Breaking the Mold: An Artist in Residence at M4

Breaking the Mold: An Artist in Residence at M4

When I was a little girl, my mom worked at my grandpa’s factory and I often visited with her. In fact, I visited so often that I became excited by the smell of resin and what was being made on the factory floor. After 5 years of leading and owning that factory, that passion continues, but it’s also evolved. Now, I am not only fascinated with resin, but with the purgings as well. 

As an avid art collector, I love anything creative or abstract…the purgings of a manufacturing machine being one. More often than not, we are required to purge our machines in order to switch from one material to another. In a world that pushes to produce as quickly as possible, as cost effectively as possible, and as much as possible, it is necessary but results in wasted material and time.

At M4, we believe we have an obligation and responsibility to show up, have the dialogue, explore and challenge what is possible, and offer alternatives and solutions that are viable. Consciously aware that a valuable resource must not be wasted, and where possible, reused, recycled or up-cycled. So, I knew there was something more that could be done with our purgings. 

I tapped into our Chief Design Officer, Kyle Swen, who posed a series of questions:

  • How can we manipulate resin to create objects of art?

  • How can we embrace the medium we operate in and remember it is a source of and for creativity?

  • How can we push boundaries and honor the artistic form of creating and rendering, highlighting the innovative element of making? 

  • How can we challenge the status quo of mass production, leveraging our machines and material to create singular, objects of art while we make meaningfully?

We were curious and passionate enough to answer these questions and our Artist in Residency program was born. 

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We brought in Eric Huebsch, a Los Angeles based multi-media artist to spend the month of August with us. Under the charge of “DE-commoditization” we asked him to create objects of art that showcased the medium, yet we only provided him obsolete materials and purgings to work with.

Eric agreed whole-heartedly to the project. Academically trained as a glass blower, his background working with glass, heat and the elements was extremely beneficial to exploring what was possible and creating in the medium of plastic.  After a few initial conversations, he showed up to our design and manufacturing house with plans of what he was going to create. However, after several weeks of working with the medium of plastic, he confessed he was struggling. He said, “Everything I thought I could do, failed. I had to surrender to the material, which completely took me in a different direction.”

LA-based artist, Eric Huebsch and Patricia Miller discussing the process of creation and use of material during the "DE-commoditized" art opening at M4.

In the spirit of trial, error and perseverance, what he landed on was a collection of beautiful objects of art that not only highlighted the material, but inspired other projects back home in LA. During our recap of the program, I asked if he would ever consider something like this again. “Absolutely,” he said. “As difficult as it was, I learned a great deal. Working with plastic inspired a whole new set of ideas. While failure is inevitable, it led to exploration and what is possible.”

Sustainability is more than a responsibility, it’s elevating human creativity to push what is possible to coexist, and I couldn’t be more pleased with the results of our inaugural Artist in Residency program.

Objects of Art

CHAIRS

MATERIALS: Regrind ABS + Regrind Tritan

COLOR: Clear

PROCESS: After throwing out his initial plans, this was the first piece Eric tackled. Self-admittedly, it was a bit ambitious but the learning launched his next objects of art. A self proclaimed introvert that typically works alone, Eric quickly recognized working with an assistant supported his vision and learning curve. He was also able to experiment with temperature and the rate at which things cooled as he moved his wooden frame to create a desired outcome. He stated, “the material has likeness to glass. Its strength and how it naturally flows from the machine were continued sources of inspiration that pushed my exploration.”

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CUBES

MATERIALS: Polypropylene regrind base resin + obsolete colorant

COLOR: Clear + Natural base with Blueberry, Lime Green and Red (created flesh/pink color)

PROCESS: Having learned he could control the purgings, he built a plywood box that he draped them over as they came out of the machine. Having learned from the Chairs, he knew this next project would be a two person job. His partner, Kathy Gray, joined him to help manipulate the medium. They had to work quickly as the medium began shrinking around the wood box as it cooled. On one cube, you can see remnants of plywood where they didn’t move fast enough and a bit of the form was left behind.

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TONGUES

MATERIALS: Polypropylene regrind base resin + obsolete colorant

COLOR: Clear + Natural with Red to create flesh/pink color

PROCESS: Eric had always had an idea for a tongue. Using his experience with molds, he created a mold of a tongue that was nearly three feet in length. Since the resin shrinks as it cools, it easily released from the mold. However, during the cooling process, the entire tongue popped and broke. This was yet another learning around the cooling process of plastic. He took a new approach, and made two smaller tongues in an effort for them to cool more evenly and consistently. It worked, but even so, when it came to color, it took several more attempts to get the “fleshy” pink color he wanted. Despite his efforts, the final product resulted in one tongue’s color is more inconsistent throughout. While this was not the anticipated outcome, it gave it a welcomed real-life affect. 

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M4 Secures Spot on the Annual Inc. 5000 List for Third Year

Woodstock, Illinois-based manufacturer ranks no. 1358 on the coveted
Inc. magazine list of America's fastest-growing private companies

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NEW YORK, August 15, 2019Inc. magazine has named MATRIX 4 No. 1358 on its annual Inc. 5000 list, the most prestigious ranking of the nation’s fastest-growing private companies. This year’s ranking represents a significant achievement for MATRIX 4 as only one of eight companies that have made the list three times. The list represents a unique look at the most successful companies within the American economy’s most dynamic segment — its independent small businesses. 

“We are thrilled to be highlighted on this list for the third year in a row. This growth has resulted from a tremendous amount of hustle and heart from our team since our restart five years ago. We are honored to represent U.S. manufacturing on this level, and remain focused on the potential to transform this industry in new and exciting ways by sticking to our mission of making meaningful things that matter,” said Patricia Miller, CEO, MATRIX 4. 

Not only have the companies on the 2019 Inc. 5000 list (which are listed online at Inc.com, with the top 500 companies featured in the September issue of Inc., available on newsstands August 15) been very competitive within their markets, but the list as a whole shows staggering growth compared with prior lists. The 2019 Inc. 5000 achieved an astounding three-year average growth of 454 percent, and a median rate of 157 percent. The Inc. 5000’s aggregate revenue was $237.7 billion in 2018, accounting for 1,216,308 jobs over the past three years. 

“The companies on this year’s Inc. 5000 have followed so many different paths to success,” says Inc. editor-in-chief James Ledbetter. “There’s no single course you can follow or investment you can take that will guarantee this kind of spectacular growth. But what they have in common is persistence and seizing opportunities.”

The annual Inc. 5000 event honoring the companies on the list will be held October 10-12, 2019, at the JW Marriott Desert Ridge Resort and Spa in Phoenix, Arizona. As always, speakers include some of the greatest innovators and business leaders of our generation.

Complete results of the Inc. 5000, including company profiles and an interactive database that can be sorted by industry, region, and other criteria, can be found at www.inc.com/inc5000.

ABOUT MATRIX 4
M4 is a design and manufacturing house, blurring lines and breaking down silos from concept to final production. With a team that embodies an eclectic mix of technical expertise, keen insights and real-world experience — creators, makers, engineers, designers and strategists work together —across industry and category segments, to make meaningful products that matter.

MATRIX 4 is a third-generation, women-owned and operated business based in Woodstock, Illinois. For more information, visit www.matrix4.com

For more information contact:

Patricia Miller  | pmiller@matrix4.com | 203-810-6369

Erin McElroy  |  emcelroy@matrix4.com | 815-338-4500

ABOUT THE METHODOLOGY
The 2019 Inc. 5000 is ranked according to percentage revenue growth when comparing 2015 and 2018. To qualify, companies must have been founded and generating revenue by March 31, 2015. They had to be U.S.-based, privately held, for profit, and independent — not subsidiaries or divisions of other companies — as of December 31, 2018. (Since then, a number of companies on the list have gone public or been acquired.) The minimum revenue required for 2015 is $100,000; the minimum for 2018 is $2 million. As always, Inc. reserves the right to decline applicants for subjective reasons. Companies on the Inc. 500 are featured in Inc.’s September issue. They represent the top tier of the Inc. 5000, which can be found at http://www.inc.com/inc5000.

ABOUT INC. MEDIA

Founded in 1979 and acquired in 2005 by Mansueto Ventures, Inc. is the only major brand dedicated exclusively to owners and managers of growing private companies, with the aim to deliver real solutions for today’s innovative company builders. Inc. took home the National Magazine Award for General Excellence in both 2014 and 2012. The total monthly audience reach for the brand has been growing significantly, from 2,000,000 in 2010 to more than 20,000,000 today. For more information, visit www.inc.com

The Inc. 5000 is a list of the fastest-growing private companies in the nation. Started in 1982, this prestigious list has become the hallmark of entrepreneurial success. The Inc. 5000 Conference & Awards Ceremony is an annual event that celebrates the remarkable achievements of these companies. The event also offers informative workshops, celebrated keynote speakers, and evening functions.

For more information on Inc. and the Inc. 5000 Conference, visit http://conference.inc.com/



M4 x Sustainability: Our Vision Forward

M4 values the medium of plastic. We create in and hold it sacred with all resources.

We believe we have an obligation and responsibility when in the plastic space to show up to the table to have the dialogue, explore and challenge what is possible, and offer alternatives and solutions that are viable.

And we are curious and passionate enough to do it, while also recognizing and taking into consideration the carbon footprint or expended resources to derive at alternatives.

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We believe there are several initiatives worth exploring in our design + manufacturing house: 

  1. Thought leader and expert of materials, which includes an expanded material library.

  2. Collaborating with clients and material vendor partners to challenge what is possible, to test it out, and to provide POVs.

  3. Considering all options. Recyclable, Reusable, Regrind, Repurposed, Bioplastic.

  4. Demanding of the business that we view this valuable resource as just that. Valuable.  Create solutions for waste, scrap and obsolescent material, and find alternative uses, so it does not end up in landfill.

  5. Exploring alternative business models which highlight the upcycle, recycle, cyclical model.

  6. Being mindful that output and consumption can be viewed in all aspects of the business. To challenge that we operate with operational excellence, have partners with similar perspectives, and honor conscious capitalism and thoughtful making — whenever and wherever possible.

  7. Continuing to embrace the durable use, non-disposable outlets for plastic in products.

  8. Remembering where we came from and the historical alternatives. Be a champion for plastic. Consciously.

  9. Embracing the medium we operate within and remember it is a source of and for creativity. Push the boundaries and honor the artistic form of creation and representation. Inclusive of artists in residence at the M4 house and M4 initiated art including our Purging Project.

Interested in learning more about our sustainability efforts? Contact us.

Honoring M4 Founder Raymond C. Wenk Sr. (1936 - 2019)

It is with a loving and heavy heart, we share the news of our founder, Raymond C. Wenk Sr.’s passing on Saturday, April 27.

Wenk was the founder of MATRIX 4 and ran the company for 38 years before his granddaughter, Patricia Miller transitioned from a career in Pharma/Biotech to become CEO+Visionary of MATRIX 4 in 2014.

Raymond C. Wenk Sr. on the factory floor at M4.

Raymond C. Wenk Sr. on the factory floor at M4.

“He was a tool and die maker with an entrepreneurial spirit and a stubborn sense about him; a self-made man who achieved success but never forgot where he came from. To my family, he was the patriarch; generous, loving, challenging, funny. A sounding board and avid supporter but held the highest standard and always reminded me to keep my eye on the prize and that he loved me, keep going,” Miller shared.

The MATRIX 4 Legacy

Raymond C. Wenk Sr., a tool and die maker, saw an entrepreneurial opportunity and founded MATRIX 4 in 1976, alongside his wife, Patricia Wenk, and their four children.  Wenk included the Roman numeral “IV” in the company name to represent his capabilities in engineering, tooling, designing and manufacturing as well as honoring the fact he had four children. Wenk’s daughter, Dianna later ran the factory floor as a processor and Wenk’s son, Raymond, later led maintenance. Several other family members have worked at MATRIX 4 in various capacities over the years.

Wenk invented the plastic hose clamp and patented the automotive technology in the late 1970s. Tools were built and as a molder, MATRIX 4, manufactured the glass-filled nylon parts for General Motors Corp. and other automotive companies. Production of MATRIX 4 clamps continues.

Matrix IV sketch

The business succeeded in making products for automotive and consumer products, but Wenk sequentially experienced the downside of allowing a single customer to account for a large percent of his business at any one time. In the 1980s, it was the buyout of an automotive customer. In the 1990s, a consumer customer went bankrupt. And in the 2000s, a maker of consumer coffee pots and blenders took the work offshore.

Volume at two points required Wenk to add capacity. He acquired an 80,000-square-foot building with a rail siding in Huntley, Ill., about 11 miles south of Woodstock and previously a building in Tacoa, Georgia.

Because Wenk never forgot where he came from, he was willing to lend a hand to employees and within his community including down payments for homes and cars, medical expenses and other life cares, while also supporting his own family which included taking care of his mother-in-law and mother as they aged, raising two grandchildren like his own, and supporting grandchildren as they pursued their interests in life.

 A New Era of Making

Much like Wenk, his granddaughter embraces the entrepreneurial spirit. After spending years in the corporate world, Patricia Miller decided to join M4 in 2014 and serves as CEO / Owner + Visionary.

Five years in July 2019, Miller has transformed the company. She made major renovations to the space, implemented new technologies and operating systems, and redefined what a 21st-century plastics manufacturer looks like, including bringing industrial design in house.

The business has seen incredible growth with Wenk’s granddaughter at the helm, earning a spot on the Inc. 5000 Fastest Growing Companies list two years in a row, Plastics News Top Molders Ranking in 2018 and being named a Top Workplace in McHenry County by the Northwest Herald.

“We will honor my Grandpa knowing that although we have lost him in physical presence, his energy and spirit remain within each of our hearts and a legacy within M4 carries on,” Miller said last week.

Wenk’s granddaughter and current CEO of M4, Patricia Miller.

Wenk’s granddaughter and current CEO of M4, Patricia Miller.








 





M4 Expands Capability to 1050T with New Large Tonnage Machine

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

WOODSTOCK, Ill., April 23, 2019 — Matrix 4, a plastics design and manufacturing house, added a new large-tonnage machine to its factory floor. Purchased from Absolute Haitian, the Jupiter II (JU 10,000/8400) wide platen molding machine with 1,124 U.S. tons of clamp force will complement two additional injection molding machines — a Haitian Jupiter II (JU 7500/5000 II) and Zhafir Zeres (ZE 5500/3350) — delivered from the producer earlier this year.

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The Jupiter II will greatly expand Matrix 4’s capabilities, allowing for increased production levels and a wider range of products for clients.

“We had projected in our strategic planning and capabilities budget the desire to bring in an over 1000 T machine,” said Patricia Miller, CEO, owner, and visionary behind Matrix 4. “This purchase is executing on our established strategy.”

Alongside the Zeres and Jupiter machines, the Jupiter II further exemplifies Matrix 4’s continued investment in serving a wider array of products and clients. It will be put to use immediately for a project kicking off in the next couple of weeks, and will better serve local and regional clients and prospective customers with large tonnage machine needs.

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“Increasing our tonnage means that we will be able to make a broader range of products supported by a more diverse tonnage spread,” said Miller. “In our area, there are not many large tonnage machines and thus, we want to satisfy the need and support the demand from clients. We are also excited to support some of the design to manufacturing projects we are working on internally through this machine.”

Aligning interests with Absolute Haitian has fueled Matrix 4’s continued growth and dedication to achieving higher levels of energy efficiency and productivity per square foot, in the process.

“Our relationship with Haitian remains strong and we are excited to add another to our machines and continue to drive making meaningful products that matter in plastic,” said Miller.

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Matrix 4, based in Woodstock, Illinois, loves to delight customers by making tangible, real, physical products that help make the world go around and loves to do it as a team. Matrix 4 is 40 years old yet operates with a start-up mentality. Cheers to all makers big and small, leading the charge on redefining manufacturing.

Absolute Haitian, based in Worcester, Massachusetts, is the exclusive sales and service partner in the U.S. and Canada for Ningbo Haitian Machinery Co., Ltd. based in Ningbo, China. Ningbo Haitian Machinery Co., Ltd. is the world’s largest supplier of plastics injection molding machinery, shipping more than 35,000 machines in 2017. Haitian products are sold in more than 160 countries with machine sizes ranging from 44 to 7,425 U.S. tons of clamp force.

NeoCon 2018: How Manufacturing and Design Are Reinventing the Office Ceiling

Every year, tens of thousands of designers descend upon the Merchandise Mart in Chicago for the annual commercial design industry’s NeoCon, one of the largest trade shows in the country. Marketed as a “launchpad for innovation,” NeoCon connects thousands of exhibitors and design professionals to collaborate on the future of the industry.

I have attended the conference numerous times, and it’s always a great opportunity to discover what’s happening in the design space, particularly with product design. A huge highlight this year was attending the MNML/TURF NeoCon launch party with Matrix4COO, Sujit Sheth, and some members of my Entrepreneurial Therapy Group (a group I created to focus on development, personal growth and accountability).

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Cheers @mnml1 @mnml_dsgn @turf.design for an awesome kick off to #neocon with awesome design and launch of meaningful physical product.

TURF and MNML collaborated on an acoustic tile product, where TURF sourced one of their solutions from MNML. The solution is felt surfaces that can be installed into the tracks of ceiling tiles and easily swapped out. I’m personally looking forward to using the solution in both my home and factory. MNML and TURF showcased the product on NeoCon’s launch day, and I participated in support of our design partner, MNML, interacting with others in the space.

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Turning Ceilings from Mundane to Insane by Sarang Sheth at Yanko Design

I formed a connection to TURF through one of their interns, Jack Berry, who graduated Woodstock High School where he participated in their incubator program, for which I’m a board member (along with the Incubator Program at Prairie Ridge High School, my alma mater, in Crystal Lake, IL). I have sat on the board of the University of Iowa Entrepreneurial Program and mHub, the maker space in Chicago, and was excited to support what was happening locally.  

TURF came out of Reike Interiors, a space in Elgin Illinois where the owner, Todd, kept being asked about noise reduction. He started working with felt materials and came up with TURF. In collaboration with Scott Wilson and MNML, the product design was achieved using compression molding, a manufacturing process particularly suited for large, intricate pieces.

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TURF tiles have the benefit of perfectly blurring the lines between cutting edge aesthetics and acoustic performance, dramatically transforming the spaces they reside in.

TURF acoustic tiles had a great reception at NeoCon. It’s such a fun product, leveraging a tactile fabric like felt and putting it in a functional yet aesthetically appealing format. User experience and insights were also woven throughout the design process to provide additional perspective. It's an extremely well-thought-out product on many levels, and I’m excited to utilize it in my space.

That’s what’s so great about attending NeoCon: Seeing designers exhibit the ability to combine great design and functionality with manufacturing to create tangible products that are not only functional but aesthetically appealing. It is brilliant marriage.

Forget Work/Life Balance: How to Design A Life with Intention & Purpose Instead

I don’t believe in work-life balance

We only get one life and it can’t be cleanly split into work and personal as if neither holds any relevance to the other. We spend such a significant percentage of our lives working so treating our work identity as somehow wholly separate from our true person is like stealing a part of our lives from ourselves.

We all want meaning in life, and while we like to separate our personal lives and fill it with home and family and hobbies, there’s also meaning to be gained from our work.

It’s important to me that everyone who comes to work on our team aligns with our core value "make meaningfully" and finds purpose in the work they are doing everyday. Whether or not it's in your job or otherwise—how do you create a meaningful life?

Designing a meaningful life

Prioritizing your time can be difficult with the demands we are faced with today, but ensuring you don’t pit your “work life” against your “personal life” requires purposeful decision making. The principles of design don’t just apply to products and processes, but living a purposeful life. A life of meaning requires thoughtful, intentional decision making and design.

Designing a meaningful life is similar to the way you establish strategies for a business, and regularly reflect to ask “how’s it going? Do we need to pivot? What do we need to tweak? What are we refining?”

It's the same thing from a personal standpoint.

What may have worked in your 20s may be different in your 30s, may be different in your 40s. It’s a constant evolution. The more experiences I have, the more knowledge I gain, and the more I'm learning and evolving as a human. I’m continually evaluating—how am I filling my plate with things that inspire and are joyful and creative and intellectual and challenging.

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It may seem overwhelming to dive head first into thinking about your life in this context, but here are 5 things you can do today to help you live the life you always dreamed of.

1. Take annual inventory - reflect and plan for the next year

As the adage goes, you can’t know where you're going until you know where you've been. It’s important to regularly reflect on your goals, how well you’re progressing, and what you can do differently.

Every December 31st I take inventory of my year. I look at that across the whole gamut of my life, including both business and personal things. What was awesome? What wasn’t so great? What do I need to work on? What am I going to chart for my course for the next year if I dream this big dream? Make sure to write it all down. A great “dreamstorming” session really helps clarify what the next year will be and set your priorities to make sure your dreams come true.

2. Think big

Don’t hold yourself back in your dreamstorming session. Take a full inventory of everything on your list to create your most meaningful life. Expand the realm of possibilities. Understanding what those big dreams look like can help you prioritize the things that will help you get there.

Want to take that big vacation next year? Want to start your own business? Want to get that big promotion? Want to be more active in philanthropy? Write it down, then move to #3.

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3. Develop quarterly goals (personal and work)

When you set your quarterly goals for work, include your personal objectives too. It’s important to be constantly challenging yourself to be present and conscious about where you're flowing your energy and your time and being able to pivot when you need to.

At work we use EOS, the Entrepreneurial Operating System, to track goals. We do quarterly retreats and look at what are we prioritizing and where does it fit in the bigger picture, and that model also works great for planning the rest of your life. Ensure all your goals, both personal and business, have quarterly objectives so you actually have something achievable to work towards every day.

4. Hold yourself accountable

All the planning in the world is useless without accountability. Make sure you break your goals down into smaller, more bite sized tasks and track your progress for each. Saying you want to accomplish something is a great first step, but if you don’t have a way of knowing how much closer you’ve gotten, or how much further you have to go, you’ll be off track before you know it.

I love my Full Focus Planner for helping me stay accountable. It breaks things down from year to quarter to week to day, allowing me to see my goals visually (written down) and to track progress easily.

5. Surround yourself with people who care

Each year I plan time with life coaches and gurus and my tribe of closest friends to realize my most meaningful life. This year I hosted a Tribe Long Weekend with sessions on nutrition, spirituality, yoga, and discussions on leadership, life, and design. We work to learn more about ourselves and the evolution of self. Sharing with this group helps keeps me on track and provides a support system of those who can help guide me, share resources, and support me through failures.

Ultimately, it’s a matter of intentionality. Without mindfully designing your life, you’ll always find yourself struggling to balance the work/life dichotomy. But if you recognize that they’re actually both the same life and treat all objectives as life objectives, take regular inventory, establish clear quarterly goals, and track your progress, you’ll find a true balance and an ability to make meaningfully in all areas of your life.