Uniting Six Tool and Die Manufacturers Under One Brand

IMPACT Converting & Systems Solutions
Written by Jen Hocken

Historically a tool and die manufacturer for the converting industry, IMPACT makes a collection of tools and systems that complete the cutting, creasing, or folding processes of production.

IMPACT specializes in tools and systems for both flatbed and rotary converting presses. Flatbed presses move vertically to stamp out material like a cookie-cutter, while rotary presses curve the material around a cylinder to engrave the image on the face. Offering both services in an extensive variety of sizes is somewhat unique in the industry.

As all industries move toward a more sustainable future, the focus for many is on improving run speeds and quality while managing the cost. This is where IMPACT can generate the greatest benefit. It has several products in the works that are applying technology and automation in a way that may change the way converting and tooling are viewed in the industry.

“We’ve taken a very refined and focused strategy toward how to not only make those tools and those systems, which we still do but how to make those in such a way that our customers are getting more out of their capital and out of their equipment. We are not just making a tool; we are providing them with a whole solution,” says Chief Executive Officer Christopher Merendino.

IMPACT has introduced a service element to its business called the ‘Tech Team.’ This consists of experts in several converting disciplines who embed themselves into the customers’ facilities to make recommendations that will enhance the entire operation. These recommendations vary from how to maintain the equipment and proper balancing to performance improvements that allow the equipment to function more efficiently in conjunction with the tools.

“Our tool is basically when a material becomes a product. We are literally there when the conversion occurs,” says Merendino. “So our whole strategy is focused around providing the best quality that allows print presses to run more efficiently, but also to provide service and expertise on how to design whatever it is that’s being converted, how to run the capital more efficiently, and to provide the best converting experience overall.”

The broad spectrum of tools and sizes enables the company to partner with customers in specialty markets from corrugated boxes for packaging to heart valves. Where IMPACT is less involved is in short-run, easy-to-produce, paper labels for the commodity market. It tends to find itself in the more challenging specialty space that requires more of an engineering effort.

IMPACT is, in fact, an umbrella brand encompassing six leading American tool and die manufacturers. All six were purchased by a single private equity company called Auxo Investment Partners, established in 2016.

One of the first two acquisitions in 2017 was Bernal, LLC, a manufacturer of the largest rotary tools for massive die systems used for long-running products such as fast food containers or beverage containers. Another was Atlas Die, LLC, known for producing steel rule dies for over sixty years. Steel rule die-cutting is a popular and inexpensive way of converting using a flatbed die cutting press.

In 2018, Midway Rotary was acquired into the platform to fill a gap in the group’s portfolio. It makes solid, narrow-mid web rotary tools for complex applications. These tools are regularly used in the automotive and medical industries and can handle the hardest-to-cut materials used in various markets. Atlas Die’s sister company, Atlas Chem Milling also joined the team in 2019 and rebranded its name to AtlasFlex. It specializes in flexible rotary and flatbed die innovations using a chemical etching process, and these are used for lower-cost, short-run applications.

The group of companies joined forces but were still operating largely independent of one another, with separate sales teams and differing strategies. In 2019, the companies recognized the value of creating an association between different divisions to encourage more lead sharing and collaboration.

“The first thing that was done was that the sales focus was concentrated. Not to the point where everybody sells everything, but really to the point where everybody understands everything so that they can always get somebody to the right contact for any converting application,” explains Merendino.

The IMPACT name was created to present the group’s well-rounded service offering while leaving the legacy brand names intact. Having all the companies under one brand solidifies, both to the customers and internally, that the main goal is to offer the best converting solutions for any application.

The acquisitions did not stop there. IMPACT expanded into California with the purchase of Die Craft, LLC in 2020. Die Craft works in pressure-sensitive converting for a variety of industries using a wide range of solutions. In the same year, GC Dies was acquired and this helped to complete the one missing link in IMPACT’s ability to create any converting solution. GC Dies is a steel rule die manufacturer that specializes in flat and rotary corrugated material.

In the early stages of the pandemic, IMPACT saw its customer base adapt to changing markets. Some transitioned into the medical space to produce personal protective equipment, particularly in the automotive industry. Others saw a spike in sales because they supply grocery stores, and people were cooking from home far more.

“We were an essential business because, if you go into a grocery store today, about roughly eighty-five percent of things that are in a box of some sort are made by one of our customers, using one of our tools,” says Executive Vice President of Sales Scott Ellison.

Currently, in most industries, there is relative uncertainty surrounding supply chain issues. As everyone adapts to unpredictable changes, IMPACT strives to help mitigate the volatility of the market for its customers. It does this by applying the best business models and approaching its customers as partners.

The staff members at IMPACT took many precautions to help protect each other from COVID-19, and this helped to create an even tighter bond within the team. On the sales side, however, it brought a set of new challenges since the typical face-to-face sales techniques were not permitted. Luckily, this challenge has lessened in the last few months, as companies have started to allow salespeople back in to pitch newly launched products.

The main focus for the IMPACT brand today is building a common culture across all of its companies while respecting their skills and creativity. Traditionally, it would be very difficult to combine several successful, well-known tool and die manufacturers into one collaborative team of separate companies. Each has distinctive strategies, experiences, and talents. If the parent company expected everyone to follow all new standard operating procedures, the inventive vision of each company would be squandered, and product quality would drop.

IMPACT has taken on this formidable task by ensuring that its senior management and technical team are spread across all the companies to build a similar culture while allowing each process to run differently and independently. “We’ve been able to build a platform where all of our back end, the [enterprise resource planning], and the operating systems that are necessary between every facility so that we can manage the business, is the same across the platform. But each facility is very, very different, and we think that difference is what drives the culture and what ultimately brings happy employees. We’ve been very fortunate,” says Ellison.

IMPACT would like to hire more people than it has at the moment, though it does not have the mass turnover problem that seems prevalent within the industry. Recruiting can be a challenge, yet retention is no problem. IMPACT has long-tenured people because it provides good employee incentives and engagement.

The separate plants get together for social activities, and there is plenty of transparency between the companies in discussing potential new products and the benefit of investing in particular equipment with the capital expenditure. The goal is to manage the companies in a way that inspires other tool and die manufacturers to sell to the IMPACT brand. Hopefully, others will be interested in acquisition to give their employees the opportunity to work with such an outstanding team.

The innovative group of companies will continue to become more efficient and more service-oriented in its partnerships with customers. “I think we have a great platform with really exceptional employees and the best talent in the world for what we do. And that is a phenomenal launch point to just continue to expand and to grow and hopefully welcome other companies under the umbrella,” says Merendino.

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