for the association. “The vision for the next 50 years is to continue to provide members with critical resources that will help their businesses compete as a crucial part of the domestic supply chain.” Conis foresees AMBA evolving in ways that are innovative, exploratory and data-driven in an effort to support its strong network of mold builders now and into the future.

In 2016, for the second year in a row, the Chicago Chapter was honored as AMBA Chapter of the Year at the annual conference in Michigan.

Francine Petrucci’s experiences reflect her involvement with the AMBA Chicago chapter, the first chapter that was formed and one of the association’s most active chapters. “My dad, Alan Petrucci, was one of the founding members of the American Mold Builders Association,” she explained. “He has been very involved over the years; he has served on the national board of directors and has been Chicago chapter president a couple of times.”

Kym Conis related the history of AMBA’s start and its chapters. “The Chicago chapter was instrumental,” she said. “As a matter of fact, AMBA started as the Chicago chapter and then became a national association.” The chapters were initially started to create a regional connectedness among the members, especially in areas where a large number of mold builders located in one area could draw on each other and, in essence, becomes partners and have a collective strength within the community. “Creating a chapter,” said Conis, “allowed mold builders to form a tightly knit geographic network to discuss challenges, share best practices and distribute work overloads.”

AMBA ultimately formed 12 chapters over a period of 15 years. “The chapters that continue to meet today have a commonality: They have a large number of shops geographically located together,” said Conis. “The chapters that didn’t have as many shops located in one area found it too difficult to gather for in-person events and quarterly meetings.” Now, the national AMBA has taken on the responsibility of connecting its members in all areas of the US. “We connect our members from the west coast to the east coast,” said Conis. “We do that through events – in person and virtually – and through sharing data and benchmarking. It is our goal and our responsibility.”