Business Goes Better with the Help of Robots

Matrix Design
Written by Robert Hoshowsky

Aerospace to automotive. Components to consumer products. Marine to medical… Industrial automation is becoming increasingly crucial to the entire alphabet of industries today. Illinois-based Matrix Design develops, manufactures, and installs robotic automation systems.
Shipping entire systems across the United States and to Mexico, China, Poland, Thailand and other countries, Matrix Design specializes in deburring, material handling, and machine tending products. As a Level 4 FANUC system integrator – one of the world’s biggest industrial robot makers – Matrix is also FANUC ASI (Authorized System Integrator), FANUC Certified Servicing Integrator, and a FANUC Vision Specialist. For Matrix, being a Level 4 FANUC system integrator attests to its standing in the industry and its ability to engineer and install a wide range of robot product.

“To our clients, it means that we have a lot of experience in the automation industry, and that our teams are certified at the highest levels of what FANUC offers in terms of robot repair, as well as programming and such,” says Jeff Bennett, Matrix’s Vice President, Sales and Marketing. As a FANUC service integrator, the company is also authorized to dismantle and move robotic systems. That includes work and maintenance on competitors’ systems, to help customers get their systems up and running quickly.

With a team of about 80, offering 24/7 service, Matrix recently came to the rescue of a client when the company which had initially installed the system could not get there soon enough. Matrix sent somebody within a day to solve the issue. “It’s made a big difference, having enough people for new projects, and having people available all the time to handle emergency situations,” comments Bennett. “Very few people call on our 24/7 service, but when they do, they need help, and we can jump on it.”

The Matrix Way
Known for designing high-quality, reliable industrial automation systems for clients across the globe, Matrix is founded on Core Values and The Matrix Way, its own seven-step internal process. Starting with the customer and progressing to the project manager, engineering team, production team, application team, service team, and sales, clients are assured of quality concepts, design and build capability, programming, validation, installation, and a lifetime of support.

Unlike companies who use outside services, Matrix Design sends only its own trained staff to perform installation and integration, which can take two to four weeks. Employees not only know the company’s robots inside and out, but also utilize Programmable Logic Controllers (PLC), Human Machine Interface (HMI), machine tools and controls to make the entire process as seamless as possible for the end user.

With in-depth knowledge of system integration, staff can handle any issues that arise on the spot, rather than sending one installation team to do the mechanical work, another to handle the robot, and a third for controls. Customers love this one-team capability, since it considerably shortens the time frame. “Our guys really know what they are talking about,” Bennett says. “Most of our staff – when we send the system out – have done the programming here on our site, and often those systems get run off before they even leave our location. And they are the same people who program them here on our floor, take them to a customer, and do the integration there.”

With all systems tested in advance, Matrix has also moved workers to locations in Mexico, Ohio, and Indiana. “It’s really what the job calls for, and what the customer would like to see us do.”

Seizing opportunities
In the early 2000s, the day came when client Camcraft Incorporated – experts in hydraulic and fuel system components – needed some grinders to be automated. Vice-President of Operations at Camcraft at the time, Patrick Bertsche purchased a number of pieces of automation from Matrix. Building on the relationship, Camcraft’s owners bought Matrix in 2013, and the two became sister companies.

Even though the relationship before the purchase was solid and the products were exceptional and ran well, Bertsche, now President, perceived that Matrix’s customer experience could be better, with issues like delayed delivery dates and internal challenges in identifying the scope of a project. Once Camcraft took over Matrix, internal processes were focused on and improved, resulting in an even better job for customers.

“That was one of the areas of opportunity where we thought we could help,” says Bertsche. “Often people buying machine tools deal with suppliers who will nickel-and-dime you and say, ‘all this is going wrong,’ or ‘we need more money for this,’ or ‘you want that addition? It’s going to cost you.’ It becomes an adversarial relationship once a purchase order is granted, but before delivery is accepted,” he explains.

“And after it gets delivered and installed, a lot of our competitors will walk away before it’s done. Either they’ve run out of money — say, they budgeted two weeks to have a guy out of state, and he didn’t finish — so they will demand more money to come back. Or they’ll say ‘there’s nothing else we can do, it’s your problem now.’ And we just said to ourselves those things will never happen from now on: we will be a company that will be distinct in those areas, and it has served us well for the last six years of owning the business.”

Started with the idea of rebuilding grinding machines and installing new controllers soon led Matrix to using robots to control the grinders. Spending the first five years or so taking on grinder work and small automation projects, Matrix continued to grow. Strong in areas including robotic deburring and material handling/machine tending, Matrix became a company customers like to do business with.

Customers also appreciate that the company can handle large integrations at the same time. If a client wants to develop a product or part that has several operations — such as multiple machine tools — Matrix will help automate the entire line, from start to finish. “We may be delivering a system with six to ten or even fourteen robots, and connecting all the machines via conveyors or some other material handling means,” comments Bertsche. “We’ve really developed those two special areas.”

The company has many well-known clients, such as Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, Cummins, American Axle, and General Motors. Bertsche says over half of Matrix’s clients are large enough to have fully thought through what it is they want to automate, and how to do it; the other half require Matrix going in and defining the scope of the operation and the requirements, and putting a proposal together.

Recent growth
Matrix Design moved into its new facility in Bartlett IL, designed with automation in mind, last year. At 100,000 square feet, it is shared with Camcraft, and can be expanded by another 50,000 square feet. To maximize efficiency, the building was carefully laid out, with all offices purpose-designed with allowance for plenty of meeting and training space.

Located close to Chicago, which has a strong manufacturing base, Matrix is well connected to its supply chain, and to numerous fabrication and machine shops in the Chicagoland area.

Widely recognized by FANUC for its sales leadership, design work, and operational excellence, Matrix continues to enjoy both new and repeat business which, says Bennett, is always the best way for a company to know it is performing well. “We haven’t lost a customer that I can think of, and a lot of them consistently come back to us, and are very interested in partnering with us,” he says.

With the tagline ‘Improving lives on the factory floor,’ Matrix clearly contradicts the myth that automation replaces jobs; in fact, the company believes workers will instead be elevated and given more opportunity. “In their position, if their work is being automated, oftentimes they are asked to work the automated cell, so they’re not just running one machine, but multiple machines, and therefore their pay can go up, and does,” says Bertsche.

He saw that happen at Camcraft, where the number of robots has grown substantially. “We see automation not only helping the worker doing the work more safely and ergonomically, with higher quality and productivity, but managers are getting higher production more consistently with the machines they manage. This helps the company win business it wouldn’t have otherwise had they not automated.”

Robots show the way
The team at Matrix encourages customers to ask questions, even if they don’t quite know where to start. And while the initial price tag of automation may seem high, it eliminates the need for more operators, and is today vital to business success. “Companies that continually invest in their business are thriving right now; companies that never have are vulnerable to losing their work,” Bertsche observes. “It’s a conscious decision from owners: are you going to be around in 10 or 15 years or not? And those that want to are partnering with companies like Matrix and are doing well.”

As Matrix takes on new employees, Bertsche is confident of the future, and says smart manufacturers realize the importance of automation. Speaking at a recent event, Bertsche asked a hundred or so attendees how many of them had robots. About half of them had zero or just one in their plant. He then asked how many hoped to install robots in the next five years, and everybody raised their hands.

“You’ve got to start somewhere; you’ve got to start with your first system, and grow from there,” he says. “Everybody realizes that it’s coming,” adding that minimum wage increases are already affecting manufacturing companies not just across the U.S. but globally, with customers going to companies offering the lowest cost. “I’m concerned about how it’s going to affect all these manufacturing companies. They have to start. They have to do something to be wise about their products.”

Meeting Customer Needs
When the marketing team of a retail and commercial tool manufacturer came up with a plan to increase demand for their new product exponentially, their engineering process experts quickly rose to the occasion. They created a process to manufacture their product through clever engineering, teamwork and a series of operations. When they took this into production, they realized they had a big problem – they couldn’t make rate. With so many different operations, various machine tools involved and a management team demanding answers, they started looking outside for help to fix the problems one at a time.

When they called Matrix Design to assess one specific operation they believed to be the bottleneck, the Matrix team looked at the problem from a different angle. Matrix was able to collaborate with the manufacturing engineers and together developed a concept that didn’t change any single operation, but rather streamlined the entire process through automation. Their engineers were thrilled with the solution and after reporting it to management, they got the go ahead to place the order. Fast forward six months – the solution is working beautifully and the higher market demand, which did materialize, is being met.



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