TK Mold & Engineering, Inc. Named 2023 Tooling Trailblazer of the Year

Left to right: Krista Barr (third) and Tom Barr (fourth) alongside TK Mold team members. Photo courtesy of Creative Technology Corp.

By Lindsey Munson, editor, The American Mold Builder

“TK Mold and its employees are a select few who talk the talk and then actually step up, doing exactly what they say they are going to do,” whispered a local business owner to Krista Barr at a community event a few weeks ago. That whisper became a roar when AMBA’s Tooling Trailblazer of the Year Award winner was announced in May.

The Tooling Trailblazer Award was established to recognize the accomplishments of an AMBA member company that have resulted in a notable impact in the area of education and is sponsored by Progressive Components. This year’s award recipient is a company known to the industry for its leadership and ability to respond where action is needed. For owners Tom and Krista Barr, their family-oriented business mentality has led to company engagement through educational development and training for the next generation of mold builders.

Barr sat alongside his wife, Krista; his daughter, Ashley; and a team of TK Mold employees during the awards ceremony, held during the 2023 AMBA Conference in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The room was buzzing when the company’s name was announced, and Barr stepped up to the microphone. “Tonight is about friendship and camaraderie” he said. “We are very fortunate at TK Mold, and by sharing our stories, we can expand the reach and touch many in and outside the industry, inspiring and showing what can be possible to those who will listen. I am very humbled by this award.”

Located in Romeo, Michigan, TK Mold has 24 employees and specializes in plastic injection molds, serving industries such as aerospace, automotive, consumer goods, defense, medical and low-volume production runs. In 2017, Barr invested over $3 million in expanding his building and shop floor with new equipment – a new generation of moldmakers. More than half of the company is younger than 30, creating a balance between young and mature machinists. TK Mold has actively sought opportunities to be involved in the community, education system and related projects to promote workforce development, training and secondary degrees in manufacturing.

Barr said, “The day-in and day-out of what we do is not easy. It would not be possible to be who we are without all of us working together as a team.”

TK Mold Walks the Talk
Parents and teachers often are the first to impact a student’s path, whether it be day-to-day, future educational endeavors or a career choice. That’s why TK Mold and its employees are dedicated to reaching students early to put the mold industry in their minds. From attending career days, speaking on panels and participating in advisory board meetings, TK Mold is in constant motion. The employees’ actions create awareness and deliver knowledge about an industry that many know about – all in an effort to find its next generation of moldmakers.

Especially meaningful for TK Mold was in 2021 when Romeo High School students developed an iPad holder with TK Mold’s influence and design assistance. When COVID-19 was hitting a peak, the CTE program at the high school was hitting a low. Barr knew the students needed engagement, and the school needed TK Mold’s resources. With that, TK Mold chose to be a difference-maker, hosting live webinars and bringing students in to visit the facility, where they worked with TK Mold employees to make more than 2,000 iPad holders that then were distributed at an elementary school. The project’s impact was two-fold: a fun project with purpose and accomplishment for the high school students and beneficial for the elementary students.

The company’s influence doesn’t stop there. In working with Macomb Community College, TK Mold developed a curriculum geared specifically to moldmaking, including applied trigonometry, drafting, electricity and electronics, CNC and EDM programming and machining, fluid power, robotics and welding. Then, TK Mold energized the newer generation of employees and the company’s seasoned team by restructuring the shop into new roles and beginning an apprenticeship program, which was officially registered in 2017. The program is completed in four years, with apprentices receiving recognition and certifications from the US Department of Labor, TK Mold and the college. Putting people in roles in which they can thrive and implementing cultural changes to attract youth in manufacturing have paid off for TK Mold. The program has had seven graduates over the past six years and three active apprentices will graduate within the next two years.

Barr shared his advice to the next generation: “Everything we use today is in existence because someone had the guts to have an idea to create. Be innovative, take chances and build the career you wish for yourself. Be proud of the fact that you are a part of this. Without you, people would not have things to make our world co-exist.”

Blazing a Trail for Now and the Future
In the fall of 2021, Barr was recognized by the government leaders of Macomb County with the Best Business Award, “Trailblazer of Future Talent.” Barr also has made a commitment to serving the industry, joining AMBA in 2014 and then the AMBA Board of Directors in 2017. He recently accepted a new role as the board president. Barr shared, “Having the support of the AMBA helps us remember that moldmakers are not alone in their journey. Moldmakers ‘get each other’ and truly understand the rewards and challenges of the trade.”

Barr also sits on local and national panels and has been instrumental in revitalizing the Southeast Michigan Chapter of the AMBA, working to rally AMBA member shops in the greater Detroit area. His ability to link businesses and networks, pulling them together on workforce development and other pressing issues within the industry, is another example of his life’s purpose. And, Barr is a leader who walks the talk. In 2022, TK Mold employees and apprentices attended their first AMBA conference to help them grow professionally and personally.

TK Mold is in excellent hands with Barr at the helm, where he continues to mentor, bring awareness to career opportunities in the industry and offer hands-on learning at the local community college and high schools. Barr’s passion for growing the next generation of moldmakers lights a fire for all TK Mold employees, becoming an extension of the company’s culture and family mentality. As Krista Barr said, “It’s in our blood.”

Barr said, “It’s every moldmaker’s dream to be recognized for all the hard work that he achieves. We are grateful that at this year’s conference there were nine of us to witness this award. It would not have been the same if I were there with just Krista, and being together in a group made this acknowledgment more meaningful. I only wish I could have had the whole shop there in person with me. To win two AMBA awards back-to-back and be recognized amongst our peers was very humbling.”