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Advanced Manufacturing : Innovation + Job News

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Sales of electric cars drive job growth at LG Chem

LG Chem has emerged as a significant job creator in Holland, having added 140 new jobs in 2016 to a team that now tops 450 members. New positions for the business that produces lithium-ion batteries for the auto industry include technical operators, journeymen electricians, and engineers.

Fueled by the rapid growth in electric car sales, LG Chem accelerated its growth in 2015 and expects continued job growth in 2017.

Nick Kassanos, LG Chem MI president, says his company is in the “hiring mode” in 2017. He acknowledges the tight job market in West Michigan, but he notes LG Chem is a terrific opportunity for individuals looking for careers, not just jobs in an advanced manufacturing environment. “The challenge is always finding people,” he says. “The unemployment rate in West Michigan is below the national average. But we offer an opportunity  for individuals wanting to grow, build a career and work in an interesting industry.” 

LG Chem produces lithium ion battery cells for electric and hybrid vehicles, including the award-winning Chevy Volt. In November, LG Chem added the production of battery cells and battery packs for the 2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid, the first-ever hybrid minivan. The Holland plant manufactured over six million battery cells in 2016, enough for more than 30,000 vehicles, and is expected to produce even more in 2017.

LG Chem Michigan Inc. (LGCMI) manufactures large, lithium-ion polymer battery cells and battery packs for electric vehicle and energy storage applications. LGCMI is a wholly-owned subsidiary of LG Chem, a South Korean company that has global operations focused on basic materials and chemicals, IT and electronic materials, advanced materials, and energy solutions. LG Chem is part of the LG Group.

For those interested in a career at LG Chem, visit their website here.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

Business is booming at JR Automation: Company expands, adds jobs

Bryan Jones, CEO of JR Automation Technologies,  sums it up succinctly: “We work in cool industries on cool projects. It is unlike what anyone is doing in the world.”

The Holland-based JR Automation Technologies is a global leader in custom automation solutions for a variety of industries, including automotive, aerospace, medical device, pharmaceutical, food processing, construction, and more. The company which was founded in 1980, has been on a high growth trajectory since 2009 and has recently announced their intention to expand operations in Holland by investing $5.6 million, which will  create 250 new jobs in the area over the course of the project.

Jones says an improving economy, advances in technology and JR Automation’s culture and team environment have played key roles in the firm’s growth. “An expanding economy certainly has helped our business, but our success is much bigger than that,” he says. “Changing and improving technology is making it possible to do more. Process developments are changing the way that we build cars, airplanes, and any number of everyday products.  All of these developments generally need intelligent, intuitive systems to be viable.”

The new jobs that are being created through their recent expansion will be filled by both new graduates and seasoned veterans. “We are looking to hire individuals ranging in experience: new college grads to seasoned professionals in a variety of disciplines and skill sets. Mechanical, electrical and process engineers, controls engineers, software engineers, project managers, machine builders, machinist, fabricators, service technicians. JR is a very technically diverse team, and we will continue to add in all areas,” says Jones.

Despite the competition for this type of talent, Jones is very optimistic that his company offers an interesting opportunities for job seekers. “JR is unique in that we bring so many different talent sets together in a respectful, enabling work environment for the purpose of solving problems and building solutions that are bigger than what any one discipline or talent set could ever accomplish on their own,” he says. “We get to see the results of our efforts on a daily basis in the construction and run-off of systems that can be hundreds of feet long and cost multiple millions of dollars.”

Jones says  the technology being developed and used is industry leading. “It’s cool stuff,” he says. “We build things that move and make and manufacture and that are unlike anything else in the world. What could be more fun than that to someone who gets into building things and making things work? And while all that is happening, there is a true team atmosphere supporting one another and making the work days enjoyable.”

Several economic development organizations have played a role in JR Automation’s recent expansion, including Lakeshore Advantage, Holland Charter Township and the MEDC.
Those interested in employment at JR Automation should visit http://www.jrauto.com/careers.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

Simms Electronics: Changing the world, one project at a time

Simms Electronics is a great example of a small company working on big ideas that turn into very smart products. And there is a very good chance you never of heard of them.

Simms Electronics is located at 3230 Broadmoor Ave. The firm designs and manufactures sophisticated IoT electronics that serve a wide variety of commercial products in the industrial sector.

IoT, which is the abbreviation for Internet of Things, refers to smart products that are connected to the internet.  Examples in the consumer market are home appliances and light fixtures that are connected and controlled by smart phones. In the industrial setting these products could include sensors for carbon monoxide and monitors to help control energy consumption in large commercial settings.

Matt Simms, the president of the five-person engineering firm, says the company keeps a low profile and is not able to share details about many of their projects, but he is committed to attracting and retaining software design talent to Grand Rapids. Simms says the IoT market is really growing and shows no signs of slowing down.
"We have several projects in the pipeline and will shortly be announcing new job openings,” he says.

Working with a  small company is a great opportunity for an engineer or software developer that values job variety, Simms notes.
"We are always working on different opportunities, with different products, in different markets and different industries,” he says. “You are not stuck working on one product for several years. It is great experience."

To learn more about Simms Electronics, including job opportunities, you can visit their site here.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

Make no bones about it: Encoris is on the grow

Encoris is a five-year-old, Holland, Michigan-based company that specializes in the design and manufacturing of clear, custom skeletal models that are used by medical device companies like Stryker Orthopaedics, Johnson and Johnson, and Medtronic to educate and promote implant devices in the medical field.

The firm recently moved to a new manufacturing and design plant at 3612 128th St. in Holland, Michigan, specifically for enhanced manufacturing capabilities and efficiencies that Jim TenBrink, vice president of marketing & sales, says are needed following some successful trade shows and customer meetings in Europe. "Europe has really taken off," TenBrink says. "They do not make clear bone models and found our company through Internet search."

TenBrink says the company recently participated in a medical device show in Germany, where interest was high: "We're close to partnering with a German company, with 1500 distributors worldwide, that want our clear bones in their catalog." He says another company in Italy, a business incubator for inventions, also loved their products and they are in the process of crafting an agreement for an alliance.

In just four years from startup, the company has almost topped $1 million in sales and is expected to grow by 35 to 40 percent in 2016 based on expansion into European and teaching hospital/university market segments.

TenBrink says all of the Encoris products are designed and made in West Michigan by the company's 17 employees and contract designers using CAD engineering and design, 3D printers and hand sculpting to create the master molds.

To learn more about the firm, you can visit their site here.

Source: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

AGA Marvel flexes its design muscles in national competition

For a first time entry into the prestigious ADEX Awards, Greenville, Michigan-based manufacturer AGA Marvel did pretty darn well.

Of the 2,000 product submissions, AGA MARVEL gained multiple awards for several of its products, including The Marvel Beer Dispenser, a Platinum Award Winner for Design Excellence; The AGA City24 Cast Iron Range, a Platinum Award Winner; the Marvel Professional Beverage Center, a Gold Award Winner; and a Marvel High-Efficiency Gallery Wine Cellar, a 2015 nominee.

Leah Clark, media and communications lead for the company, says AGA MARVEL typically keeps a low profile but this year's launch of several new products was really significant, so they decided to share their work more broadly by entering the competition. "This the first year we proactively submitted products," she says. "We are very modest and don't always tout what we do." Besides winning awards, AGA MARVEL is growing, adding 37 new hires in 12 months, with more openings waiting to be filled.

ADEX stands for Awards for Design Excellence. There are several categories, each with a potential for three award levels of platinum, gold or silver. Judges award points in several categories for each entry. Total points earned determine each product's score. Minimum scores are needed to qualify for each award level.

AGA MARVEL is a North American subsidiary of AGA Rangemaster. The company employs nearly 200 Michigan workers.

To learn more about the organization you can view their site here and LinkedIn page here.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

Kendall College students achieve "per-feektion" in design competition

It's hard to imagine a better college assignment than being part of a design competition where you are given carte blanche to create anything you can dream of using an amazing material called Feek.

That is basically what students from Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University (KCAD) recently experienced when they participated in Trendway Corporation's inaugural design competition, exploring the creative possibilities with Feek, a very unique coated foam product.

Top prize was taken by a team composed of Jordan Eastwood, Amanda Lumley, Hannah Snyder and Linghom Wang. Their winning design, Eco, introduces a set of elements for use in pediatric waiting rooms, including a butterfly, dragonfly and bee shapes.

Trendway President and CEO Bill Bundy, who also served as a judge, says the teams were given a ton of latitude with the competition. "We imposed very few limitations," he says. Instead, competition organizers let the student teams work through the entire design process, including extensive research on Feek, and then set them loose to create their own designs for whatever industry they deemed would be a good fit.

Bundy says Trendway holds the North American license for Feek and introduced the product in 2013. He says Feek especially lends itself to "whimsical, creative and fun" designs, which is exactly what he was looking for from the students since the winning design from the KCAD team will be featured in Trendway's Chicago Showroom during NeoCon week, June 15 through 17.

Trendway Corporation is an employee-owned company in Holland, Michigan. The company offers many products, including panel systems, filing, storage, case goods, seating, and architectural solutions with moveable walls, glass storefront and raised floor. Bundy says the firm is growing with several open positions, including a new job for someone specifically to expand and champion Feek throughout North America.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor.


Made in the U.S.A., Flow-Rite Controls on the grow and hiring

Founded in the basement of one of the founders in 1981, West Michigan-based Flow-Rite Controls has quietly grown to a company of over 150, operating out of a 100,000-square-foot manufacturing facility in Byron Center.

The vertically integrated manufacturing firm specializes in fluids. It designs, manufactures and markets a wide variety of fluid control devices for lead acid batteries, laboratory, medical use, and recreation fishing boats.

Bridgett Haley, marketing communication specialist, says the firm is actively recruiting to fill up six open positions.

For job seekers, Haley describes Flow-Rite as medium-sized company but with a small business mentality. "There are many reasons to join our team," Haley says. "Managers maintain open-door policies; cross-team collaboration is strongly encouraged; and people can really see their hard work having a direct effect on an organization. Most importantly, there are many opportunities for personal and professional growth including cross-training, volunteering at local charities, leadership classes, mentoring, and more."

Haley says for many of the job opportunities, two qualities stand out the most: "Passion and a can-do attitude are the top qualities we look for when hiring for a position."

Flow-Rite is located at 960 74th Street S.W. in Byron Center. To learn more about the company, you can visit their site here.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

X-Rite Pantone's new center highlights color technology and innovation

X-Rite Pantone has announced the opening of a new Customer Experience Center in Grand Rapids.   

The new center is a devoted space for their dealers and value-added resellers that will showcase how X-Rite products are built to serve their customers in wide variety of markets. The center will feature the processes and innovative technology needed to achieve accurate color throughout their entire supply chain, from design inspiration to final product.  

Examples of the color measurement and management solutions from X-Rite Pantone that are on display in the center include next-generation color measurement instruments, colorimeters and spectrocolorimeters, lighting solutions, and a variety of software solutions, each targeted at specific industries.
"We are a technology company," says Murphy Keeley, vice president of marketing. He says the creation of the new space is a "growth investment" and will help broaden the awareness of their customers about the breadth of X-Rite Pantone's technology and commitment to innovation.  

X-Rite is a global leader in color science and technology. With its wholly owned subsidiary Pantone, X-Rite employs more than 800 people in 11 countries. The company's corporate headquarters are located in Grand Rapids, Michigan.  

Pantone LLC is a wholly owned subsidiary of X-Rite. Pantone also offers paint and designer-inspired products and services for consumers. More information is available at www.pantone.com. For the latest news, trends, information and conversations, connect with Pantone on Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest.

To learn more about X-Rite, you can visit their site here.


Plenty of job openings as manufacturing expands in Michigan

Blackford Capital, a national private equity firm headquartered in Grand Rapids, Michigan, has added five new staff members to the company. The hires are a result of the success of its Michigan Prosperity Fund (MPF), a fund that recharges the economy by investing in Michigan-based ventures.

Since MPF was created in 2012, Blackford has created 44 jobs locally, including 39 at portfolio company Custom Profile and the aforementioned five at the company's headquarters.

Jeff Helminski, managing director and head of the Michigan Prosperity Fund, says the new jobs at Custom Profile are a great entry-level opportunity for anyone looking for a job but especially for those who are entering the work force for the first time. "These are good jobs that pay well," he says.   

In his experience, Helminski says, these types of manufacturing jobs, many of which don't require a college degree or previous work experience, are rapidly increasing. In many cases, employers are not able to fill the openings and are having a hard time building their workforces. "Manufacturing is expanding," he says. "The basic requirements are that the individual has a good work ethic. There are plenty of openings."

The Michigan Prosperity Fund currently includes Grand Rapids-based Custom Profile, Inc., Metro Detroit-based Mopec, Grand Haven-based Grand Transformers, Inc. and Fenton-based Burgaflex NA.

To learn more about Blackford you can visit their site here.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

Luxury carpet manufacturer expands operations with purchase of Texas-based Hokanson Carpets

The Grand Rapids luxury carpet manufacturer Scott Group Custom Carpets is expanding operations from private aviation and architectural design markets to include the residential design sector after its recent acquisition of Texas-based Hokanson Carpets.

With six existing showrooms in Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, and Dallas, Scott Group’s recent purchase of Hokanson also allows for a newly established presence of its brand in Houston and Boston and will create an immediate need for 18 more jobs to support the transition. 

Although President and CEO Michael Ruggeri says those 18 jobs won’t all be located in Grand Rapids, he anticipates the creation of 20 more jobs at the Grand Rapids manufacturing plant and dye-house at 3232 Kraft Avenue SE to support the production of a wider variety in products as a results of the acquisition. 

“The product fit is very good because Hokanson tends to be more decorative or detail-oriented with their patterns and they also provide various products like Tibetan carpets that we don't produce here in Grand Rapids,” Ruggeri says, adding that Scott Group’s aesthetic leans toward a more contemporary design, so he expects demand for a wider variety of products to translate into more jobs. 

“We’re going to be producing all of those products here in Grand Rapids, which adds certainly jobs on the factory floor and in our dye-house operation, as well as our design department and customer service areas,” he says. 

Scott Group was founded in 1969, but moved to Grand Rapids in 1982 and produces luxury carpets and rugs for private aircraft, luxury yachts, high-end residential homes, commercial venues and the hospitality industry. Over 200 people work in Scott Group’s Grand Rapids headquarters and showrooms in Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, New York and Scottsdale, Ariz. 

Written by Anya Zentmeyer
Images courtesy of Scott Group Custom Carpets 

Michigan Instruments celebrates 50th anniversary with a relaunch of the 'Michigan Lung'

There are many very successful businesses making a big difference in the world -- and making their home in West Michigan -- but unless you work for them or follow trade journals or are part of their supply chain, you might not know they existed.

A good example is Michigan Instruments, a small and privately held design and manufacturing firm of specialized medical equipment based in Grand Rapids.

The 17-person firm is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year and recently completed a complete revision of The Training Test Lung, also known as the "Michigan Lung."

Kathrin Russell, Michigan Instruments technical advisor, says her company worked with the Grand Rapids software development firm Atomic Object to upgrade their product in order to meet new standards. "Our flagship product, the PneuView3 Training and Test Lung system, is an instrumented human lung simulator capable of realistically representing patients of almost any age and condition," she says. "This is our latest revision of a decades-old product. Atomic Object helped us develop software and firmware for the device. This was seen as a necessary upgrade since the old system could not be used on Windows 7 & 8 without going through a complex workaround."

Although the company keeps a relatively low profile, the local medical ecosystem is made up of high-profile organizations and has been a big part of Michigan Instruments success. "It is fortunate we started in West Michigan. We have benefitted hugely from the local medical industry: Michigan State University, Spectrum and GVSU have been fantastic partners," Russell says.

Russell says the firm is hiring, with an immediate opening for a technical administrative assistant, a great opportunity for anyone who values challenge. "Most of our employees have been here for more than 10 years," she adds, "and nearly 20 percent of our workforce has been with Michigan Instruments for more than 30 years."

To learn more about Michigan Instruments, you can visit their website here.

Writer: John Rumery, innovation and Jobs News Editor


OneBowl to rule the kitchen

Who other than a starving college student would invent a better way to make ramen noodles and mac and cheese?

Justin Herd is the local inventor behind OneBowl, a product that allows anyone to make, eat and store noodles in the same bowl.

Herd says he was inspired to invent OneBowl after he wondered why it took a pan, a strainer, a bowl and a storage container to make something as simple as noodles. His idea was to create a system that resulted in less dirty dishes, less time cleaning, and less room needed for storage.  

Starting with help from a fellow student in the design school, he made a simple prototype. Herd then began refining his idea through customer validation testing and five iterations before he ended up with a product that is ready to be mass manufactured.   

Well, almost ready. He just needs to raise some capital: "Tooling cost are very expensive."  

Not one to be deterred by hurdles, Herd has launched a $50,000 Kickstarter campaign to raise the funds for tooling and is confident in its success. He says his goal is to begin selling online this fall and begin shipping "to hungry college students" in October, with a longer term goal of having his product sold through traditional brick and mortar retailers. Herd says the OneBowl will be retailing for $20.

Although OneBowl is a solo effort, Herd credits his unofficial team for mentorship and advice. He says the staff at GVSU's Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, GR Current, Tiger Studio (design help) and Twisted Root Marketing have been instrumental in his success to date.

You can visit Herd's website or Facebook page to learn more "The OneBowl."  

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

American Seating new product lines are designed for active learning

American Seating will be unveiling two new product lines at this year's NeoCon June 9-11 in Chicago. Both new product lines are designed to give instructors and students the ability and flexibility to configure the classroom to optimize the learning experience.

Rely is the table line design that features options for flip and nest storage plus a variety of options for sizes, mobile and stationary applications, edge profiles, finishes, power and data technology, wire management and modesty panels.

Complementing the table line, Nima is the family of chairs designed by the famous furniture designer Giancarlo Piretti. The chair's  articulating back movement provides for a more comfortable and ergonomic seating experience. Each chair in the line also offers stacking and mobility functionality.

Deb McDermott, vice president of marketing, says the trend toward "active learning" environments is changing the way many instructors and students interact: "Teaching and learning styles have changed over the years. More and more instructors want (the) ability to change the classroom quickly."  

McDermott says that today's classroom environment requires flexibility in how tables and chairs are organized in the classroom, especially for project-based learning that emphasizes collaboration and teamwork.  

Besides enhancing the instructional environment, there are also very practical issues that these new designs address. "One of the biggest challenges is when the student comes to class," McDermott says. She explains many students are coming into a class prepared for multiple classes -- and the ability to store extra books, laptops, tablets, water bottles and other material is a real challenge. "We did our research and observed the learning experience. There were many backpacks on the floor and they might reconfigure the desks  two to three times during a class."

McDermott also says both the Rely and Nima line also have a broader use within corporate learning and training environments.

The new products will be introduced at American Seating's permanent showroom on the 10th floor, space # 148 at NeoCon. The Rely line will be available for shipping in September. The Nima chair will be available in the spring of 2015. More information can be found at www.americanseating.com

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

Firstronic in the process of adding 110 full-time jobs

Grand Rapids-based medical device manufacturer, Firstronic, has announced plans to invest $2.45 million in building renovations, machinery and equipment at its Michigan Street headquarters. 

With this investment, the company also announced it will be adding 110  full-time jobs (with benefits). The positions will range from engineers and technicians to entry-level electronic assembly operators and skilled hand solderers.

This announcement follows a successful collaboration between The Right Place, Michigan Economic Development Corporation and the City of Grand Rapids, which approved a $300,000 Michigan Business Development Program performance-based grant for Firstronic.

John Sammut, president, says the growth is a direct result of the firm's ability to compete on a global stage. "We won contracts against direct competition with offshore companies. In fact, much of the revenue from these contracts will be from our products being exported to Mexico, China, India, and Korea."

Sammut also credits their highly automated advanced manufacturing process, commitment to quality, and highly skilled workforce as being key to their global competitive advantage.

Firstronic provides advanced electronics manufacturing services and optimized supply chain solutions for companies in a wide range of industries including automotive, industrial and medical device

To learn more about the open positions at Firstronic, you can visit their site here.

Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor

Phenomenal job growth for West Michigan manufacturer of safety gloves

Business is good at West Michigan's HexArmor, a manufacturer of safety gloves and other related products.
"We are growing like crazy," says Todd Mellema, director of marketing. "In last year, we added 32 positions, 29 of which were in West Michigan. For the past eight to nine years, we've grown over 50 percent every year."

Mellema cites HexArmor's global presence, product line expansions, and aggressive marketing efforts as key to the growth, but says the two most important factors are the uniqueness of their products and their team. "We have proprietary technology that we use with our products," he says. "It is more cut resistant, thinner, and more durable than anything else on the market. We also have a great product development and sales teams." 

HexArmor now employs just under 100 people, and the forecast calls for more growth as the company enters new markets. "We started big in the recycling industry and then moved into other heavy industries -- anywhere there were a lot of hazards to hands. In the last three to four years, we've grown into the oil, gas, and mining sectors."

Mellema says the culture at HexArmor is like a big family who cares very deeply for the products they make and sell. "We all try to get our message out as much as possible. We all hear stories from our customers like, 'You saved this guy's hand. He now can come home at night and play catch with his kids.' We are not curing cancer, but we are doing things that are very important."

With more growth forecast, HexArmor remains in the hiring mode. Jobs can viewed on their site here. Be forewarned though, Mellema says they're very picky. "Almost every position includes an interview with the executive team. It's an entire day of interviewing."

To learn more about their firm, you can visit their site here.

Source: Todd Mellema, HexArmor
Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor
80 Advanced Manufacturing Articles | Page: | Show All
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