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June 1, 2003

8 Min Read
IMM's Plant Tour: MGS, Part 1: Multishot moldmaking marksmen

Customers come to MGS Mfg. Group (Germantown, WI) with engineering problems and ask the group to quote a solution. Rich in resources, the group can adapt itself to developing just what its customers need.

Ask where you can find the best multishot product development, tooling, machinery, and parts molding the world has to offer, and many will probably answer, “Germany.” Ask major multinational OEMs actually sourcing multishot engineering and manufacturing services the same question—OEMs like Motorola, for instance—and they’ll probably answer “Germantown.”

Germantown, WI is home to MGS Mfg. Group Inc. Never heard of MGS? It’s the number one moldmaker for many OEMs. It’s also a moldmaker for the TXM industry. Still not ringing any bells?

Maybe you read about the glass mold it built for John Bozzelli last year (see “A Mold With a View,” December 2002 IMM.). No? Well, maybe you know it better as Moldmakers Inc., or as TecStar Mfg. Group, or Statistical Plastics Corp. Those are three of the most popular members of the group, a group some call the best-kept secret in the business.

MGS Mfg. Group, Germantown, WI

Square footage: 300,000 sq ft (including Moldmakers Inc., MGS Technical Center, and TecStar Wisconsin)
Annual sales: $109 million (FY2002)
Markets served: Automotive, water treatment, appliance, cosmetic, IT, electrical, construction, mechanical, medical/health care, telecom, energy
Capital investment: $33.8 million (gross property, plant, equipment)
Parts produced: More than 600 million/year
Materials processed: ETPs, TPEs, some commodities
Resin consumption: More than 32 million lb/year (2002)
No. of employees: 807
Shifts worked: Two 8-hour shifts/day, three 8-hour shifts/day, two 12-hour shifts/day, depending on the facilityMolding machines: More than 120, 28 to 720 tons, Krauss-Maffei, Engel, Mitsubishi, Netstal, Toshiba
Secondary operations: Pad printing, hot stamping, painting, automated and manual assembly and inspection, ultrasonic welding, EMI/RFI shielding, laser degating, cryogenic deflashing, heatstaking, hot foil stamping
Internal moldmaking: Yes
Quality: QS 9000, ISO 9002, Six Sigma

Mark G. Sellers, founder and CEO, started out in 1982 in the Milwaukee area with a handful of other skilled toolmakers. MGS Mfg. Group has locations in three states today with close to 500,000 sq ft of total floor space. It’s a full-service supplier, to put it mildly.

It still builds molds, though. Does it ever. It has the capacity to deliver $1 million worth of molds every week. Last year, MGS built more than 340 molds and 50-plus rotary platens.

Though it’s based in Germantown here in the New World, the group has adapted many Old World business practices, some that have earned molding operations in countries like Germany a reputation for excellence.

Topping the list is a commitment to cultivate skilled craftsmen dedicated to delivering exactly what customers expect exactly when they expect it. We’re expected. Let’s tour.

Manufacturing Solutions
What is MGS? “We’re an engineering and manufacturing service provider,” says our host John Berg, marketing director. “We’re generally recognized as being the sixth or eighth largest moldmaker in the U.S., depending on the month the surveys are taken. We run a product development lab like no one else’s in the business. We have three large-scale injection and blowmolding facilities, and we’re also a machinery OEM. Basically, if the customer needs it, we can make it.”

In a nutshell, he says the group provides the following:

  • Design and engineering.

  • Moldbuilding.

  • Total mold and part qualification.

  • Production molding.

  • Secondary operations, including decorating.

  • Global program management.

  • Portable injection units and rotary platens for multishot molding.

  • Complete turnkey manufacturing systems.

    This month’s story focuses on the core of the company’s many competencies—its moldmaking, or, to be more specific, its moldmakers. In Part 2 next month, we’ll set our sights on MGS’s injection molding activities—its multishot molding activities, in particular.

    Raising the Bar
    People are the group’s true strength, according to John J. Hahn, VP of engineering. “Anyone can have high-tech, high-speed, leading-edge systems for making molds. But when things get out on that lunatic fringe you have to talk to the guys on the floor and say, ‘OK, who wants to sleep here tonight to get this job done?’ We know our guys will raise their hands.”

    We’re told that Sellers pays his people well. “He wants the top 20 percent, the cream of the crop, the Michael Jordans and Tiger Woods of the moldmaking trade, and he wants them to stay,” Hahn says.

    Most of all, Sellers wants moldmakers on board who are willing to teach company newcomers to do a better job than they can do themselves.

    The life span of many of today’s parts is shrinking. The group believes that it can’t offer the same kind of tools and parts it did just two years ago. The tools it sells today can’t look like the tools it’s selling two years from now. Training raises the bar.

    “When you walk out on the floor everyone is your boss,” Hahn says. “Mark’s goal is to continuously raise the bar—to train someone else to become better than you. He supports everyone 100 percent to learn and to grow. And he expects us to assume the responsibility to continually monitor, evaluate, teach, and learn. We are all accountable and responsible.”

    “We have a corporate employee services department, not a human resources department,” says Berg. “Mark doesn’t believe his people are ‘resources,’ like capital equipment. People are the key to our success.”

    Lunch Is Served
    Wisconsin has a state-sponsored apprenticeship program for toolmakers. The group has its own—the MGS Internal Trade Program. “We support the state program, but we add our own on top,” Berg says.

    When we’re escorted to the Moldmakers Inc. cafeteria, we see why we were invited to tour on a Thursday. Every Thursday the new moldmaker trainees serve lunch. “Like in everything else around here, the lunch teams of interns work as a team—a primary worker, a backup, and a backup to the backup,” says Berg.

    “There’s no cutting corners. You simply cannot tell people here, ‘Sorry, lunch will be late today.’ The same sorts of disciplines are involved making molds. They distribute the menus personally and through e-mail, take the orders, get the food, cook it, serve it, and clean up afterwards. And it better taste good, too. Doing things like this reinforces skills they’ll need—communication and commitment—to get a quality tool out on time.”

    If newcomers are good, the group won’t let them go. Berg says MGS hires people they want even if they don’t immediately have a place for them.

    Lean Machining
    The company has more than 30 engineers and 100-plus toolmakers. Its engineers have ample 3-D CAD/CAM/ CAE capacity at their fingertips, including workstations running complete suites from Unigraphics, Pro/Engineer, SDRC, AutoCAD, SolidWorks, SolidDesigner, Work NC, Mastercam, and SurfCAM.

    Mold manufacturing in Germantown is done at Moldmakers Inc., TecStar, and in the MGS Technical Center. The company builds multishot, multicavity, and auto-unscrewing molds. Multishot molds are its specialty. It even holds in-house seminars on multishot tooling. The group also builds molds with hot runners and molds for insert molding, thin-walling, and prototypes.

    Stack molds and blowmolds also are built here, as are tools for diecasting and magnesium molding. MGS makes many of its own mold bases.

    Last year the company built about 350 tools. Multishot tooling represents more than 40 percent by dollar volume of all the tools it builds. More than 25 percent of its molds are exported.

    How many active tools does the group have? People just shake their heads. No one knows for sure. “Thousands,” is one person’s guess.

    The folks on the floor investigate, specify, and select which mold manufacturing equipment the company buys. It buys the best. Nothing in the shop is more than five years old.

    Machinery replacement reportedly lets the company reap the best ROI, and keeps it up to speed with the latest technologies. Over in the molding divisions, the average equipment life span averages out at seven years.

    Passing one automated high-speed machining cell after another, you think you’ve stepped into a sci-fi movie about the future of moldmaking. Berg tells us setting up the cells was hardly a matter of plug-and-play.

    Employees had some trouble getting the System 3R robots to talk directly to the high-speed mills. A gifted programmer on staff hacked his way in through the existing passwords. They’re running smoothly now.

    Non-negotiable Deliveries
    Back in the cafeteria, we discover that it serves yet another purpose—it’s also the tool tracking room. The job scheduling chart hangs on the lunchroom wall. Everyone in the shop sees it, every day—guaranteed.

    When customers stressed out over time-to-market pressures ask him whether or not the group can deliver a mold or part project on time, Bill Mentzer, program manager, asks them, “How big is your pipe?”

    He’s talking about the money pipe.

    “Sure we can do it, I’ll say. But then I’ll ask them if they are willing to pay for what it takes.”

    “This business is about quality, cost, and delivery,” says Hahn. “On quality and delivery, we are uncompromising. Neither quality nor delivery is negotiable. But price? There’s where we can talk. Price depends on what the customer wants for delivery. We will never miss a delivery.”

    Reverse scheduling is how they do it. They begin at the end of the day. “We plan everything out first, long before we ever start making chips,” Hahn adds. “We start scheduling in advance of the first sampling press, and then we plan mold assembly, schedule polishing, book EDM time—working backwards to the block of tool steel. It’s Mark’s idea. And it works.”

    Contact information
    MGS Mfg. Group,
    MGS Technical Center
    Germantown, WI
    John Berg; (262) 255-5790

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