Things may look the same from the outside, but Catalyst is a company that is always on the move. Let’s set the story up a bit.
If you haven’t been inside our building lately, you should know that some things are happening here that we’re pretty excited about. There has been a recent investment in both equipment and personnel to increase our capabilities and manufacturing capacity. It may seem like we’re talking about ourselves but rest assured, this story is all about you -our client. Here is the reasoning and detail behind the recent investment.
A Conversation With Catalyst CEO, Jack Lawson
Q: Catalyst has recently added a fair amount of machinery and personnel. What’s behind the push to expand?
A: “When Dennis and I started this company, we really felt like if we focused on client success, everything else would fall into place. And so, Catalyst has always been a technology company, we are always investing in the future. We’ve recently added equipment to our molding and tooling department as well as some advancements in our 3D printing capabilities. While adding equipment is all well and good, you also must have experts to run the equipment. All the great equipment in the world is completely useless unless you have a great team of people, so we’ve also invested in advanced manufacturing personnel and engineers with diverse backgrounds.”
Q: There’s been a lot of talk about supply chain disruptions and companies needing to reshore their design and manufacturing. How has that factored into your decision making with regards to expansion?
A: “The past couple of years have been interesting not just for Catalyst, but for the world in general. And usually when something like a major global incident, like the pandemic happens, companies tend to hunker down they feel like it’s just all about survival. They focus on surviving the next day or the next hour in some cases. We never really thought that way at Catalyst. And so, in that in that line of thinking, we invested in the company while looking at what was happening during the pandemic. We could see our clients were struggling to get parts. Another thing that happened during the pandemic that many people aren’t even aware of is that a lot of intellectual property was lost. IP protection is something that companies really struggle with when they go offshore.
Just in the past couple of years, clients coming from medical and telecom and aerospace for example, are starting to realize just how fragile their supply lines are. And so, in order to really service our clients, we are pushing our manufacturing capabilities a bit further. Global uncertainty makes trying to expand a difficult task, but I think you still need to plan for the future. And that’s really what we’ve done. For example, if we look at our rapid tooling process, we have to be careful that we ourselves are not a victim of tunnel vision. We can think our tooling process is great, it’s always been great, and it’ll always be great, but technology changes so quickly in today’s world. You know, it’s funny to compare where we were 23 years ago with where we are today. It’s almost like we were using rocks and sticks back then.”
Q: I was in the tool shop today, and I didn’t see any rocks or sticks in there now.
A: “Well, that’s true. We can do 99% of the parts in the world and in fact that’s one of the benefits of the Catalyst rapid tooling process. We can usually do things at our facility that other rapid tooling companies can’t or won’t do because it slows them down. Our process is much more flexible, much more versatile. We don’t make our clients redesign their parts to fit our process. Our process fits our designs and our client’s designs. But there was still that 1% of parts out there. And I’m talking about highly intricate and precise components. There were a few parts that we just couldn’t do well without having the right equipment. The ability to produce a plastic part that is very intricate, high tolerance has definite benefit. The other side of it is the speed. The more complex, tiny, and high tolerance that part is, the longer it takes to produce it. If a supplier is taking 12 or 15 weeks to produce something, then that’s really not going to benefit the client. We want to stay within that 12-to-15-day window and still provide the quality parts our clients need. So that’s also driving our decisions internally.”
Q: The types of components being designed and shipped out of here has expanded. There’s suddenly been smaller and more complex parts. What’s driving that?
A: “We’re now taking on clients who require very intricate detail in medical and aerospace industries for connectors and so on. We invested in a wire EDM for example, it’s a very specific piece of equipment and it changes the way you think. We had an established process with CNC machining and just a regular sinker EDM. But now we’ve added wire EDM (MV1200S specs) to our tooling process. We can approach design challenges differently and it’s around 30% faster. So, it challenges us to design better, to engineer a bit differently, it challenges us to rethink what is possible. Our tolerances
are tighter, the available geometry has expanded, and that particular piece of equipment is already benefiting our clients in that regard.”
Q: So did the addition of the wire EDM require Catalyst to invest in the smaller press?
A: “That’s one reason we added the small press (J50ADS specs) and that’s just to mold components that have the tiny little details. We’re getting requests to expand our capabilities in those areas, and you really need to dial in that process to make sure that you’re doing that correctly. Just from a quality standpoint, the 85-ton press was our smallest press until we added the 50-ton, and it was pretty versatile. We were able to run quite a bit of different sized parts on that just because the nature of the way we had it set up. But that’s not to say we were running at the highest efficiency if you have a very small part. The sprue might
be bigger than the actual part on the 85-ton and it just doesn’t make sense from an efficiency standpoint. The 50-ton actually expanded our capacity because it reduced the workload on the 85-ton by 30% or more. The smaller press also allows us to make better parts more cost effectively.”
Q: There’s also some new things happening over in the prototype lab. Can you talk about our 3D printing abilities?
A: “You know, it’s something we’ve been watching and decided it was time to upgrade a bit. It’s funny, our 3D printing technology, a lot of people think that is brand new and it’s just become prevalent in the past few years. And that’s absolutely not the case. That technology
has been around for 25 years or so. We’ve been using 3D printed parts for rough design validation for years. But our new interest was more in the materials that have become available and not so much the technology itself. The reason we added that particular model (Form 3L specs) was because it has the capability to utilize materials that we felt was durable enough to expand our application of 3D printing beyond the initial prototyping phase. We’ve been asked by one of our large medical clients to look into that capability. And so that’s why we’ve invested in those machines and initial test results look positive.”
Q: So is it safe to assume that Catalyst will continue to push into more advanced manufacturing?
A: “We really see that as where Catalyst needs to go. It’s not just the get it designed and developed in an innovative way as quickly as you can, but also how do you mass produce it using that same mentality? We want to not only be able to get a great product ready for market as quickly as we can but have the ability to efficiently and cost effectively produce it as well. The investment into equipment, technology and personnel is definitely part of a bigger plan to better serve the client. We’re finding is there’s a lot more opportunity out there to take Catalyst a lot further. Just focus on the client and everything else will fall into place, right?”
Check out the new equipment install process on our channel: