Andy Ziegenhorn started working at Matrix Tooling Inc. in 1998 as a part-time tooling apprentice. He was still in high school.
His grandfather, father and uncle had founded the company a few years before he was born. Ziegenhorn grew up watching them work hard and take great pride in the company.
"I continued to pick up additional machining skills while working over my summer and winter breaks all the way through college. I considered it a great opportunity to work with family and make good money while going to school. But honestly, I did not see myself heading down that career path in the long-term."
However, after he graduated from college, he began to see the potential for a career at Matrix. Ziegenhorn was excited by the idea of applying his business skills to help the improve the company.
"To this day, it's a really cool dynamic working with both of my parents, my brother and several members of my extended family at Matrix every day. We all complement each other by bringing a different skill set to the table, which is why we work together so well (and don't kill each other)."
Today he's the Wood Dale, Ill.-based company's chief operating officer.
Greatest achievement? Co-developing our custom ERP system with my brother, Dave. Our mantra at Matrix has always been to customize our customer's experience, so an off-the-shelf ERP product would never work here; plus, we had too many well-established processes in place to handle our complicated business model.
Biggest failure and what it taught you? I consider losing a program, under any circumstances, a failure; but there was one large program in particular that really stung to lose. It was for a global medical company and it had been running at Matrix for over 10 years with a stellar performance record. But due to an economic downturn, the customer abruptly decided to pull it and bring it in-house for no other reason than to keep one of its own divisions busy during the slowdown. And just like that, it was gone. It was purely a financial decision that made perfect sense, but that painful experience taught me that any program can be fragile and have a limited life span, so you can't take anything for granted. You always have to be ready with a Plan B.
What is your current challenge at work? Closing the age gap that exists between our most experienced employees and the next generation of talent, particularly in our tooling department. There is a shortage of available candidates with the skill set we need, which is why we are so focused on developing our own internal talent pool.
We are fortunate to have some very promising apprentices who are doing great work and have loads of potential. So in planning for the retirement of some of our key people, I feel pretty confident that we'll have the right people in place, ready to step into their shoes at just the right time.
What emerging technology or market most interests you? Wow, hard to pick just one. Anything 3D printing, but I'm especially interested in additive manufacturing as it relates to potentially printing tools. We'd still have some finishing work to do, but the savings in both time and money would be huge.
CT scanning technology and the ability to have a to-the-micron perfect inspection in a matter of seconds is also very exciting. We're always looking to add automation wherever we can, so I'm also interested in collaborative robots to handle more mundane tasks and free up our operators to do more critical things.
What about the plastics industry surprises you? The cost of some of the medical-grade resins out there, and how the certification and testing required drastically increases the price. Some of the bioresorbable materials we run here in our clean room cost $1,500-plus per kilogram. That's a real eye-opener.
What advice would you give to a person considering a career in the plastics industry? Don't let any misplaced or misguided stigmas about a manufacturing career distract you from the exciting potential of this industry. Dig in and get as much hands-on technical experience as you can, as early as you can. It will only pay dividends down the line, and the skills you gain will last a lifetime.