Building lasting relationships for long-term business development


The most optimum and cost effective way to obtain new business is through current, satisfied customers. Customer retention requires work and careful attention to current programs, good customer service and valuing the jobs you have even more than the jobs you have yet to land. Capturing new business from current, satisfied customers should be a primary goal of sales.

Matrix Tooling Inc., a mold manufacturer in Wood Dale, IL, along with its sister molding company, Matrix Plastic Products, puts its primary focus on building long-term, mutually beneficial relationships with its customers. Not only does this result in ongoing business but Matrix also experiences very low customer attrition. "Our goal is to have our customers consider Matrix as an extension of their own capabilities," said Anne Ziegenhorn, new business development manager for Matrix Tooling. "We aim to be very accessible, responsive, transparent and trustworthy in our business relationships."

That's particularly important when working with medical device customers as they develop new products and work toward getting their 510 (k) clearance from the FDA. Hans Noack, Matrix Tooling's design manager, explained that it takes time to develop these long-term relationships with customers. Cardica Inc. is one example of Matrix's long-time customer partnerships, and is a good example of the way in which Matrix manages programs. Cardica is a medical OEM that designs and manufactures proprietary stapling and automated anastomotic devices for cardiac and minimally invasive (laparoscopic) surgery.

On January 9th of this year, Cardica announced that it had obtained its 510(k) clearance from

Cardica's MicroCutter: Mold and molded components produced by Matrix. 

the FDA for its MicroCutter XCHANGE 30 device and blue stapler cartridge for medium thickness tissue. While receiving an FDA clearance is always a proven success for Cardica, it also marks a success for Matrix as well. However, the process of helping a customer like Cardica go from concept to FDA approval is a long one, and demands attention to detail at every step along the way. 

From the beginning of the product's concept customers talk directly with the mold designer, the tooling manager or project manager in molding. Noack said that Matrix conducted weekly conference calls with Cardica to ensure that everyone working with the program was kept up to date.  "They're always looking to us to come up with solutions to specific challenges," said Noack, adding that risk mitigation is always a priority when dealing with medical device customers. 

What is the greatest risk for a company when designing and developing a new product? Obviously, the supply chain always contains risks to a medical OEM, which is why these OEMs scrutinize their suppliers so thoroughly. "There are a number of risks when developing a new product," Noack said. "From Cardica's point or view the product has to be bio-compatible to the body, it has to have the strength, no flash allowed, and the mating parts need to align perfectly for the part to function as intended. Cardica has its own risk analysis protocol and documentation they must adhere to in order to obtain their 510 (k) clearance. Our risk is a subset of theirs: making sure our parts meet their specifications. When they involve us in the process, we are made aware of the potential risks they have already identified so we can make recommendations to help mitigate them as we design and build the tool and process the parts."

Ziegenhorn noted that one reason Matrix chose to obtain its ISO 13485 certification in 2010:  "So we would have a better understanding of Cardica's challenges and be better able to support them as well as all our other medical device customers," she said. "The earlier we can intervene in this way, the bigger impact we can have on saving the customer money and giving them a better part. The payback is mutual."

Ziegenhorn pointed to the MicroCutter XCHANGE 30 device, for which the company built the molds for 11 different components, both internal and external, and molded of various materials. To help mitigate risk in design, Matrix uses Moldflow extensively to help identify potential problem areas in the part/product design prior to building the tools.

Even though Matrix has all of the design tools, including the latest state-of-the-art 3D design and Moldflow analysis software, the design risk analysis requires the expertise and experience of a good mold designer. "We all have the same equipment and the solid model looks good on the screen, but the key is having knowledge of the manufacturing process to understand how the mold is going to behave in the molding process," Noack said. "With our knowledge, we can pinpoint what might be problem areas in molding, such as whether a part might be prone to improper ejection, where undercuts might be an issue, thick-to-thin areas that might present part quality problems. Every part needs to be moldable and functional after it comes out of the tool, with repeatability in production."

"We have all types of analysis software but there is a lot of tribal knowledge at Matrix and we put all of those capabilities together into one and start going through the part, asking ourselves 'what sticks out as a potential problem?' We make suggestions to the design engineer and see what they can do to alleviate those. It's a balancing act sometimes."

Ziegenhorn pointed out that Matrix's business has gone beyond just building a mold or molding parts. Customers like Cardica want Matrix's assurances that the mold and molded parts the company makes meet their specs, but the responsibility of additional links in the supply chain is Matrix's.

"We have branched out beyond simply providing molded components; from being just a mold builder or molder to a contract manufacturer and giving the customer more of a semi-finished product than we used to," she said. "We are taking stampings or MIM parts, inserts or electronic components and creating sub-assemblies. If anything is going into that sub-assembly other than what we mold, we're also responsible for making sure those other components are to spec as well.  So we monitor the sub-suppliers, which has resulted in a more complex supply chain for us now."

At the end of the day, most customers want suppliers they can trust to perform in a way that is in the best interest of the OEM, which ultimately results in the long-term partnerships that Matrix has developed with many of its customers. "It takes time to earn this trust," Noack said. "We don't lose customers. Once we get them working with us and they know what we can do for them, they have trust in is. And that goes a long way."

Cardica's Vice President Bryan Knodel, said, "Matrix has demonstrated outstanding performance in producing critical parts. The team takes great pride in their work and always does all it can to deliver the best parts to its customers. Our relationship is a partnership."

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