Injection mold maker M2M International Ltd. was a company closely tied to the auto industry, seeing its volume grow through contracts to build large and complex molds used by automakers around the world.
When the auto industry began a major slump this year, it hit the company hard, and when a key customer failed to pay its bills on time, owner Richard Meyer was forced to close the 28-year-old, 100-employee business.
But M2M was part of a family of tooling-focused operations, and since M2M's closure in March, the remaining elements have refocused to establish a new global entity that is smaller but casts a wider business net to catch new leads wherever they pop up.
``There are pockets of business everywhere, if you're in the right place to take advantage of them,'' said Mark Nowakowski, global business development manager, during a July 7 interview in Wallaceburg, which is the center of the newly named 1 Source Group.
``It's about nontraditional thinking; it's about being global; it's about changing your thinking and looking at nontraditional business.''
1 Source Group includes three elements that existed prior to the M2M closure, all of them sister firms not directly affected by M2M's finances: 1 Source Plastics Ltd. in Wallaceburg, a custom injection molding facility; MS-2 LLC of Gadsden, Ala., a toolmaker focused on the expanding molding facilities in the South; and Synergetic Engineering Solutions, a mold design engineering firm in Chennai, India, that has provides low-cost mold design for North American and Asian tooling.
In late May, the companies bought some M2M equipment and leased space to create 1 Source Design Ltd., another toolmaking firm, but one that is far smaller, with about a fifth of the workforce M2M had.
The new company hired some of M2M's workers, tapping into their knowledge, and is taking on a wider variety of work, said Ben Tyhurst, senior program manager for 1 Source Design.
``As a new company, we're targeting tool builds for both automotive and nonautomotive work, but we're starting off doing a lot of custom machining too anything to keep the equipment running,'' he said.
Scrambling for business has brought 1 Source Group new customers that the old companies might have missed out on, including an injection molded decking system used for docks and walkways called ThruFlow Inc., which is helping to fill 1 Source Plastics' presses, and Cup-A-Round, a soft plastic, reusable sleeve made of thermoplastic elastomer for hot drinks.
Creator Lisa Matlovich of Sarnia, Ontario, is marketing the TPE as a replacement for the thousands of cardboard sleeves that end up in the trash every day.
``When I first started out, a lot of [manufacturing] companies just weren't interested in talking to a startup,'' she said as she watched production of the Cup-A-Round at 1 Source Plastics. ``It seemed like most of them just wanted me to go away.''
Now working through 1 Source, Matlovich is selling her plastic sleeves through marketing firms across North America, and she is in talks with the group to develop other products, including coasters made from recycled scrap.
The Wallaceburg molding and tooling groups still can tap into the business built by its sister companies, while those companies can take advantage of the experience of the former M2M toolmakers now at 1 Source.
Synergetic Engineering Solutions and 1 Source Design joined forces to create a three-piece mold that will produce the air-intake manifold for the $2,500 Nano, the ``people's car,'' that is being made by Tata Group of Mumbai, India. SES in Chennai designed the upper and lower thirds of the manifold, with Wallaceburg overseeing the more complex middle section. Wallaceburg also produced the mold for the center part with a 1 Source cooperative partner, Mastercraft molding of Bangalore, India, making the other two molds. The joint venture Tata Visteon Automotive PVT Ltd. in Pune, India, will do the molding and assembly.
Alabama's MS-2 mold shop is sending four 14-mold tools to Wallaceburg to have it help out on the contract.
And 1 Source is sending four toolmakers to China to help an affiliated shop there troubleshoot some problems, which Nowakowski refers to as a ``rent-a-toolmaker'' move.
``It's about having the flexibility to respond,'' he said.
The new group of companies may represent just a portion of the sheer size of the old Synergetic and M2M lineup, Tyhurst said, but that simply reflects the new reality of business.
``The traditional ways proved themselves out not to work in the long run,'' he said. ``Now we're trying to look at different ways to do things.''