Keeping Up With the Times A look into Lansing’s constantly evolving manufacturing industry

Ensuring the strength and viability of Lansing’s manufacturing economy means adapting to rapid changes in consumer demand, means of production, distribution, technology and more. 

For manufacturers, large and small, it means looking strategically at their operations and often rethinking their business models. Helping them with these challenges and opportunities are organizations like the Lansing Economic Area Partnership (LEAP), Capital Area Michigan Works! and Lansing Community College’s (LCC) Business & Industry Council.

Capital Area Michigan Works! sponsors the Capital Area Manufacturing Council, bringing together key executives to collaborate and share best practices. It partners with organizations like the Pure Michigan Talent Connect and Michigan Workforce Development Agency to understand job opportunities, trends and forecasts while promoting the view that, even in its diversity, clustering similar manufacturers strengthens their position in the state economy.

For LEAP, two specialized clusters — advanced manufacturing and accelerator technologies — serve as vehicles to strengthen their competitive advantage and leverage the industrial potential of Michigan State University’s Facility for Rare Isotope Beams and its National Superconducting Cyclotron Laboratory.

LEAP’s programs help businesses locate resources to find and retain talent, improve technology, tap into business incentive programs and even select manufacturing sites.

Within the manufacturing community, these programs are succeeding, according to Bo Garcia, LCC’s dean of Community Education and Workforce Development.

Garcia oversees LCC’s Business & Community Institute, which provides corporate trainings in project management, leadership, information technologies and similar programs designed to help executives and their companies adapt to the rapid pace of change.

“We identify regional employers’ pain points, areas that impede their growth. And with consulting or training, we identify solutions to resolve their issues,” Garcia explained.

He acknowledges the challenges facing manufacturers, but added that they bring with them opportunities.

“I see them working to innovate ways to get the job done better, optimizing their production lines, balancing work flow and incorporating new technologies. It’s an opportunity to build a future,” he said.

The leading edge of LCC’s support development initiatives is its Center for Manufacturing Excellence, which Garcia describes as a “gateway to robotics and automation.”

It blends traditional programs in manufacturing, welding, electrical technologies, apprenticeships and corporate training with advances in flexible manufacturing systems, a technology he said is revolutionizing production.

“It’s how manufacturers are coping. They are turning to automation, to partnerships with colleges,” Garcia said.

Highlighting LCC’s role in this transformation, he noted the Business & Industry Council in 2016 trained 3,700 individuals and offered the business community more than 400 training programs.

The Greater Lansing Business Monthly connected with members of the Capital Area Manufacturing Council and asked them to reflect on the changes affecting their businesses and what they expect to see in the future. The Council provides mid-Michigan manufacturing executives and human resource professionals with the training, job-search outreach and access to area experts and best practices. Here are their thoughts:

Andy Storm, CEO

Eckhart & Associates, Inc.

Business specialty: Engineering advanced industrial solutions that enhance the quality of life

Can you describe some significant changes that have affected how your company manufactures
its products? 

As manufacturers are challenged to increase productivity, product quality and safety, Eckhart’s focus on collaborative robots and automation-based solutions is transforming how our core products deliver value to customers.

We have embraced additive manufacturing (3D printing) to simplify our bills of material and eliminate complexity and cost from our design cycle. At a factory floor level, we’ve implemented a team structure that empowers Group Leaders within key functions of our company to lead and drive change and generate real-value for our customers. 

What changes do you anticipate in the future that are likely to affect how your company manufactures your products?

We anticipate and are planning for a robotics revolution in manufacturing. As technology becomes more mobile across manufacturing sectors, data and the capture of it is allowing manufacturers to establish diagnostic intelligence that informs them on the health, speed and effectiveness of their factories and production processes in real-time.

With an installed base of solutions across multiple industries, we see a controls, robotics and automation-based suite of solutions in our future. Our goal is to engineer advanced industrial solutions for our customers’ most difficult problems and, in return, enhance their quality of life.

Julie Haak, Corporate Director of Human Resources

Neogen Corporation

Business specialty: Developing test kits that the global food industry uses to ensure food is free
of pathogenic bacteria, toxins, unlabeled food allergens, veterinary drug residues and other
harmful materials

Can you describe some significant changes that have affected how your company manufactures its products? 

We’ve made many changes, but most involve the implementation of automation to improve the speed and accuracy of the production of our mass-produced products. The production of many of our popular biotechnology products require multiple precise applications of test reagents — tasks we’ve found to be well-suited for automation.

What changes do you anticipate in the future that are likely to affect how your company manufactures your products?

In the next few years, we anticipate that demand for more of our products will increase to the point where it may be cost-efficient to automate more of our manufacturing. At the same time, manufacturers of automated manufacturing equipment are likely to offer better and less expensive options to us, pointing to the use of more automation in our manufacturing processes.

Pat Cebelak, President

IMPCO Microfinishing

Business specialty: Machine tool manufacturer producing Microfinishing machines

Can you describe some significant changes that have affected how your company manufactures its products? 

Cost of ‘bought out parts’ within the U.S. and ‘raw material’ costs purchased within the U.S. have increased. These are costs that we cannot control and they do affect margin greatly.

We have noted that there is a lack of skilled personally available for employment within the local area (Lansing/metro-Detroit).

We continually try to work with low-cost regions around the world to procure some product, but it would be nice to have some missions in territories to build these relationships driven by mid-Michigan manufacturing.

What changes do you anticipate in the future that are likely to affect how your company manufactures your products?

We need to develop a short- and long-term strategy to allow our product timelines to be reduced, purchase order date to delivery date. Our customers are demanding shorter delivery times from project-to-project.

IMPCO needs to continually develop and refresh its branding and energize its customers within the marketplace, both with process and product type.

And we need to establish a ‘sound’, ‘reliable’ and ‘dependable’ low-cost vendor for sourcing equipment and purchased parts in the U.S. or internationally.

Mike Zamiara, CFO

Niowave, Inc.

Business specialty: Manufacturing and development of superconducting particle accelerators

Can you describe some significant changes that have affected how your company manufactures its products? 

Our company is still at the scale-up stage for our accelerators so we are more focused on development of our system and have not entered the stage where we are performing standard work. That said, we are building accelerators that will help companies enter the world of Advanced Manufacturing. Today we are seeing more interest from companies all over the world that want to use technology to maintain their competitive advantage and increase productivity.

What changes do you anticipate in the future that are likely to affect how your company manufactures your products?

As we see more manufacturing coming back to the U.S., and specifically the Midwest, we have more of these manufacturers asking us about the use of accelerators in their manufacturing process. We will continue to see these manufacturers looking to use technology to advance their manufacturing process. This open-minded approach will allow these manufacturers to improve their competitiveness in the marketplace.

Mickey Hirten

Mickey Hirten

Mickey Hirten is an award winning writer and editor. He has been executive editor of the Lansing State Journal, the Burlington Free Press in Vermont, and was the financial editor and a columnist for the Baltimore Evening Sun. He is the current president of the Michigan Press Association. His wife, Maureen Hirten, is director of the Capital Area District Library.

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