- change ups
Manufacturer invests $6M in expansion, 64 jobs
A maker of fluid-control products experiencing growth in multiple industries is investing millions to expand its facility in the area and create jobs.
Flow-Rite broke ground on Monday on its $6 million, 7,500-square-foot addition in Byron Township at its headquarters, at 960 74th St. SW.
Currently, the Flow-Rite facility spans 98,000 square feet, with 75,000 square feet designated for manufacturing.
The addition will house the company’s engineering and technology center and add high-speed assembly equipment and injection molds.
The company plans to add 64 full-time jobs over the next three years.
Up to four of the new positions will be engineering jobs.
“For us, that is a big deal, because we only have four engineers on staff right now,” said Mark Herrema, engineering director, Flow-Rite.
The 50-percent increase is due to growth in multiple areas of the company.
Flow-Rite makes single-point watering systems and other fluid-control products for the industrial equipment industry, golf cart makers and the marine industry.
The company dominates segments of the golf cart industry in North America. Its single-point watering system, developed specifically for the industry, can be found on 100 percent of Club Car and Yamaha golf carts and 60 percent of E-Z-Go carts.
In October, the company will introduce its newest product, LockOn, which is a line of locking fasteners.
Its marine industry business is also growing due to specialized offerings it makes, including various couplers and fittings.
Diversification has been an important part of the Flow-Rite story.
In fact, the company started out in the swimming pool industry, making automatic level controls for commercial and residential swimming pools.
It was approached by General Battery Corporation, an industrial battery maker, asking if it could develop a product to improve the maintenance process for lead acid batteries used in industrial equipment, such as forklifts.
Battery watering was an ongoing problem in the industrial equipment industry. A necessary part of maintaining the performance and life of a battery, it was a time consuming and inefficient process.
“It’s a regular maintenance task, and it’s onerous, because you have 50 forklifts and you’ve got 24 cells in each one, and they have to be watered once a week,” said Robert Burnetter, CEO, Flow-Rite. “It can be difficult to keep track and get that job done once a week. It was a longstanding problem in the industry.”
The company’s single-point watering valve product is quicker, safer and extends the life of a lead acid battery, because of the precision it provides.
“Typical protocol previous to this would have been a standard vent cap,” explained Todd Hart, sales director, Flow-Rite. “Someone has to unscrew that vent cap. You are exposing your employee to acid. They fill the battery, maybe correctly, maybe incorrectly. It could be to an indiscriminate level, so you reduce the life of the asset, and then the final piece of that is the time involved.
“This is a single-point system where you connect it . . . you’re likely done in 20 seconds over those 24 cells. With a person doing it, you were probably looking at 15 minutes and indiscriminately filled.”
Flow-Rite signed a two-year agreement with General Battery and later gained several of its clients when the company was sold.
The company completely exited the swimming pool business and began expanding into other markets in need of single-point watering systems — golf carts and fishing boats.
Flow-Rite prides itself on being a vertically integrated company. It has a tool shop in house and regularly re-invests in automation to improve the business.
“Certainly, something that sets us apart from other organizations our size is having the tool room and all the technology we have in the tool room,” Hart said.
While automation is often considered the enemy of manufacturing jobs, Flow-Rite said the company’s growth has allowed it to move employees into other areas of the business even as it has increasingly adopted new automated systems.
“We haven’t had to lose any employees due to automation. It’s been absorbed into other areas,” Hart said. “We are greatly expanding employment by increasing our capacity.”
This is the company’s second expansion.
The Flow-Rite facility was built in 2005 and first expanded in 2008. And in 2010, its offices were renovated to increase space for employees.
Flow-Rite has received a $224,000 performance-based grant from the Michigan Strategic Fund under the Michigan Business Development Program for its expansion project.
The company has also received a tax abatement from Byron Township in support of the project.
“Flow-Rite is the definition of what advanced manufacturing looks like today in West Michigan,” said Birgit Klohs, president and CEO of The Right Place in Grand Rapids, a regional economic development nonprofit. “It is imperative that we retain and expand growing companies like Flow-Rite in our region — companies that take pride in the ‘Made in the U.S.A.’ labels on their products.”