The Innovators: New Device Opens Up Possibilities for Matthew's Specialty Vehicles
If you ask Rob Matthews how his company expanded into new markets, his answer might sound like a lot of other printing companies that have learned to adapt to the needs of customers in 2020: the change was born out of necessity. However, for Greensboro, N.C.-based Matthews Specialty Vehicles and Matthews Mobile Media, the expansion goes above and beyond anything that even Matthews himself thought the company would ever provide.
“A year ago, I never in my wildest dreams would have thought that we would be producing parts to make COVID-19 response rapid testing vans,” Matthews, print and production manager of the company, says.
The company has been providing specialty vehicles and custom vehicle wraps for law enforcement, health care, and education for the past few decades. But since March of this year, the company has been using its existing equipment to provide even more support for its customers in the form of custom-produced wooden pieces for inside of its vans, particularly for its COVID-19 Rapid Testing Vehicles.
A year ago, the decision was made for Matthews Specialty Vehicles to upgrade its existing Zünd digital cutter — purchased in the mid-2000s and primarily used for vinyl applications — to a Zünd L-2500 digital cutter with routing capabilities. When the pandemic started to become more widespread in March 2020, the team sat down to discuss how its existing equipment could be used to benefit its customers. That’s when the idea of creating custom wood pieces for testing units was born.
The company’s customers in the medical sector were looking for ways to safely test people on location, without requiring people to travel to a brick-and-mortar location. The team began to build stock units in March, and took them on the road to show existing and potential clients at health care organizations what was possible.
The COVID-19 Rapid Testing Vehicles are produced with a walk-up testing window and custom graphic wraps, walls, interior wooden elements, upholstery, aluminum panels for the interior, and any other elements needed by the health care unit — including custom barriers and shields, which are routed out of acrylic or polycarbonate, depending on the job. They’re ideal for organizations that want to provide access to testing for rural or urban communities that don’t have easy access to medical facilities.
“The demand is massive. We’re struggling to keep up,” Matthews says. “We could have vans going over the curb daily, but for us, it’s just how quickly can we get them built.”
Right Equipment, Right Time
Matthews acknowledges that the decision to upgrade the company’s cutting capabilities to include routing came at the right time, since trying to add routing capabilities after the fact would have been more difficult.
“Clearly, we weren’t planning to be producing any of these parts and pieces,” he explains. “But having those capabilities has allowed us to really pivot and find new markets.”
Not only has Matthews Specialty Vehicles been able to support its customers on a deeper level, it has improved its efficiency along the way. It has been able to cut out a lot of labor hours on and off jobs with everything saved in its in-house system. “If we need to [cut] a set of van walls, we can do that now,” he says.
“We’ve gone from being a small digital printer, to using our capabilities to produce more for our specialty vehicles markets,” he continues.
Although the new services were developed to meet critical needs during the pandemic, the cutting and routing of wooden pieces for vehicles is something that Matthews says will be a viable business path in the future, as well. He says organizations will want to be prepared for anything in the future so they can quickly address issues as they arise.
As for adding more capabilities in the future, although Matthews says the company doesn’t have anything specific planned yet, it would be nice to add textile printing capabilities to its repertoire. The Zünd device gives Matthews Specialty Vehicles the ability to process textiles, but the ability to dye-sublimate them in-house would be an added service that would be nice to have, he notes.
The addition of the Zünd cutter with routing capabilities opened up possibilities Matthews didn’t consider prior to 2020. With an open mind and a drive to help its customers, the company was able to expand its offerings to provide a significant service during a time when things are uncertain and constantly changing. And although Matthews is thankful for the opportunity to expand business, he doesn’t take the situation lightly.
“We got lucky,” Matthews says. “I mean, I would rather there not be a pandemic going on, but as far as our production capabilities, we got lucky, and we’re very glad we have those cutting capabilities.”