Breaking the Mold at MGS

MGS Manufacturing Group
Written by Paul Hutchings

Imagine you are working at a company that provides high-quality, plastic, injection molding solutions and you have been there for twenty-five years. Your company, which supplies important parts to the healthcare industry, makes you President in your twenty-first year.

Then a pandemic hits, and in the middle of that, the company makes you Chief Executive Officer.

Paul Manley of MGS Manufacturing Group knows that feeling because it happened to him. He has been with the Wisconsin-based injection mold technology company for a quarter-century. MGS supplies single-use plastic products for devices that are used in testing procedures and collection devices used by pharmaceutical and diagnostic companies. So, given the current situation, with that executive job title label came a whole new source of stress.

But he still sounds like he is smiling, especially now, and he and Senior Vice President of Strategic Accounts, Bob Bordignon, are both much more optimistic than they were back in the spring. They are happy to report that most employees are back to work, and even though autumn will present further complications, they and everyone at MGS are up to the task.

This company started as a small tool-making shop in 1982. It has grown to provide injection molds for the healthcare and automotive sectors, as well as electronic and consumer product manufacturing, and recently began producing critical components for ventilator valves and test kits as part of its COVID-19 efforts.

“We don’t know exactly about a vaccine yet, who will deliver it, and how it’s going to be delivered,” said Bordignon. “But we’re standing ready once that news gets delivered if we can support it at all.” He said after the pandemic is under control, the company expects to see additional business that was not at any of its facilities before, but it took a lot to get where it is now.

Manley said that he is proud of how his company has weathered the storm. “We have a strong leadership team, and we’ve been able to make the necessary changes to the business,” he said. “But most importantly, we’ve done a great job of protecting our employees and positioning the company to (take on the difficulties and opportunities) that will come out of the coronavirus, and ultimately, we take great pride in being able to help in the fight against the common enemy.”

When the news of what was happening broke in mid-March, it was difficult to make decisions and manage the business, Manley said. The company did not want to send anyone home but eventually had no choice, and about 150 people had to leave. However, MGS bounced back, changing how things were done at its manufacturing facilities. Like most other businesses, it had to implement safety protocols such as strong contact tracing and temperature checks at the beginning of shifts. Once that was in place, management was able to start bringing the team back.

“The mode we’re in today, we’re all back to work, and now we have the challenges of some schools not going back, so we have to work through that and be as flexible as we can while we still service customers,” said Manley. “It’s tough, but we’re meeting the challenges.”

He added that the company is always looking for opportunities to help new and existing customers deal with the coronavirus in both the diagnostics and the drug delivery sides. In fact, the biggest part of MGS’s business is supporting pharmaceutical and diagnostic companies with single-use testing and collection materials and the objects used to hold the sample as it runs through a series of tests. Those are employed once and must then be thrown out.

“We are uniquely positioned with the breadth of services here, from the production of injection molds and automation, as well as downstream production. That allows us to offer a single point of accountability, simplify a supply chain for our customers, and source the entire program for MGS.”

The company can build complex injection molds and combine those molds with automation for assembly or inspection and then scale production at one of its own production facilities. It is an all-in-one process that works very well, said Bordignon.

The process “has allowed us to find much more elegant solutions for companies trying to scale their technologies up to levels they hadn’t considered,” he said, using the example of being given a green light to manufacture more pieces than were originally planned, even though the original number was already scaled.

“You don’t just turn that around overnight. There’s a lot of infrastructure that has to be put into place,” he said. “But we’re nimble. We have great scale, and I’d say just as quick or maybe quicker than anyone else, which puts us in a great position once the dust settles.”

Manley said integration always presents issues. “We’ve had to focus teams with the explicit responsibility to get the technologies together to bring them into production,” he said. “It’s a blend of all the great engineering talent we have here at MGS to make it happen, but it’s difficult, and we have found success with focus.”

The company operates five facilities in Wisconsin, two in Mexico, and one in Ireland. Germantown is home to its headquarters and its tooling facilities, molding, and automation equipment facilities. The Menomonee Falls site performs sampling, and Oak Creek is its distribution center. It expanded to Mexico a few years ago, enabling molding capabilities for the automotive, consumer, and electronics markets – and now, healthcare. MGS Ireland is home to healthcare, consumer, and electronics molding.

Obviously, the slowdown has affected the company’s international locations differently. With more medical components being manufactured in Ireland, staff members there have been keeping busy. But the shutdown of the automotive industries forced management into some difficult decisions worldwide, and they had to rely on what Manley called “great management,” in Mexico.

“We are seeing signs of life there,” said Bordignon. “I’d say so far we’re back to maybe twenty percent, and that will continue to go up.”

The company is already looking towards the future, even though nothing is certain at this point. Finding new business with current clients seems to be one way to climb upwards, as Manley said several original equipment manufacturers that MGS has already been supplying came to the company seeking solutions with which it was not originally involved, but these companies required plastics in large quantities. “So that’s what we focused on,” he said, “and it’s working.”

Manley said getting that CEO title in May was an honor, but having already been at the company, he was not interested in changing the culture. Why would he?

“I had a pretty good understanding of what works at MGS, what our key to success is, and making sure that I’m a good steward for our culture going forward,” he said. “I think the secret is just listening to people. We all have different roles and responsibilities, and we’re all trying to accomplish the same thing, so it’s about making sure the business is aligned and being a good communicator.”

Manley and Bordignon do not like using the term ‘silver lining,’ but it was reported in a plastics industry magazine in July that when the company first got involved against the pandemic, just over 173,000 tests were being performed in the United States, and those tests use MGS products. That number more than doubled two weeks later, and the testing numbers continue to rise.

That success seen today will bring success in other areas in the future, and the plant in Mexico will be running to full capacity in no time if all goes well. Or rather, when it goes well.

It is all about positivity at MGS.

“We’re more optimistic right now,” said Manley. “We were uniquely positioned as we were launching a lot of the test kits, and they’re now in production in our molding facilities. We’re doing a lot better now. We’re feeling blessed.”



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