Manufacturing

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Automotive analysts are looking at recent sales results and warning that the industry cycle may have peaked. 

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CHICAGO — After several years of vacillating between open office concepts and private spaces, the so-called “pendulum shift” in office furniture seems to have settled into a new normal. 

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As the footprint of workstations continues to shrink, office furniture manufacturers are focusing on integrating new technology into their products to drive value. 

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Grand Rapids-based law firm Miller Johnson Snell & Cummiskey PLC recently joined the growing ranks of companies ditching aging, inefficient offices for modern space better suited for collaboration.

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Employers who are increasingly paying attention to the overall well-being of employees are generating opportunity for West Michigan office furniture makers to create the type of workspaces that contribute to workers’ health.

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According to the most recent state jobs data, wages for manufacturing production workers in May sunk to their lowest levels in the last 12 years as the average hours worked dipped to the lowest point since 2009. Meanwhile, the number of people working in manufacturing hit its highest level in almost a decade.

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After driving the West Michigan economy for several years, the manufacturing sector has reached a holding pattern of flat growth that has economists on the lookout for the next downturn in the business cycle. 

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LANSING — One mid-Michigan entrepreneur wants to fill a need in the rapidly growing market for unmanned aerial vehicles by catering his products to educators and students.

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Tool and die shops are practitioners of highly skilled craftsmanship, doing the rigorous and precise work needed to build tooling for high-volume production of automotive components. 

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Herman Miller Inc.’s highly praised $154 million acquisition in 2014 of high-end furniture retailer Design Within Reach Inc. may not legally have occurred.

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West Michigan office furniture manufacturers could soon be incorporating scrap wood into the production of their products through a new partnership with Michigan Technological University.

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DUTTON — Instead of relying on a traditional salesforce to sell its products, GR-X Manufacturing LLC aims to grow its business primarily through marketing on the internet. 

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While browsing the automotive news site Just-Auto.com recently, we noticed an interview with Frank O’Brien, the executive vice president of Asia for Magna International Inc. This sparked a moment of nostalgia, since O’Brien was a contact point during the time we did consulting work at Donnelly Corp. in Holland some 25 years ago — well before it became part of Magna.

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After a banner year for deal flow, the merger and acquisition market seems to have tempered slightly in 2016.

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HOLLAND — After losing nearly a quarter of its annual sales because of the struggling oil and gas industry, Hemco Gage Corp. plans to expand its reach by targeting medical device and aerospace manufacturers across the country.

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Automakers have witnessed a resurgence in interest for trucks and SUVs as gasoline prices continue to hover around $2 per gallon in many areas of the country. 

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ALBION — Over the last decade and a half, Team 1 Plastics Inc. avoided expanding its facility until absolutely necessary, choosing instead to maximize every square inch of its shop floor. 

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Experts in the automotive industry have a simple message for companies figuring out how to navigate a changing vehicle market: Embrace the eventual shift to autonomous cars or you will cease to exist. 

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HOLLAND — After manufacturing a specialized line of food processing equipment for 30 years, Lakewood Fab Tech LLC wants to embrace new opportunities by refocusing its business on designing custom machines for the industrial market. 

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At a recent news conference, all of the major automakers pledged to make automatic emergency braking (AEB) standard on every light vehicle within six years. 

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Grand River Aseptic Manufacturing Inc. completed a $1.1 million round of fundraising from investors last month.

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Despite some uncertainty about the health of the global economy, West Michigan product development and engineering firms remain bullish on the manufacturing sector, at least for the short term. 

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HOLLAND — A West Michigan equipment manufacturer wants to leverage its engineering pedigree to navigate a consolidating industry.

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As the medical device industry continues to expand globally, the sector has entered a period of mass consolidation. 

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ZEELAND — Manufacturers have had to get creative in balancing the dual workforce needs of attracting new talent — particularly young people — and retaining their existing workers. 

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Backed by a string of profitable years, many West Michigan manufacturers are investing in labor-saving technology and providing themselves a hedge against future softening in the market. 

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Automakers’ challenge in meeting regulatory requirements for Corporate Average Fuel Economy has two aspects: the technology side and the market side of the issue. 

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WALKER — As industrial production levels continue to rise and West Michigan manufacturers reach full capacity, companies need to decide whether to invest in adding capacity or turn to other organizations in the supply chain. 

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Manufacturing industry groups are tracking a number of key policy issues this year that could have a variety of implications on their West Michigan members. 

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As the automotive supply chain prepares for a rapid increase in new model launches, manufacturers must also contend with several other trends in the industry ranging from production scheduling to the ripple effects of last year’s mega deals. 

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A contractual dispute over a $1.125 million equipment purchase has resulted in legal action between Mill Steel Co. and Illinois-based steel processor The Material Works Ltd. 

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eAgile Inc., a maker of radio frequency identification (RFID) products and software, hopes to raise up to $3 million to expand its overseas business serving the pharmaceutical, nutraceutical and food industries.

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Facing what they say is a dearth of qualified technical talent, manufacturers have been forced to get creative in developing their own internal training programs. But despite those efforts to fill the gap, companies still rely heavily on community colleges to train the next wave of workers. 

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A West Michigan custom fabricator believes its partnership with a California energy company could fuel revenue growth this year and beyond.

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Most automotive suppliers in West Michigan remain privately-held, meaning that information about their financial health stays tightly under wraps.

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The movement of people back to urban areas and the onslaught of new transportation options has forced traditional automotive manufacturers to take notice and plan for the future.

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While EV and hybrid sales continue to be a challenge in the era of sub-$2 per gallon gasoline, some automakers say the cheap gas has also forced them to re-evaluate their strategy for small sedans.

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Despite a growing number of plug-in electric vehicles on display at this year’s North American International Auto Show in Detroit, industry analysts say the segment has failed to reach the “aspirational” levels many had hoped.

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Automakers’ desire to quicken the pace of new vehicle launches has sent shock waves through the industry’s supply chain.

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While plummeting oil prices over the last month have led to relief for consumers at the pump, the news has been mixed for West Michigan manufacturers, particularly for suppliers of the oil-and-gas industry.

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As automotive production and the industry’s supply chain grows in Mexico, one mid-Michigan manufacturer of custom casters and wheels decided to engage in a foreign market for the first time in the company’s history.

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After running as lean as possible in the years following the recession, West Michigan manufacturers are embracing acquisitions as a strategy to add capacity and meet customer demand. That was the case for Grand Rapids-based Mill Steel Co. when it acquired certain assets of S&S Steel Services Inc. of Anderson, Ind.

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