Until around 20 years ago the plastic mould manufacturing business was still strong in Hong Kong, before development slowed and investors started to relocate their operations to the mainland. One manufacturer, though, adopted a slightly different strategy and has not only managed to survive in Hong Kong, but has even established a new research and development centre here.
Tam Wing-yiu, president of Nypro Tool Group, a down-to-earth industrialist, started out as a young apprentice and went on to build his own business from scratch. It now employs over 300 staff in Hong Kong and a further 400 or so in plants in Suzhou, Shenzhen and Tianjin.
"To survive amid fierce competition, manufacturers must keep coming up with new strategies," Mr Tam explains. "A mould's lifespan is very short, so the only way out is to focus on high-end products. These days, if we don't use advanced technology, we will be unable to meet customer expectations."
Mr Tam got into the business 25 years ago shortly after leaving secondary school. His main objective was to learn a skill which allowed him to make a reasonable living, so he accepted a job with a factory manufacturing aluminium kitchen utensils. He was assigned to the mould department and, after acquiring the necessary skills, subsequently moved on to work for two other mould manufacturers. In 1998, he felt the time was right, in partnership with Nypro Inc, to form a joint venture.
One of the biggest challenges is keeping production costs low while maintaining high quality standards. This involves ongoing research about ways to apply advanced technology to mould making processes. For this, Mr Tam strives to develop new tooling technology and brings in high-end products from overseas.
Graduates should be ready to learn some of the same skills as apprentices
"Doing research and development is still not part of the culture in our industry," he says. "However, we recognise its importance for the business and have been translating our experience to develop computerised systems," he says. "At Nypro Tool, we emphasise the sharing and use of data and software by different levels of staff to avoid miscommunication."
This approach has made it possible to equip the company's plants with modern machinery and achieve their production targets. For example, the engineering design system helps to create new moulds more quickly and allows changes requested by customers to be implemented with minimal impact to production schedules.
The company has now grown to become one of the world's leading suppliers of plastic injection moulds. These are used in the consumer electronics, health care, medical, packaging and automotive industries. The company has also been appointed to produce cell phone moulds for leading telecommunication giants such as Nokia and Motorola.
To sustain long-term growth, Nypro Tool aims to train and promote from within. It offers a graduate trainee programme for engineers, as well as a mould-making apprenticeship programme.
Mr Tam says graduates should be ready to learn some of the same skills as apprentices in order to have a fundamental knowledge of the industry. This is usually seen as a prerequisite for promotion to management positions and may begin during the three-month probation period.
Nypro Tool was the winner of the Hong Kong Mould & Die Council Awards 2005 for operational excellence, which is regarded as the top award in the sector.
In a bid to promote successful practices and strategies within the industry, the company has accepted an invitation to be one of the sponsors of this year's awards. "As a leading member of the industry, we need to encourage and recognise other companies and organisations which have attained an excellent level of performance," Mr Tam says.