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Advanced Manufacturing : Development News

8 Advanced Manufacturing Articles | Page:

Thierica Display Products expands inner-city plant, keeps jobs in Grand Rapids

Thierica Display Products, a maker of custom-etched plastics and other items for the automobile industry, found a way to expand its existing Grand Rapids plant despite being landlocked in a mostly residential neighborhood.

A 9,500-square-foot addition to the plant's facility at 900 Clancy Ave. NE was made possible by employing some engineering ingenuity. The expansion was needed to accommodate new equipment, more workers, and to renovate the employee break/dining area.

"What's been unique about this is it's in a residential area, and every time they go to expand they say 'maybe it's time for us to move and build a new plant,'" says Mike Kelly, president of Wolverine Building Group. Kelly says this is the fourth time he and Wolverine have worked on an expansion at Thierica. "They looked at their employee base, and many of them walk to work from the neighborhood, and it would create a hardship for their employees."

In the past, says Kelly, Thierica has purchased surrounding residential properties in order to expand.

But this time the company was able to build the expansion in an area that was the stormwater retention basin. The old basin was removed and a new one constructed under a surface parking lot, with piping run underground along Lafayette Avenue. A new surface lot was added on top.

The expansion enables the company to gear up for new business while keeping advanced manufacturing jobs in the inner city.

Thierica officials were not available for comment.

Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor

$120M energy storage research grant could help W Michigan advanced battery manufacturers, colleges

Zeeland-based Lakeshore Advantage, an economic development corporation, has been named an affiliate partner in a $120 million federal Energy Department grant to fund research and development of new technologies in energy storage. The grant will create the Joint Center for Energy Storage Research, located at Argonne National Laboratory near Chicago, IL.

Dubbed Michigan's SmartCoast, the Holland area has seen an investment of $1 billion by companies such as Johnson Controls, LG Chem, and Toda America to develop advanced energy storage solutions. Lakeshore Advantage President Randy Thelen says West Michigan is recognized as having one of the highest concentrations of advanced energy storage manufacturers in the world. As market demand and applications continue to grow (think cell phones, power tools, electric automobiles, and military uses), the demand for new technologies grows.

"Soon we'll see a great deal of military applications and alternative energy applications -- battery packs to store wind energy and distribute it later. We're at the very early stage of a very big industry," Thelen says. "Research conducted as the result of this grant is going to get to the core of costs, power density, and weight. People are using more and more energy and being more and more mobile, and we need a way to store the energy so people can have the mobility that they want."

Argonne National Laboratory received the grant, but had pulled in a series of strategic partners to write a strong application for the monies. As one of those partners, Lakeshore Advantage will bring in West Michigan manufacturers, colleges, and universities already involved in advanced energy storage research as part of the momentum for further research and development. Thelen says the industry could bring untold numbers of high-tech jobs to West Michigan and Chicago.

Source: Randy Thelen, Lakeshore Advantage
Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor

Century-old Grand Rapids manufacturer launches new business venture near Old North Boundary

The 134-year-old Bissell Homecare, Inc. has launched a new think tank in Grand Rapids' Old North Boundary building -- a venture focused on leveraging Bissell's core competencies for innovative new business opportunities that will grow the company's global market.

Bissell Business Ventures, a group of about 15 employees, launched in January to build on the momentum begun last August when the group released its first new venture, Bissell Big Green Rental. The group moved into the Old North Boundary building (1140 Monroe NW) last week.

"Bissell entered into the floor cleaning rental industry with a new carpet cleaning machine we developed over the past two years," says Jim Krzeminski, president of Bissell Business Ventures, LLC. "How do we bring an easy-to-use product to a community rental over and over again? How do we make sure the machine is clean and ready to use for the next customer? It required a whole new business model, a whole different infrastructure, a whole new machine."

Krzeminski says Bissell Big Green Rental draws on Bissell's engineering expertise and test laboratories, making it a "first cousin" to the Bissell brand. Big Green Rental is now in about 900 Lowe's stores nationwide with a planned rollout to Canada and other countries later this year.

Krzeminski says the formation of Bissell Business Ventures keeps the brains behind the venture in West Michigan.

"We moved just three miles down the road (from the Walker headquarters)," he says. "The idea isn't to invest in bricks and mortar; the idea is to break out and think differently to foster innovation.

"For a company coming up on its 135th anniversary celebrating the issuance of the first sweeper patent (Sept. 19), we continue to grow and prosper and make investments. We now have a place to bring new ideas, entrepreneurs and new investments so we continue to grow in different ways."

Source: Jim Krzeminski, Bissell Business Ventures
Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor

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Grand Valley State University alternative energy center attracts another energy startup to Muskegon

Brighton-based McKenzie Bay International launched 12 years ago as a mining company, then made the switch in 2004 to alternative energy. The company eventually ran out of money and a major wind turbine project stalled, but President and CEO Kevin Cook says the firm has not only rebounded but has re-launched as an alternative and renewable energy "research and development visionary."

McKenzie Bay is the newest tenant of Grand Valley State University's Michigan Alternative and Renewable Energy Center (MAREC), at 200 Viridian Dr., Muskegon. MAREC is a cutting-edge facility created to advance innovations in alternative energy; it dedicates a portion of its 25,000 square feet as an incubator for energy startups.

The firm moved into the alternative energy arena with the development of the Windstor Wind Turbine, a three-bladed commercial turbine that rotates on a vertical access and can pick up the breeze from any angle, Cook says.

"The turbine prototype is installed at Pioneer Bluff Apartments in Ishpeming (Mich.) and has been built over a five-year period," Cook says. "When the project stalled, Clean Green Energy bought the turbine and they now own it. We are contracted with them to continue its development and they'll manufacture it. An important point is that we received a grant from the Department of Energy to develop it."

Other MAREC tenants are Energy Partners, LLC, Logical Lighting Systems, LLC. and Smart Vision Lights.

"MAREC has multiple spaces for conferences and meetings, a place we can bring our shareholders," Cook says. "We'll be able to collaborate with the other tenants here. I'm excited to see what could happen in the next year or so."

Cook says McKenzie Bay is also working on development of Ethereal Logic, a wireless lighting system that could control multiple electrical systems within a building, including HVAC and security.

Source: Kevin Cook, McKenzie Bay International
Writer: Deborah Johnson Wood, Development News Editor

GR Chair Company owner credits company expansion to thriving West Michigan

Deborah Johnson Wood

Tom Southwell says the untold story of West Michigan is that the region is thriving, and he points to his company's recent manufacturing expansion as proof. Southwell is a partner in the Grand Rapids Chair Company, which just added a 28,000-square-foot table top manufacturing facility to its properties.

The company, headquartered in the old McInerney Spring and Wire plant on Chestnut St. SW, added the former Studio Ink / StudioCraft building, 837 Godfrey Ave. SW, in response to increased customer demand for tables for healthcare, education, hospitality, corporate and government environments.

"We've always made tables," Southwell says. "We saw the opportunity to enhance our production in both volume and flexibility, and to make other types of tabletops and chair components. This new plant allows us to increase our volume capacity, our throughput and our quality while lowering our prices for customers."

The cost reduction and increased quality control come from bringing the entire manufacturing process in-house, Southwell says. That process uses both modern CNC equipment and traditional woodworking machinery – both of which require skilled employees for operation.

"Dave Miller, one of my partners, had his eye on the Cadillac of machinery, which is generally real old pieces of machinery," Southwell says. "We were able to purchase 20 of those machines for the new building and clean them up with new bearings, new knives."

The company hired 12 skilled employees who already knew how to operate the equipment.

"The craftsmen that are available for employment in West Michigan you can't find anywhere else," Southwell says. "The work ethic of the people is such that the people care about the products they produce."

"Michigan kind of gets a bad rap, primarily due to the auto industry," he says. "Grand Rapids and West Michigan is a thriving place for us to do business and we encourage other companies to do the same."

Source: Tom Southwell, Grand Rapids Chair Company

Deborah Johnson Wood is development news editor for Rapid Growth Media. She can be contacted at deborah@rapidgrowthmedia.com. Development News tips can be sent to info@rapidgrowthmedia.com.

MSU Bioeconomy Institute in Holland attracts new alternative feedstock venture

Deborah Johnson Wood

The Michigan State University Bioeconomy Institute has attracted another biotechnology initiative to its multi-million-dollar laboratory, designed as a biotechnology business incubator after pharmaceutical giant Pfizer donated the facility to the university.

eFarms, created by four West Michigan partners, needed a laboratory with researchers and animal nutritionists to fully test and produce its proprietary product: an on-site farm system that produces alternative fuel and a nutritional feed source for livestock.

"It's a small system designed for a farmer to process his own corn to make ethanol," says Richard Edmonds, eFarms CEO. "The byproduct is a viable feed source for his animals.

"We know corn will produce the feed source. What we're working on with MSU is to find out if we can use waste produce, like the apples laying on the ground, and see how much it takes to make ethanol for the farmer and see if the byproduct is a viable feedstock. And can we do this with any type of leftover produce? We want to help farmers put the waste to use, but the main thing is to produce the feed source."

Edmonds says eFarms has a prototype in use on a West Michigan farm at an undisclosed location. He says that four tabletop models are in production now for use in the lab.

eFarms has about 900 square feet of lab and office space at the institute and the use of four different hooded lab areas with 15-gallon processing tanks. The tabletop eFarms systems will each produce a gallon of ethanol a week.

"None of us are scientists," Edmonds says of the eFarms partners. "We needed the animal nutrition experts and we're working with Archer Daniels Midland to run nutrition tests on our feedstock.

"Right now we're looking for five or six farmers to test our prototypes that are in production now at a manufacturer in Dutton."

Source: Richard Edmonds, eFarms; Research & Graduate Studies Office, Michigan State University

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Deborah Johnson Wood is development news editor for Rapid Growth Media. She can be contacted at deborah@rapidgrowthmedia.com. Have a development news tip for Rapid Growth? Contact us at info@rapidgrowthmedia.com.

Monroe North business leaders hope new ASP will attract high-tech businesses, create river access

The Grand Rapids Planning Commission recently approved an Area Specific Plan (ASP) for the Monroe North business district that business leaders hope will help spur development of high-tech businesses.

Part of the district lies within the Grand Rapids SmartZone established in 2001. It is one of 15 clusters in the state designed to spur development of life sciences, high tech and advanced manufacturing ventures and jobs.

Although the ASP guides development for the entire Monroe North business district – bounded by Michigan on the south, Division on the east, Leonard on the north and the Grand River on the west – the SmartZone lies only in the area south of Coldbrook.

The ASP study reports that Monroe North's proximity to the Medical Mile and the city's track record for successful private/public partnerships are significant assets to attracting high tech ventures, especially if pedestrian and transit access is improved.

"Not as many life sciences incubators are being developed as we'd hoped," says Jim Zawacki, Sr., owner of Grand Rapids Spring & Stamping and a member of the ASP steering committee. "We're in the SmartZone and thought this would be perfect, but people who own the buildings aren't necessarily interested in creating incubators."

But there's also hope that will change.

"It will take one or two good developments to set the area on fire, just like when the Brass Works renovation started," says Howard Hanson of Parkland Properties and a steering committee member. "People thought that venture was crazy, but development really took hold after that.

"The city has money earmarked to make improvements in the infrastructure," Hanson adds. "Ottawa has a lot of potholes and tired buildings, but if they do the infrastructure repairs they certainly will make it more desirable for developers."

Bonus height incentives are in place to help develop the district, says Suzanne Schulz, planning department director. For instance, the Grand River Overlay Zone allows developers to build taller buildings in exchange for landscaped public access to and along the river.

Source: Jim Zawacki, Grand Rapids Spring & Stamping; Howard Hanson, Parkland Properties; Suzanne Schulz, City of Grand Rapids

Deborah Johnson Wood is development news editor for Rapid Growth Media. She can be contacted at deborah@rapidgrowthmedia.com.

Grand Rapids Catholic school expansion meets electricity demands through solar, wind

By: Deborah Johnson Wood

Last school year, the construction of the 7,000-square-foot expansion of Saint Anthony of Padua Catholic School, 2510 Richmond NW, included a solar array that supplies 100 percent of the electricity needs of the addition. In February, the school installed a wind turbine to supplement the electricity needs for the 30-classroom school, the church and the administrative offices.

The Swift Wind Turbine, dedicated last Friday, is an ultra-quiet residential wind turbine manufactured by Grand Rapids-based Cascade Engineering. Besides supplying free electricity, the turbine is an educational tool for the school and the church.

“The turbine is connected to a beautiful monitor by the school and church entrance so the students and parishioners can see how much energy it produces,” says Father Mark Przybysz, pastor. “We equated the power to cell phones, something the kids could understand. On Friday the electricity generated would have charged 3,300 cell phones. By Sunday it was up to nearly 4,700.”

The monitor also shows the number of pounds of carbon dioxide that would be generated using petroleum based electricity. Thus far, that savings is eight pounds.

“The Catholic Church in general is very committed to creating a sustainable society,” Father Przybysz says. “Pope Benedict XVI is called the ‘green pope’ because he has put several solar panels on Vatican buildings. I’m hoping that the children and the adults will see this wind turbine at work and that it causes them to think in new ways. There’s always some creative new way to take care of God’s creation, and this is one way. It can make a difference.”

The wind turbine is a gift from the Wege Foundation.

Source: Father Mark Przybysz, St. Anthony of Padua Parish and School

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Deborah Johnson Wood is development news editor for Rapid Growth Media. She can be contacted at deborah@rapidgrowthmedia.com.

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