The two gleaming Engel two-shot injection molding presses at M2M International Ltd. are more than just the latest in high-end plastics technology.
They represent the melding of M2M's various business plans from the past five years, uniting design from India, mold-making capabilities in Wallaceburg, prototype and low-volume molding from M2M's 1 Source Plastics Ltd. and an ability to reach out to both equipment makers and customers who are using the company's expertise to create new products.
``People think tool shops are something old, something in the past, but there is something new here,'' said Bharath Reddy, president of India operations for M2M's Synergetic LLC group. ``They're becoming an engineering company.''
While M2M still is turning out molds for global customers - including a recent bumper fascia program for General Motors Corp.'s Australian carmaking arm Holden - the firm has been rethinking what else it can do with its expertise.
``You're using people and equipment where it makes the most sense,'' said Mark Nowakowski, vice president of business development for M2M, in a March 1 interview at the Wallaceburg company.
That could mean harnessing mold-design expertise in India to trouble-shoot production in China; or putting North American mold makers to work creating custom tool components; or using quality control equipment - originally purchased to check molds - to verify prototype parts a customer is developing on Engel machines.
A relationship with Inagaki Plastic Mold Co. Ltd. of Shizuoka, Japan, allows each firm to use the other's expertise in both molds and regional production. Takehiro Inagaki - the son of Inagaki's founder and a business engineer there - has spent a year with M2M as a sales engineer, helping to firm up the links between the businesses and provide greater communication between M2M and Japanese carmakers in the U.S., including Honda Motor Co. Ltd.
M2M's MS-2 LLC subsidiary in Gadsden, Ala., does 80 percent of its tooling work with Honda and DaimlerChrysler AG's Mercedes vehicles.
The relationship also extends to allowing customers to take advantage of M2M's location for greater development secrecy, noted President Richard Myers. The company backs up to a cornfield, 90 minutes northeast of Windsor, Ontario.
``Everything is starting to come together - all of these developments worldwide,'' Nowakowski said.
Myers has pushed for M2M to look at new ways to attract and do business for more than a decade, such as exploring new products, new collaborations and new regions.
``From the 1950s up into the 1980s, if you were a good mold maker, then you had a good business,'' he said. ``That isn't true anymore.''
Toolmakers have to take a wider approach, he said.
``Our goal is to provide whatever our customer needs in engineering support when they come to us.''
That global and engineering approach also can include mold design. Engineers with Synergetic, based in Chennai, India, do everything from a complete design to mold flow analysis. Synergetic even can map out the best way for a customer to use robotics.
The connections there are expected to pay off as the auto industry ramps up production in India, Reddy said.
The Chennai engineers also can create detailed plans for the custom mold components created by M2M employees, using blanks supplied by Foster Group Ltd., a strategic partner based in Ningbo, China.
Synergetic helped design the most effective layout for the Engel 2,500-ton press being used to develop new two-shot parts for a customer. The firm even provided a three-dimensional mock-up of the work area.
And more is to come.
Engel Machinery Inc. is developing plans with M2M to install a press and automation equipment at MS-2's Alabama site, and is providing space for mold testing and prototype development in the South on state-of-the-art equipment.
M2M is also part of a strategic partnership that will recycle every piece of scrap plastic from six Magna International Inc. facilities into usable parts.
As part of the Alpha-Omega Plastics Group, M2M will take in a variety of scrap plastics, use molds made in-house, produce parts at 1 Source and return the finished parts to Magna. The parts could range from brackets to under-the-hood components to pallets.
``It all goes back into the system, so they never have anything go back into the landfill again,'' said Steve Harrison, director of global business development.
And 1 Source is landing new contracts to make parts for cars and trucks produced in low volume, such as commercial trucks and sports cars, he said.
``We're getting better at things we've always done, and taking on things we've never done,'' Nowakowski said.