The MME Group: From Moldmaker to Mold Manufacturer

This moldmaker has evolved into a full-service contract manufacturer by adopting continuous improvement and lean manufacturing initiatives combined with a focus on quality control.

Known as Minnesota Mold and Engineering when first profiled nearly 10 years ago in MoldMaking Technology, the MME Group (Vadnais Heights, MN) has evolved into a full-service contract manufacturer. MME Group increased their end-to-end offerings to include: product development, engineering, program management, plastic and metal tooling design, tool construction, custom injection molding, LIM, and cleanroom. MME Group also provides additional value-added services including: sub-assemblies, pad printing, paint, sonic weld, sterilization and other deliverables to serve the medical, telecommunications, consumer, automotive and government industries.

A number of changes have taken place in the organization over the past decade. Changes in the world’s manufacturing landscape led MME Group President Robert Archambault and Vice President of Operations Brian Bussmann to springboard off Minnesota Mold’s momentum and develop into this full-service provider. The duo acquired the tooling company in 2004 from its founder, Don Chlebeck, and merged it with the molding to become an end-to-end provider.

In 1999, the company had 55 employees. Today, MME Group boasts 135 employees between two locations—a total of 75,000 square feet of floor space. The main building is located in Vadnais Heights, MN; the second location in North St. Paul. “The opening of our newest location in October 2007 is due to our tremendous growth over the past few years,” General Manager Tom Croce states. “The new location houses molding, assembly, pad printing, shipping and receiving, and space for storage. Our Vadnais Heights location remains very active. It will continue to grow and become home to our engineering group, tooling division, support groups, mold development, cleanroom molding and assembly operations.”

 

From Shop to One-Stop

Over the years, the MME Group recognized its customers were looking for a one-stop shop that was built for speed. According to Archambault, this realization resulted in the company’s evolution from a toolmaker and world-class tool shop to more of a molder/contract manufacturer. “Our customers are looking for a company that can provide all that they need, and ensure that all the services are fast, accurate and on-time,” Archambault explains. “We are becoming a true contract manufacturer in that we offer more value-added services, which includes assemblies, sub-assemblies and sourcing. We are able to get the project done fast, accurate and on time by driving projects with a concerted effort from the OEM through the entire supply chain. Having most of the molding services in-house has truly helped us maintain aggressive schedules on small to large programs.”

“Over the last few years we have had exciting growth and have expanded our floor space,” Bussmann adds. “Our new location will give our customers an opportunity to see our capacity and strength that MME Group has by controlling two locations. We have company veterans spread throughout the company and a great mix of new talent. Over time the customers also have changed. We are working more with OEMs and are involved in projects months and sometimes years before the product goes to production. We also are given more ownership of the project—which drives us to success.”

 

Quality Management

MME Group’s Quality Manager Steve Greisinger notes that the company’s goal is to “surpass the customers’ needs” and will do so through quality, service and continuous improvement. “We started and are following the evolutionary quality path known as Quality Management Systems (see QMS sidebar),” he states. “As part of our QMS, we have seen the implementation and modifications with ISO and TS requirements as the systems have changed and matured. Currently, we hold ISO 13485 Medical certification and are currently pursuing TS 16949 Automotive certification. Continuous improvement, along with strong corrective action systems, has been revolutionary in terms of identification and resolution for inefficient, broken-down business and production systems.

“It has been identified and published that over the past 10 years non-QMS companies have had extremely high spending issues,” Greisinger continues. “Between 25 and 40 percent of their revenues were going to fixing problems. This is known as the cost of quality—or more accurately—the cost of poor quality. We focus on improving quality (i.e., reduce waste) to help us produce products and services better, faster and cheaper. Our QMS focuses on defect prevention, cycle time reduction and cost savings.”

 

Continued Growth

MME Group will continue to focus on contract manufacturing over the next decade, Bussmann states. “We are lean-manufacturing driven,” he notes, “and offer our customers turnkey manufacturing solutions. We are focusing more and more on the entire program—concept through production. It is a relief for many customers to have a one-stop location. They can count on MME Group for Design for Manufacturing Assistance (DFMA), sourcing and coordination of the entire program.”

To that end, the company has created a 4 Diamond Flow process helps take the project from engineering to tooling to molding and value-added services in a fast and efficient method. “We have very technically strong individuals in all areas that work together to help the customer with all of their needs,” Bussmann notes. “The customer is number one! We will continue to drive to understand our customer’s needs and provide the services that meet or exceed those expectations.”

As for physical growth, plans are for MME Group to expand its cleanroom, an aggressive capital plan and another North American location in the 2009 timeframe. “We also are seeing growth in our (LIM) silicone molding due to our ability to provide LIM tooling and molding faster than the industry standard,” Bussmann states. “If we stay diversified in our customer base and services, we will see unlimited growth!”

 

A Decade of Difference

MME Group has experienced a lot of highs and a couple of lows this past decade. MME Group President Robert Archambault shares his thoughts on the past, present and future.

  1. Biggest industry change: China reared its ugly head and caused tooling prices to plummet—driving many toolshops out of business. The molding industry also went through a massive reorganization with a rush of mergers and acquisitions that changed the customer/supplier relationships in the industry.
  2. Top challenge in past 10 years: Reinventing our company to keep up with the changing times. Growing backwards in tooling sales and product pricing while streamlining systems to improve ever-shrinking margins.
  3. Top technology solution: High-speed machining in the toolmaking industry, purchasing thin-wall presses in 1998 led to becoming a custom molder.
  4. Top business strategy solution: Building our four disciplines: engineering/tooling/molding and contract has changed our entire company and led to strong growth.
  5. Best time in past 10 years: Right now, growth and fun challenges coming our way.
  6. Worst time in past 10 years: 2002 to 2003 in the tooling business where sales and margins were dropping like a rock.
  7. What is most remembered in moldmaking in the past 10 years: How fast the industry was growing in the late nineties and how it almost immediately dropped off between 2000 and 2003. September 11 was part of it, but most of it came from the emergence of China.
  8. Industry forecast for the next 10 years: China will continue to push our industry. We are Americans and will roll with the changes and continuously improve and come out as a stronger trade. We will have smaller, more nimble shops that focus on speed-to-qualified tools at comparable pricing to low-cost countries because of our ability to instill lean manufacturing, robots, lessons learned and a drive that cannot be matched by any other country in the world!

 

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