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Mold shop partners pilot company to growth
August 16, 1999
4 Min Read
You might say that John Matson and his partner, Patrick Odette, are flying high these days. Since 1995 when they bought the company, Matrex Mold & Tool Inc. has grown 25 percent annually, as the two men continue to find ways to meet demand for lower costs and reduced lead times.
This continued success has allowed for the purchase of a 4800-sq-ft building next door to the current plant in Portage, WI to prepare for future expansion and improvements. The company currently builds high-tolerance molds for presses 300 tons and under, and serves a variety of markets including the automotive and electronics industries. It also specializes in building shuttle molds for overmolding and insert molding.
“Pressures on mold shops come more from delivery than price,” says Matson. “Tools that seven or eight years ago were built in 14 weeks now need to be built in eight weeks.” To meet these needs, Matrex has implemented several production strategies in an effort to improve efficiency, increase speed, and reduce costs.
The partners know that in order to satisfy customer demand for shortened lead times and reduced costs, molds need to be built using both automation and departmentalization. “With departmentalization, you can have more people working on different parts of the mold at the same time,” explains Matson. “You may have one person making electrodes while another is roughing inserts, and yet another is working on the mold base.”
Communication is Key
As a shop becomes more departmentalized, however, there is a higher risk of things falling through the cracks. “Departmentalization requires a tremendous amount of communication in the shop,” explains Matson. “Because you don’t have one person working on every component of the job from start to finish, tweaking it here and there to make things fit, each department needs to maintain the exact tolerances called for. And that takes communication.”
At Matrex, each department considers the other departments to be customers. Work by each specialist within a department is done to the exacting specifications of the customer department. The end result, Matson adds, “is a more accurate finished product.”
To keep its external customers happy, Matrex has also developed a regular reporting system. For each project, a timeline is created that breaks down the different functions of the moldbuild. Every Thursday, a graph is sent to the customer showing what percentage of each component of the mold is complete.
“Because the information that we give our customers is very usable to them, they rarely call us and ask us how things are going,” says Matson. “We deal with a lot of custom molders whose customers ask them questions, so since we automatically provide that service they’re more comfortable.”
The machine specialists in each department play an important role in reducing the number of hours it takes Matrex to build a mold. Specialists become very good at what they do, explains Matson. “However, we don’t want to get caught in the trap of not challenging our workers, so we also focus on cross-training,” he adds.
For example, an individual who has been working on an EDM for a number of years is moved into programming. “Now we have an individual who used to be the customer of the programmer becoming the programmer. Therefore, he has a very clear picture of what works and typically becomes a very good programmer.”
Most of the company’s 20 employees are cross-trained. In fact, all of Matrex’s in-house design people have been moldmakers.
Though people will always be an important component to moldbuilding at Matrex, one of the company’s goals is to reduce the amount of labor required to complete a project. Matson estimates that approximately 80 percent of a moldbuild at Matrex is automated, resulting in a significant reduction in the man hours needed to build a mold.
Matrex has added CNC machining centers, CNC EDMs (including wire and hole-drilling capabilities), a company-wide Windows NT network, and complete in-house engineering.
“When we look at the world market, people fear that labor here [in the U.S.] is more expensive than in other countries,” Matson says. “But if shops in the U.S. continue to concentrate on automation, we’ll get to a point where the labor number is small enough that we can be competitive, given the other costs involved in long distance tool supply from places such as Asia.”
Matrex has also been concentrating on the CAD side of moldbuilding, says Matson. The company has purchased two seats of SolidWorks software.
“Once again, we’re looking at shrinking the design and programming times,” explains Matson. “We’d like to have our mold base vendors and other component vendors develop libraries of solids so that we can shrink these times even more.”
For Matrex, the key is continued improvement. “We never want to think of ourselves as perfect,” Matson comments. “We always want to improve.”
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