Last month, GHSP Inc. officially opened a new 7,000-square-foot technology hub at 6 Sherman Ave. in Grand Haven, where the company will offer its automotive and appliance engineering teams more freedom and flexibility to innovate. The Grand Haven-based GHSP, a division of JSJ Corp., recognized that it must create products outside of its traditional scope if it wants to remain globally competitive. After just a few weeks at the hub, the company already has started working on a new technology that it will debut at the Consumer Electronics Show in January. GHSP Chief Engineer Ian Sage spoke with MiBiz about the planning and strategy that went into creating the tech hub.
What is GHSP hoping to accomplish in the new tech center?
It’s a space where we will be able to open it up and be able to host create sessions. It’s an expanded space for us. Where we were before, both (teams) did not really have room for the growth that we had. The goals for us are, of course, research and technology for automotive and appliance markets.
The new facility seems to take a page out of Silicon Valley tech firms. Does this signal a new approach to manufacturing and R&D at GHSP?
For West Michigan, this is a pretty cool setup. I mean, there are others in Detroit doing this. The whole idea of design thinking and really looking for problem statements, trying to emphasize that with your customers more … is really what this is all about. Especially for this area and Grand Haven, this is pretty neat.
How long had you been working on a move like this?
Our innovation team, we are a year old. GHSP is … at that point of reinvention. In the past 10 years and probably more so in the last five years, (we) have really changed into a mechatronics company by adding electronics engineering resources and software engineering resources. Now we are developing products that have function safety and cybersecurity — really intensive software requirements. Not too many people know that, actually. As a shifter supplier, we really haven’t been this large electronics company that you think of with a Tier 1 supplier in either appliance or automotive. For us, that’s really where we are headed, which is growing our products outside just our shifter space.
The automotive supply chain has been investing heavily to become more tech-oriented. How do you see this trend playing out?
Especially on the transportation side, yeah, everybody has to start thinking about mobility differently. We have seen some other suppliers that were historically mechanical companies start to do that — depending on the products they make. … You are still going to have certain mechanical things to move a transportation device, but you won’t always have windshield wipers if you are not driving, or a shifter, or a steering wheel. We’ve recognized for a long time that shifters are probably going away.
For an established supplier like GHSP, how do you adjust?
For a company that is well established, they need to disrupt themselves in that moment — when things are very well for you right now. You’ve got this looming potential of ride sharing and autonomous vehicles. They could potentially cut your volume in half.
GHSP talks about the new tech hub offering more freedom for the engineers and the R&D teams. What does this freedom offer you that maybe you didn’t have before?
We report to the chief technology officer, Marc Smeyers, but what we do have is a strategy of the markets and the technology we want to go after. The innovation team does have that sandbox, but we are always allowed to look outside that sandbox too, without a fear of repercussions, because you want to be able to push that boundary. That’s where that freedom comes in: to be able to explore beyond that (sandbox) to get on the forefront of that technology.
How do the innovation and appliance teams’ roles differ?
The way we are structured — if you think of a linear graph, the innovation team is on the front end looking for new technologies and trying to apply those into our markets. The (appliance) team is specifically targeting new launches and new products. They are launching designs for a customer. The combination of the two teams is out of necessity of needing a space. … Having a space together made sense to really collaborate.
What sort of products do you hope to launch? What goals has the group established?
A company our size, we are not necessarily looking for a quantum leap forward in something at the moment. Just because of the position that we were in before as a shifter supplier and where we are headed to, there are a lot of incremental innovations that need to occur. … It’s about being innovative, and this space will hopefully offer that.