Canadian Plastics

Enter The Dragon Slayer

About 2,000 years ago, legend has it, St. George slew the dragon.

February 1, 2010   Canadian Plastics



About 2,000 years ago, legend has it, St. George slew the dragon.

Cut to the present and Jim Wei is hoping for something similar against a dragon of a different sort: Chinese injection molders.

The owner and operator of Waterloo, Ont.-based Superi Inc., a company that helps North American firms establish automotive tooling and molding operations in China, Wei recently started a one-man injection molding shop called Victory Manufacturing.

Based out of the same Waterloo facility as Superi, Victory Manufacturing has 50,000 square feet of floor space and two injection molding machines — an Engel and a Nissei — at present. Wei’s objective is simple: to use his knowledge of Chinese manufacturers to beat them at their own game and bring some custom molding contracts back to Canada.

ACCENTUATING THE POSITIVE

You’ve probably spotted the irony already: Superi Inc. helps companies shift production offshore, Victory Manufacturing tries to bring business back to Canada.

Wei certainly gets it, but he’s more excited by the advantages that small-scale outfits such as Victory Manufacturing could offer over competing Chinese molders. “We have no custom duties to pay, no sea freight or overland shipping costs and guaranteed delivery dates,” he said. “Perhaps most importantly, customers of Canadian shops don’t have to order parts in the millions — we can produce small orders economically, which is not true of Chinese outfits.”

Another factor working to his benefit — as well as that of Canada’s many other smaller molders — is the recent rise in oil prices that make it harder for North American companies to justify the cost of sending small-scale machining and tooling operations overseas. “Obviously, cost is key to keeping molding contracts from going out of the country,” Wei said. “If we can keep our prices competitive, then — all else being equal — I think that North American manufacturers are going to want to do business here.”

SMALL SIZE MATTERS

The final pieces of the puzzle, Wei believes, involve being creative and flexible as an injection molder. Victory Manufacturing is currently involved in a project to replace metal with plastic in a popular consumer goods item. A mechanical engineering graduate, Wei has the background to serve as Victory Manufacturing’s head of research — as well as chief executive, web designer, mold set-up man and material purchaser — and also a lean, efficient operation that can adapt quickly to new technical challenges. “Having a small shop is comparable to having a small boat,” he explained. “I can change direction quickly if I have to, and that flexibility is an important element in taking business away from China.”

Wei continues to spend a good deal of time in China on behalf of Superi, during which periods he has a skilled injection mold operator filling his shoes at Victory Manufacturing. Having seen the fabled Chinese economic dragon up close, he doesn’t fear it. “Chinese manufacturers have their own problems, and there can be real risks in doing business with them,” he said. “As more decision-makers come to understand this, more opportunities will open up for plastics processors here at home, including smaller shops.”


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