Featured September 17,  2004

Case Study  Library

An interview with Len Koren, President of International Mold & Production in Canton, MI.

1)    What is your company niche and what does your company do that is notable, unique or different?

Probably the most notable thing about our company is that we are most likely the only company in the Detroit area that has a partner in Estonia. We are able to offer the best in worldwide sourcing through our partnerships in Estonia, China, India, and the local Detroit area. We know which skills and company cultures match with each product. This ensures that our customers are satisfied and don't have any complaints with our products. We can meet with a company and review all their purchased products, and save them money by identifying which items could be purchased in low-cost countries without affecting their current product line or customer reputation.

What separates us from the rest is that we offer service and guarantees after the purchase of the mold from an international source. The service and guarantees are provided locally to the customer in North America.

2)    When and how did you get into the industry, what attracted you to it?

I first got into the industry as a Project Engineer at Bluewater Plastics. From there I formed my first company, GK Engineering, to do rapid prototyping using a Stratasys FDM 2000. After the dissolution of that company I worked in Estonia for a Mid-size tool shop with many capabilities including injection molds, molding, and sintered metals. My wife was originally from Estonia and this was an opportunity to meet and get to know her family. I decided to get a job there and spent almost a year working there. Unfortunately, at the time, international business kind of dried up due to currency fluctuations and other outside influences, so we returned to the U.S. The experience gave me a good understanding of the world market for tools, because we were exporting tools all around the world. I have worked on projects with Italy, Germany, Mexico, Japan, Israel, Sweden, Finland, and China. This gave me an understanding of what it takes to manage a cross-border, cross-language tooling program. Once back in the USA I formed Import Estonia, which evolved into International Mold and Production, to serve the needs of the Detroit market, which has been slow to come online relative to a lot of other industries that have been sourcing tools offshore for a long time. I think the most attractive thing is the fact that you can live a lifetime and still not learn all there is to know about tooling.

3)    Relate a notable "best time" for your company.

The best time for my company is today. There are many changes in the tooling marketplace, and we are poised to take advantage of those changes. We are able to offer Detroit area tooling buyers exactly what they are looking for now: value, security, quality. Michigan companies can write a PO number to another MI company and know they are getting what they need.

4)    Similarly, relate notable challenges that your company has overcome.

Overcoming the downfall of GK Engineering after my partner left is definitely the most notable challenge. Although we still suffer at times from past experiences related to GK, we have also grown stronger and wiser from it. Technology continues to advance, and we are much more careful with our investments in equipment and people. You have to ask yourself will the new equipment stand the test of time. We evaluate it over the long term and try choosing the most effective options that will give us the best return for our investment. Selecting the right people to work with is also a challenge.

5)    When you are working on projects with your customers, what aspects would you like them to
        better recognize?


I think its important that our customers understand that we can handle all aspects of their project locally and internationally. We specifically tailor our services to supply every type of product development project with the best in pricing, quality, and outcomes. There are certain areas of each program that can be done locally as well as some that can be handled internationally. Rapid prototyping for example can be done here or in Hong Kong. Each project has its own personality and we try to carefully pick and choose what can be done where for the best outcomes.

List newly acquired technology, machinery or key personnel (in last year).

We have new tryout presses and a new CNC lathe in Estonia, and are adding capacity for 100 more tools in Shenzhen, and weíve opened a new chrome plating facility in China. That facility is so new there are no roads leading to it yet. There is a lot of room for growth in China for plating automotive interior components.

7)    Has your company recently expanded? Plans to expand or form partnerships/alliances?

Along with our expansion in China we plan on advertising more in North America in order to build our customer base. We are already working with a company whose industrial packaging product has been "copy-cat" produced in China. He hopes to launch his product line in China through our company so that he can maintain market share.

8)    Are you involved in any industry organizations or educational programs related to the trade?

No we are not affiliated with any industry organizations, but may possibly be in the future. Itís our priority now to help save domestic tool shops by offering them a partnership with low-cost country sources. By doing this they can continue to fulfill the needs of their current customer base without having to close their shops, and at the same time improve their profit margins.

9)    What do you think about changes occurring in the industry due to globalization? How has it
       affected the way you do business?

Globalization is our business. Many politicians and tool shop owners have talked at length about offering tax breaks. This will barely have any impact at all. The only way to change the flood of tools from China is to increase the duty, which would impact the American economy in many ways. Globalization will only lead to a poorer standard of living for Americans and a larger gap between the rich and poor, while everywhere else in the world the standard of living will continue to increase. Itís the unfortunate case, but I will continue to do business as the industry dictates. We want to try to help and not hurt our local partners. Unless our government does something to curtail off-shoring, I feel that I might as well hop on board. Iím quoting a lot of work for local shops, working to help them stay 
viable in a global market.

10)  What will the industry look like in 3 to 5 years?

The tooling industry will be much more refined, and those who are willing to adapt and change will continue to operate and probably at higher profit levels. But the fat will definitely be trimmed and anything that isnít saved by technology or service will be outsourced. Any shop that thinks it can operate the same as it has for the last 25 years is doomed to failure. Job shops will need to diversify in product and location in order to stay alive.

We also need to look at the next 100 years and the fact that the oil supply will dwindle. Plastic resin will be replaced by different materials which may open up more niche markets.

Additional Background Information

Contact: Len Koren, President

International Mold and Production
1397 mayfair lane
Grayslake, Il 60030
Phone: 847-454-7257

Years in business: 4.5
Employees: 14 locally; 200+ worldwide

Types of tooling built or run:
Injection mold manufacturing and injection molding; metal die casting services available through China & Estonia alliances, as well as some metal stamping. Design & prototyping offered; pad printing. Chrome plating for automotive is newly available in the Shenzhen area in China.

Markets: Automotive, Consumer, Security Products, Packaging Products