Custom molder finds rapid growth 
among medical OEMs

By: 
February 03, 2011

Doubling business in two years—especially two recessionary years—is no small feat, but for this injection molder, the medical industry provided an excellent opportunity for growth without adding a lot of capital equipment or debt.

Some say growth costs money, but for Mastercraft Cos., a Phoenix, AZ-based custom injection molder and mold manufacturer, it was careful planning and taking on the right business at the right time from the right customers that boosted sales by 46% in 2010. The right business came from medical OEMs—who were also the right customers.

While Mastercraft, composed of moldmaker Mastercraft Mold and molding operations Polycraft Industries, has always had some medical business in its portfolio, that industry segment grew from 20% of Mastercraft’s sales in 2008 to 75% in 2010. “We did this without adding a significant number of machines or other equipment, and without borrowing money,” says Dale H. Behm, Mastercraft’s COO.

Mastercraft saw significant expansions of new products among its existing OEM base in the medical device industry. “One of our customers had just one mold running with us at the beginning of 2010,” Behm explains. “We then built 10 more tools for this customer, which are all running 24/7. We’ve taken the company from a 5.5-day operation to a full 24/7 operation, all with medical.”

Optimizing machine utilization in that way meant that Polycraft Industries used a lot of capacity without investing in a lot of equipment. Behm notes that the company added a total of seven Arburg machines in 2010, some of those pre-owned presses in excellent condition, and all of them electric to target the medical industry’s needs. “We’re going more and more electric, and of those seven presses, five were specifically for our medical customers’ requirements,” Behm says. Mastercraft currently has 33 presses, sized from 50-500 tons.

Another strategy that saves the company money as it expands its business is making use of its Clean Environment Manufacturing Cells. These CEMCs, designed and built by Mastercraft, surround specific presses to create a Class 100,000 cleanroom molding environment. “Some companies have a strategy to build a cleanroom and business will come,” says Jim Arrowsmith, Mastercraft’s national sales manager. “This isn’t always the case. Our CEMCs allow us extreme flexibility—and this is a strategic advantage for us in serving the medical industry.”

New customers were a factor in Mastercraft’s growth as well. Thoratec Corp., a new customer for Mastercraft at the beginning of 2010, came for help with a new program for its Heart Mate II Left Ventrical Assist Device (Focus on Medical, February 2010). By the end of 2010, the company had transferred its entire stable of molds to Mastercraft.

While mold moves are often difficult, Thoratec transferred all of its molds to Mastercraft from a smaller molding company. “Thoratec’s products were becoming FDA approved and the company knew it would grow substantially,” says Arrowsmith. “They needed a supplier that could grow with them. Their former supplier didn’t have the wherewithal to do that. We are now the sole supplier of the plastics requirements for their heart pump products.”

New business has also come from companies that heard about Mastercraft’s medical molding capabilities with Thoratec, Abbott Labs, and others. “When you do the kinds of things we do here, which include mold design engineering, mold build, and offering the molding services we do, others in the industry hear of you and other things start happening,” Arrowsmith notes.

People, moldmaking make it happen
Behm also gives credit to Mastercraft’s employees. Currently the company employs more than 130, 118 in the Polycraft molding division and 14 at Mastercraft Mold. “The core reason medical customers come to us and stay with us in long-term relationships is our people—they make it happen. We are only as good as our best employees, and we strive to create a culture of unity, compassion, and best of class,” Behm says.

“Our plant manager Steve Weidenbacher, for example, has been with Mastercraft for 24 years. A company can have the best building and equipment, and can’t get the job done. Ultimately it takes people who are committed to the vision of the company to help build long-term relationships with customers such as Abbott Labs [now Hospira], which has been a Mastercraft customer for more than 25 years,” he adds. “They get to know everyone here at Mastercraft, and feel comfortable with the fact that we’re all working hard for their benefit. That’s a real partnership.”

Having in-house moldmaking has also been a major contributing factor in the company’s growth. Mastercraft Mold was founded 42 years ago by Arle Rawlings, president of Mastercraft Cos. Mold manufacturing has been a strategic advantage for the company in its evolution into molding and then in becoming the contract manufacturer it is today. Mastercraft Mold orders 100 molds a year, with 75% of those made in-house. The company also has strategic partners in China for customers asking for Asia-built molds.

Having in-house moldmaking—Mastercraft’s core business—also provides advantages to Polycraft. “The company can position itself on the leading edge of new programs with innovative mold designs that save customers money with molds that run faster at optimized cycles, plus other services such as collaborative engineering and mold qualifications that provide a definite advantage to our medical customers,” Arrowsmith says.

Mastercraft recently worked collaboratively on an infusion pump for Moog Medical Device Group. While Moog created the basic concept for the new product, Mastercraft contributed to the development phase during months of R&D. “Over the course of a year, Moog’s engineering team made about 50 design changes along the way, as a result of each part sampling we performed,” explains Bob Corey, Mastercraft Mold’s manager and director of engineering. “This is truly concurrent engineering at its finest.”

Behm also notes that this is the kind of work that just doesn’t go offshore anymore. “If that mold was in China there’d be no way to have these kinds of collaborative engineering efforts,” he says. “Today’s medical OEMs have to be with a molder that has good toolmaking capabilities in-house or you can’t work in this fashion, and you certainly can’t do it in China. This has been in the works for all of 2010, and we’re coming to the program’s conclusion now.”

Growth through profits, not borrowing
Another strategic advantage Mastercraft has is that it’s financially strong, taking the lead from Rawlings, who continues to be a conservative manager and owner. With today’s OEMs looking more and more closely at the financial strength of their suppliers, Mastercraft can pass that tight scrutiny with flying colors.

“Mastercraft’s strategy is what Arle Rawlings has always planned: Grow by using cash flow vs. bank borrowing,” states Behm. “Growth in 2010 was challenging, but it was funded by profits that went back into the company to fund that 46% growth. The key to this strategy is that you need to be profitable. We expect to do the same in 2011 and grow 25% or more, again funded internally from profits. Companies go out of business with too much growth, so financial stability is key.”

Serving the medical device industry also requires that the company meets the rigid standards that regulatory agencies such as the FDA demand of an OEM’s suppliers. “Mastercraft has stepped up to the plate and today is a better supplier because of the medical industry’s requirements,” says Behm. In Q4 2010, the company added a quality manager, Michael Popovich, who is a certified Six Sigma black belt. “We were at a time in our business that we needed to step up a notch, and Michael brings that capability,” says Behm.“We’re ISO certified, ITAR registered, and an FDA-certified manufacturing company. We are Mastercraft.” —Clare Goldsberry

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