MUSKEGON — Amid exponential growth, LED manufacturer Smart Vision Lights LLC plans to invest more than $3 million into a new site in Norton Shores.
The expansion could create up to 15 jobs over the next two years, with construction beginning on the 6.7-acre site in a couple of weeks. With the new 36,000-square-foot facility, the company will have additional space for design and engineering, assembly and offices, said Smart Vision Lights President Dave Spaulding.
According to Spaulding, the new facility will also have expanded space for prototyping and demonstrating robots. The building will be constructed at 5113 Robert Hunter Drive, near the Muskegon County Airport, with the company planning to move into the new site by June 2019.
Grand Rapids-based Copper Rock Construction Inc. is serving as the contractor for the project. The 29-employee Smart Vision Lights is also applying for a 12-year tax abatement for the project.
The company’s machine vision lighting products — including ring lights, high-speed lights, dome lights and numerous other configurations — are deployed on a range of automation equipment in the automotive, life sciences and medical device industries. Customers use the lights in their robotic cells, for parts inspections, and in conjunction with other equipment to scan products or codes as part of the manufacturing process.
Spaulding credited the global growth in the adoption of automation as contributing to the Smart Vision expansion.
“Automation is the business that we are in,” he said, adding that as the market for the equipment expands, “we continue to grow.”
“We’ve been seeing so much growth in the automation world. Robotics use our product, companies like Amazon use our product in their procurement centers. … We’re in all kinds of industries that just continue to grow,” Spaulding said.
According to a June report from the Automated Imaging Association, an Ann Arbor-based trade group, sales of machine vision components and systems grew 19 percent on a year-over-year basis to $709 million in the first quarter of 2018, a new record for the industry.
Among respondents to the AIA’s recent survey, 45 percent said they expected the market to continue to increase through the third quarter, while 55 percent expected the sector to stagnate or decline.
Still, the industry group projects overall growth to continue as more automation and automated systems come online across a range of sectors, including in autonomous vehicles, artificial intelligence and unmanned aerial vehicles.
“We continue to see demand for vision systems that are smaller, intuitive, cost effective, and complementary to a more connected automation system,” Alex Shikany, vice president at AIA, said in a statement. “It’s an exciting time to be in this field with the innovation we’re seeing at every turn.”
The Norton Shores project is Smart Vision Lights’ second expansion in 11 years. The company got its start in 2007 in a founder’s basement before transitioning to space in Grand Valley State University’s small business incubator in Muskegon, formerly the Michigan Alternative and Renewable Energy Center (MAREC) that’s now known as the Muskegon Innovation Hub.
The company graduated from the incubator in 2010 and moved into its current 12,500-square-foot facility at 2359 Holton Road in Dalton Township, north of Muskegon.
With the existing plant at capacity, the company needed to look for something bigger, Spaulding said.
According to Spaulding, the company either will lease out or sell its existing facility.
“When we walked in this door, we said we’d never fill it up,” he said of the present location. “We thought we were crazy for buying such a big building.”
Now, the company is expanding at a 30-percent year-over-year growth rate with the hopes of continuing that pace in the new facility, Spaulding said.
“With the way that we have it laid out now, we can expand two times,” he said of the new Norton Shores plant. “We also are looking at expansions in other countries, including Asia/Pacific and the Middle East.”
Still, the company is committed to staying in the region, according to Spaulding.
“West Michigan is where our workforce is … and we want to keep the jobs here,” he said. “With the automotive and with automation in Michigan, it’s a hot spot for the type of thing that we do.”