Injection molder Matrix 4 Inc. is prepping for growth, adding machinery and redefining what it means to play in manufacturing as it settles into its fifth year under owner Patricia Miller, the Woodstock, Ill.-based company's CEO and self-styled visionary.
"As we go into five years, we continue to kind of make that leaps and bounds of progress that we're wanting to do, and at least validating that the strategy we put in place five years ago still seems to make sense, and it still makes it worthwhile to continue to move forward with the business," Miller said in a phone interview.
Miller took over the company in July 2014 from her grandfather, Raymond Wenk Sr., a tool and die maker who founded Matrix 4 — though, he opted for the Roman numeral IV — in 1976. The company molded various parts for the automotive and consumer products industries.
Wenk died earlier this year, on April 27. He was 83. But much of his entrepreneurial spirit is now embraced by Miller, who is transitioning the company from old-school plastics manufacturing to what she calls a "design and manufacturing house."
"Five years ago, I said we wanted to be a design and manufacturing company because I really felt like having true design and manufacturing together would allow us to work on products that we cared about, but also make sure we were looking at aesthetics and not just functionality," Miller said.
Part of that shift included hiring a full-time industrial designer to launch the design side of the business. That role was filled by Kyle Swen, a founding partner of San Francisco-based design firm Astro Studios Inc. who is now chief design officer at Matrix 4.
"For us to pull in a world-renowned designer into our facility is very foreign for a plastics company to do," she said, adding that it opens up opportunities to go after products for design-savvy brands like Shinola, Nike Inc. and PepsiCo Inc.
The focus on design is also part of a larger strategy by the company to compile an in-house material library that also includes more sustainable options. For instance, Matrix 4 has sampled a thermoplastic polyurethane material with a small percentage of cork from Swedish materials firm Hexpol AB. The company is also testing materials made from coffee grounds and bamboo.