Driven to Serve the Automotive Sector
Inspired by the dream of one day running his own business, Nick Mamatas, who immigrated from Greece at age 18, founded Toolplas Systems in 1999 after acquiring a small toolmaker in the Windsor, Ontario area. He soon shifted gears to specialize in the automotive sector, his area of expertise. Driven by the mission to deliver problem-free tooling to customers through engineering and technical expertise, while also providing a robust work environment and culture for team members, Toolplas continued to grow.
Founder and CEO Nick Mamatas tells us that immediately after graduation from the University of Massachusetts (Lowell), he went to work for a Tier One supplier of plastic components based in New Hampshire.
“I worked for Tier One automotive plastic suppliers in various positions including tooling follow-up, program management, and along the way I did a little bit of sales… I always say, once you get the automotive bug, it’s impossible to get it out of your system. The opportunity came for me to buy a tool shop in Windsor, and I jumped on this opportunity,” he recalls.
Today, the ISO 9001-certified designer and manufacturer of plastic injection molds and related toolings for automotive interior, exterior, and functional component modules employs 240 people across three plants. Toolplas Systems has two Windsor area facilities and one in Mexico, with total annual sales of approximately $70 million.
This 2019, the year of Toolplas’ 20th anniversary, is poised to be its best year yet. This is the year that Toolplas has significantly upgraded its third building in Windsor, invested in new technology and equipment, diversified its customer base, appointed new management – President John Schultz – and ramped up its lean manufacturing initiatives.
Mamatas founded the company under the philosophy of complete transparency with customers and with each other. Toolplas’ customer-oriented philosophy has led to lasting relationships built over the years, which continue to keep the company growing strong today.
“Toolplas Systems provides full support to customers in the very demanding, competitive auto tooling space. We have become an extension of our customers’ engineering,” says Mamatas.
Of course, in such a competitive market, cost sensitivity is also critical to success and Toolplas was able to achieve this with a hybrid model, building portions of tooling packages in China. This key decision to explore low cost countries was made in 2003, when Toolplas began collaborating with the Chinese companies it continues to work with to this day, ensuring the company’s long-term survival by providing blended pricing while maintaining high quality standards. “It was one of the best decisions I made,” Mamatas says of the collaboration.
Another key decision was Toolplas Systems’ expansion into Querétaro, Mexico in 2014. By purchasing the assets of a non-automotive molder/tool maker in Mexico, Toolplas Mexico was born. The growth was initially deliberate and the team had to invest the time and expenses in growing the facility and developing people. Today, the 22,000 square-foot plant of 40 people is profitable and important to the business, allowing Toolplas to support customer product launches for the country’s automotive operations. Toolplas Mexico is also heavily involved in the hot new electric vehicle market.
“The automotive industry is changing and there are exciting times ahead for plastic tooling manufacturers, with electric vehicles, autonomous vehicles, new lighting technology, and many other things,” Mamatas reveals. “We are currently working with several leading-edge companies to develop new technologies in tooling.”
New research shows lighting technology will play a significant role in autonomous vehicle production. Toolplas Systems is excited about projected company growth and the future of the automotive industry as a whole, as it progresses toward autonomous and electric vehicles.
While the industry advances forward, Toolplas Systems is ready to help customers every step of the way, even in difficult situations with short time constraints. The Canadian manufacturer focuses on people, processes, and technology in its goal of continuous improvement, and being viewed as a great company by its customers is very important to the Toolplas team. “We are not afraid to jump into a project that has really tight timelines. We have to take care of our customers,” Mamatas explains.
“The strength of our company is our feasibility support,” adds President John Schultz. “We will come in and support a large scale program without being officially awarded the business. All of our project engineers, Tier One customers and designers really think highly of Toolplas when we offer that support because ultimately if you can address those things early and upfront, it avoids downstream changes or impact to the program.”
But things haven’t always run smoothly for the adaptive company. In 2010, before Toolplas opened its Mexican facility but after the 2008 recession, the company began its working relationship with Harbour Results, a consultancy that helps manufacturing companies optimize their businesses. It was then that Toolplas Systems began embracing lean manufacturing principles, which it is now taking to the next level in its 20th year of business.
“Harbour Results helped improve our processes, develop strategies, and challenged us to think differently about how we manufactured tools,” shares Mamatas. “The business began to grow again, and in 2012, we acquired another Windsor-based toolmaker, where we are now expanding.”
Toolplas Systems’ goal is for its two Windsor facilities (about two miles apart) is to have all operations consolidated into the newer location, a world-class, ISO-certified headquarters with state-of-the-art CNC machining capabilities. It will comprise up to 70,000 square feet by the time expansions are finished by year-end.
“From a diversification standpoint, we have never been in a better position,” says Mamatas. “I remember back in the mid-2000s, even getting close to the time of the recession, we only had a couple of customers; today we have 23 different customers. Tooling is still a relationship business, and Toolplas has become the go-to shop for certain companies. We can handle projects that are challenging with their timing and complexity.”
Nick Mamatas’ future dreams for Toolplas Systems are to continue to service its innovative customers with a company that will survive long after himself, providing a future for the next generation of leaders in the plastics manufacturing and systems integration space.
“We need to continue to invest and move toward the forefront of technology, always on the leading edge,” he says. “We must continue to optimize the size of the company… the largest toolmaker is not always the best. Why do I say that? Because of the investment that it takes. This is a specialty business. Our business lives on peaks and valleys, based on the product launches of our customers. Building relationships is very critical for a tooling company.”
Nick Mamatas and John Schultz understand their customers and what they go through day to day, both having worked together for another Tier One supplier in the past.
Always looking to the customer’s needs, Toolplas Systems is now offering diversified solutions, including high-precision complex tooling such as automotive lagging. The company’s new state-of-the-art equipment includes several five-axis CNC machines (Roeders, Makino V90S, Grob 550), and a Unisig M38 Gundrill to be delivered later this year. In addition, it has invested in process development technology while partnering with tool and manufacturing experts such as Harbour Results to drive throughput and lead time reduction. It is also utilizing new enterprise resource planning and scheduling and machine monitoring software, and an RFID tool management system is in place. Toolplas Systems will continue to invest in its CNC machining capabilities and add to its talented team of individuals who take pride in the quality of the work they provide to customers.
“Of course we look for expertise in tool making, but we are also looking for innovative thinkers who can bring new ideas to our process development. We’ve heavily invested in an apprenticeship program that allows us to mentor high school graduates and also train current employees who have high potential,” remarks Mamatas.
Indeed, the 20 year old plastic injection mold and toolings designer and manufacturer is on a mission to serve the needs of the automotive industry for years to come.