Agencies Helping TD Backbone

August 8, 2003
| By Katy Rent |
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GRAND RAPIDS — Andy Bowne says that West Michigan’s tool and die industry is a model for the way competition changes with lurches in the world’s economy.

Bowne, Grand Rapids Community College’s executive director for workforce training and economic development, also notes that the industry is the backbone of West Michigan’s economy.

That practical consideration is what Bowne says led to a program to stiffen the backbone.

“With this new pilot program we are helping the tooling companies develop quality management systems so we can make sure the industry is able to weather the tough times and bring the state of the economy back to a healthy level.”

The program to which he refers is offered Michigan tool and die companies through the Michigan Economic Development Corp., The Right Place Inc.’s West Michigan Manufacturing Technology Council (MTC), a Plymouth MTC, and Schoolcraft and Grand Rapids community colleges.

Bowne said the object is twofold: to help Michigan tool and die companies become lean and to help the industry as a whole in Michigan.

The Coalition for the Advancement of Michigan Tooling Industries and the Center for Automotive Research also are working on the program.

Bowne said that to date, 24 Michigan firms have decided to participate, nine of them from West Michigan.

“This is really an industry that deals with all areas of production and several areas within itself,” said Dan Keyes, management representative for GRCC. He said the project will focus on improving and changing how tool and die companies do business and look at developing a new business model that will spur growth and success in the industry.

He said he key to getting the tool and die industry thinking as one and not as individual service sectors is to examine how each firm interacts with and affects others. He said that begins with an assessment of each company, a process that will take a year to complete.

Keyes said the process would create a transformation statement for each firm, analyzing its current status and how it can get to where it wants to be in the future.

Keyes said the process entails value-stream mapping, benchmarking, and taking a systems approach to how firms interface. The idea is to develop an industry overview.

This is, perhaps, more difficult than it sounds for tool and die makers, which traditionally have been very independent.

“The members of the tool and die industry need to be leaders and so, in effect, this is leadership training we are planning — and the industry needs to lead by example,” Keyes said. “The companies will be involved in developing this model and need to be champions of the cause.”

He said that to achieve their goals, the firms must also go through continuous improvement in determining how they will develop a working operation system and keep it up to date with market changes.

“Some companies think that if you get a good thing going and you put it in motion then it will just stay that way,” said Keyes.

“But you aren’t finished. You are going to need to continue the work and they are going to need to have a process on how they are going to improve, all with some help and support from the group of us that helped them get there in the first place.”

Additionally, he said companies would look at marketing and strategy, customer relations and engineering.

Keyes and Bowne stressed that the project is a work in progress, something that is easily adapted to changing conditions.

They indicated change would also come after the program has begun with the current 24 tool and die companies participating in the pilot. Bowne said the state would like to see the same concept spread into other communities.

“We want to incorporate more than just these participants and look deeper into the idea of collaboration on the part of the tool and die industry,” said Keyes. “We think we have a really good mix of companies here and we would like to carry that idea through.”

Companies for the pilot program were chosen to reflect different strengths of the industry.

Participants range widely in size and client base, a mix that Keyes and Bowne believe is important to the collaborative idea the group is trying to convey.

“Representatives from the MMTC, GRCC and The Right Place were divided up to work with each of the companies participating in the program and to work individually with that company but keep the idea of the industry in the back of their mind,” said Keyes.

“We are also having collaborative meetings with each other to see where every aspect of the industry is coming from. This is so important and people are starting to understand that; it may be on different levels, but they understand that the strength of the economy as a whole relies on and is reflective of the tool and die market.”           

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