Internal expertise allows MGS to join the coronavirus fight

The tool room at MGS’s Germantown campus.
The tool room at MGS’s Germantown campus.

Last updated on May 21st, 2020 at 09:18 am

Under normal circumstances, it would take 18 to 20 weeks to build a single mold for the component that Germantown-based MGS Mfg Group Inc. is making for a rapid molecular level coronavirus test.

The component requires 18 complex injection molds in total and the company is working to complete all of them within 10 weeks.

Even after the molds are done, validating the work and reaching the point of ramping up production can take another 20 weeks, said Paul Manley, president of MGS.

In this case, Manley said MGS will go from start to production ramp in 12 to 14 weeks.

Cutting that much time out of the tooling development starts with a solid partnership with the customer, Manley said.

“It really is a very open relationship,” he added. “We understand where the challenges are, we’re on the phone daily, we’re working with other suppliers who typically would be, we’ll say competitors, so that we’re trying to help each other out. We’re all in this together to fight a common enemy.”

Beyond the customer relationship, Manley said cutting time out of the process also benefits from having tool-making, validation, production and automation capabilities in-house.

“Being in control of that, all within MGS, provides us flexibility to know where we can focus resources to take time out,” he said. “As you run into something during a trial, it’s in the shop the same day or the tool maker is at the sample, we can fix it in real time and not lose minutes, hours or days.”

Even with the right relationship and capabilities, Manley said the company still has to rely on the talents and know-how of employees in being diligent about how to design the molds, cut steel and assemble the tooling.

“It would be easier if it were something that could be bought, copied, but it does rely on people, on their skillset, on their knowledge, on what they’ve learned over the course of 30 years in the trade,” he said.

The test kit component isn’t the only coronavirus-related project MGS, which has around 1,800 employees globally and 600 locally, has taken on. Since COVID-19 started spreading, the plastic injection molding company has seen a 3- to 4-times increase in production of testing tubes and caps.

When one of MGS’s customers, a tier 1 automotive supplier, reached out about helping with GM and Ventec’s partnership to build ventilators, the company saw another opportunity to help.

“This wasn’t a significant piece of business, but our people knew we could leverage our know-how, our expertise, to help,” Manley said.

The work called for converting a previously machined part to plastic to allow the joint venture to ramp up production quicker.

“The tool shop saw that as a challenge,” Manley said, noting the tool makers built a mold that would typically take 12 weeks in just seven days. “They did it again because they knew they could leverage their talents to help fight the disease. It’s incredible to see.”

As MGS has worked to cut time out of the mold making process to help in the fight against the coronavirus, Manley said he hasn’t had to do much to encourage or motivate those working on the projects. Employees have embraced the opportunity to make a difference.

“I wish I could take more credit for it,” he said.

Manley has put much of his focus over the last two months on what the company is doing to keep employees safe. Those efforts have included increased cleaning and disinfecting of facilities, a contact tracing program, visitor restrictions and daily temperature checking that will soon be enhanced with a thermal imaging camera at employee entrances.

“This is not an option, this is a have to do,” Manley said of the safety measures. “It’s what good companies do to protect their people.”

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Arthur Thomas
Arthur covers manufacturing for BizTimes. He previously was managing editor at The Waukesha Freeman. He is a graduate of Carroll University and did graduate coursework at Marquette. A native of southeastern Wisconsin, he is also a nationally certified gymnastics judge and enjoys golf on the weekends.