Going Automated


Matrix Tooling, Inc. and Matrix Plastic Products specialize in building difficult-to-produce precision molds for the most demanding plastics applications. Located in the Chicago suburb of Wood Dale, Illinois, the company prides itself on blending old- world craftsmanship with the industry’s leading-edge technology.

Matrix has been a pioneer in the area of Ram EDM automation, and when Matrix recently wanted to expand its automated Ram EDM and graphite milling capacity, the company looked to Makino for assistance.

"This kind of automation gives us the ability to run continuously, which is important for all types of jobs from single to multiple cavities to custom machining work" says Tom Ziegenhorn, design and manufacturing engineer for Matrix.

"In order to meet our customers’ demands for quicker deliveries, our goal is to utilize automation as much as possible and move a larger volume of work through our facility faster," says Jim Ziegenhorn, vice president of manufacturing.

Building Toward Automation

"We went into business back in 1978 to build plastic injection molds and do engraving work," says Jim. "At that time we had mostly small core and cavity jobs. A few years later we got into building complete molds.

Expanding with Technology"The automation solution provided by Makino has allowed us to expand our business and get into more areas. Today we offer plastic injection molding from 15 tons up through 300 tons."

Matrix employs 50 people, and operates in a modern 30,000 square-foot facility. They provide plastic injection mold design, precision mold making, molded parts and all related inspection services. Molds are built to meet the highest customer standards for quality and reliability, and they are designed to withstand high volume production with minimal maintenance.

The company’s clients cover a wide range of industries - including automotive, medical, health care products, oral care, electrical connectors, electrical parts, consumer products, telecommunication products and window connectors.

Automation Forerunner As Matrix first made their plans for cellular, robotic manufacturing expansion in 2000, they became one of the first companies in the U.S. to team up with Makino and Erowa to achieve this type of EDM automation.

They purchased a Makino EDNC43S Ram EDM machine and an Erowa robot and CMM Preset station. They then integrated the robot with both this new machine and with another pre-existing EDNC43S. This gave them a two-machine cell with the ability to do offline pickups of electrodes and workpieces.

The second cell began as an SNC64G/S graphite milling machine and Erowa robot in 2000. In 2003, Matrix added a second SNC64G/S with a new Erowa robot which had enhanced capabilities like cutter tool changing and rotating arm options.

In 2005, the company purchased two more Makino EDNC43S machines with another robot, giving them their third automated EDM cell.

This cellular expansion made Matrix an industry pioneer in Ram EDM automation, and has clearly benefited them in other ways as well.

Moving Jobs Faster

"We’re able to get the work through our shop faster than in the old days," says Jim. "Since the automation of the graphite mills and EDM’s, the number of hours necessary to get a job done has been greatly reduced, and this has really improved our lead times."

"My job here is primarily to cut graphite, and these machines are very efficient," says Walt Martineau, CAM programmer and machine operator. "We are able to achieve maximum cutting feeds over all geometric shapes."

On one particular Matrix project, it used to take over 100 hours of burn time for the heat-treated 420 stainless steel part. Every time they produced a set of electrodes, they would prepare the first six, take them out when finished, and put in six new electrodes.

"With our old way of doing things, we might have set up six 4 x 6-inch electrodes on the carousel. We would get the first burn done and then have an operator come in, swap them out, and start the program again.

"With the Makino automation handling these tasks, it now only takes 50 hours to complete the job - half the time," Tom continued.

Additionally, the new ability to switch electrodes from one machine to another means Matrix can now divide work between their automated cells.

"In the past we would put 32 cavities up on the table and then our machine would burn for a week straight," Martineau continues. "Now we are able to split those 32 cavities - putting eight into each of four machines - and as a result, we move the work through EDM much more quickly."

A 24/7 Operation

Speed is enhanced by the unattended machining of the new automated cells at Matrix.

"We used to run two shifts, but automation has allowed us to go to three shifts - 24 hours a day, seven days a week," says Jim.

"We can staff shifts with fewer people. We do the pickup on the electrodes, load them in the robot, and the machines just run through the weekends."

"We have also added capacity for the number of electrodes that we can load," Jim continues. "With the robot we can hold 80-100 electrodes. Because we are able to preset electrodes and work pieces, the next job is ready to go into the machine once a burn is done.

"With the Makino automation and the robot, I can now put 30 or 40 of the same electrodes in there and do the entire job with no operator involvement. On one particular job where we had three different styles of electrodes, the robot was capable of holding all three styles of large electrodes, in multiples of each."

"With that kind of automation you get the flexibility and enhancement that you can’t achieve in a manual process," Tom adds.

"And we are able to do a larger volume of work because the machines are constantly running. At the same time, we are able to maintain the quality and the accuracy that our customers demand from us," says Jim.

Financial savings go beyond running 24/7 with less manpower and the ability to build products on an automated cell.

"With the machine running unattended, and by running more electrodes through, we see less wear on our finishing electrodes," says Jim. "It saves the graphite costs and the manufacturing time required to build additional electrodes, and we still get exactly the same quality - only it’s unattended machining."

Better Surface Finishes

With the Makino EDNC43S, Matrix is using a number of popular technological advancements, including HQSF™ high-quality surface finish technology to achieve a superior finish without a loss in metal removal rates.

"With HQSF, our fitting is so much better now than in the old days because of the accuracies and the quality of burning," says Tom. "We achieve a finer finish, and it even roughs a little faster, helping us get the excess stock out of there. It’s a nice option to have on the machine."

"Makino taught us about the new HQSF option for ultra-fine finishes," Jim continues. "We also attend the support seminars they hold at their Tech Center in Elgin.

"In our cells we are now able to get much finer EDM finishes with far less benching on these new machines. Most of our jobs have sharp corners, very small details, and they are deep and therefore not well suited for hard milling. So we continue to EDM a tremendous amount of our work.

"I am very happy with the consistency, accuracy and the quality of the burns that we are getting. The machines give better finishes and they are much faster."

Micro Technology

All of this has helped Matrix stay at the forefront of micro technology. Close tolerance parts are their specialty.

Matrix makes a type of small electronics part that goes inside a computer with a tolerance of two-tenths to hold on a four-cavity mold. It’s 20-thousandths wide, with detail on the bottom. Fifty of them fit on a dime. The detail and precision Matrix achieves on parts like this are a result of the accurate output and repeatability of the automated cell and components.

Matrix has also made medical parts, including drivers for intravascular staples used in surgery. The stapling device is used instead of conventional hand stitching on bypass surgeries, and fires staples that are four-thousandths in diameter.

"These types of small medical devices minimize the number of invasive operations people need," says Jim.

"An advantage is our automated graphite milling and Ram EDM cells. They reduce our costs when we’re trying to make cores and cavities for these parts whether it’s one or multiples."

Because Matrix has found a niche in the area of precision micro-molding they have added a Class-100,000 clean room to expand on their more demanding, high-end applications such as medical devices.

"I think this micro machining segment is going to grow because people are finding that they are able to do smaller work," says Jim.


The Makino partnership helps Matrix stay competitive, and Matrix is happy with the new cellular configuration Makino helped them achieve.

"I believe that by combining all of our resources with Makino we have reduced our costs," says Jim. "All of the tools that we build are of the highest quality and accuracy, and are competitively priced."

"We bought our first Makino machine back in 1990, so we knew Makino machine tools worked well. By adding the automation cells, we have been able to move more jobs and more products through the cycle and get them out faster."

Tom agrees. "Today we are in a world-wide competition on delivery and price. Price is difficult, and it will remain so because of the wage differences between the U.S. and other countries. But on delivery, we can beat many of the foreign competitors out there because of our automation."

"Our investment in technology keeps us competitive," says Jim. "It is one of the reasons why we are still in business when many tool shops are no longer around. We have spent the money to keep up with what we believe is the future and the direction that the mold building industry is going."

"For over 15 years, the Makino machines have always been rock solid," says Tom. "They are very reliable, with very few maintenance issues."

"We will continue to use Makino’s products for many years to come. They continue to make improvements over the years, just like we do," says Jim. Sometime in the future, Matrix may automate their wire EDM operation and their vertical milling operation. This will further boost their competitiveness and add resources to meet customer expectations.

"We provide our customers with exactly what they want, when they want it. We protect the integrity of their products and give them the quality and support they need throughout the entire project," says Jim. "We keep customers this way."

And with leading-edge technology in place, growth at Matrix continues

Matrix Tooling, Inc.

Wood Dale, Illinois

Phone: 630-595-6144

E-Mail: info@matrixtooling.com

Web: www.matrixtooling.com