Manufacturer gives innovation a prime spot
Automotive and appliance supplier opens new technology and product ideation hub on the lakeshore.
GHSP has been shifting toward advanced manufacturing over the past decade, and it now has a hub where technology is king.
The manufacturer this month opened an innovation center at 6 Sherman Ave. in downtown Grand Haven — a stone’s throw from the beach and about 2.5 miles from its headquarters at 1250 S. Beechtree St.
GHSP, a subsidiary of Grand Haven-based JSJ Corporation, was founded in 1924 as Grand Haven Stamped Products, a maker of mechanical auto parts. It has locations in North America, Europe and Asia.
The company changed its name to GHSP in 1994 and, over the past 10 years, has transitioned into advanced manufacturing of electronic user-control technology — including touchscreens, Bluetooth- and Wi-Fi-connected controls, auto shifters and high-tech interfaces.
GHSP also has entered the appliance, retail and health care markets, with the most recent example being a $3-million manufacturing and licensing agreement between JSJ and Livonia-based UV Angel, which specializes in surface disinfection technology for hospitals, food service locations and other environments.
Under the licensing agreements, GHSP will manufacture and provide engineering services for UV Angel devices.
Marc Smeyers, GHSP’s chief technology officer, said change is coming so fast to the industries GHSP serves that it became necessary to create a “cross-functional” team of industrial designers, graphics designers and engineers that would be housed in a separate facility.
“We’re seeing a continued change within the industries — with autonomous vehicles, ridesharing, mobility services — and we realized, we needed to transform again,” he said. “We needed to focus on technology as a core competency.”
About 18 months ago, that innovation team was created and housed temporarily in a facility referred to as “the garage.”
Mid-month, the company moved the team into an old brick building once used as a water pump station by the city of Grand Haven. The innovation hub occupies a 7,000-square-foot space renovated in the early 2000s by previous occupant Fredricks Design, which moved out in 2010.
The innovation hub houses 20 employees tasked with developing new technologies in the automotive and appliance segments.
It has a dedicated studio and brainstorming area, an open office, meeting rooms and a lower-level fabrication space for testing ideas.
“With the new space that has all the amenities of natural light and collaboration space, it fosters creative thinking,” Smeyers said. “By having a space like this with the right tools and the right environment — it’s a more casual and relaxed open environment, where you can come and be open with ideas and not reserved.”
He said the studio and fabrication elements are a key combination that allows the team to “quickly” draw up ideas and then “make them real” in the fabrication shop.
Ian Sage is the company’s chief engineer of innovation and works in the space. He said being separated from the main campus and the production facility was an intentional move to help the innovation team focus on generating ideas rather than getting drawn into product launches.
“It’s a double-edged sword because to think about future products and technologies, you do need to separate yourself from the daily work that goes on of launching current product,” he said. “But you also need to have one foot there just to understand what’s going on and be tied in with the corporate direction. You don’t want to be too far off on the island.”
Smeyers said the decision to split the functions geographically came after past instances where the idea people did get pulled away from their mission.
“A group was separated out to work on something and come up with something new, but then they became that launch team. Then we had to re-establish an innovation function,” he said.
“We’re trying to go from lessons learned from the work we’ve done with innovation in the past.”
Smeyers and Sage spent the first year in “the garage” coming up with a process for how the innovation team would operate because “a structured innovation process helps generate more ideas than an unstructured one,” Smeyers said.
Their process draws from design thinking principles, an approach now being used in many fields that takes design principles and applies them to problem-solving.
Some of the innovation team members have more experience in that method than others, but the team was hand-picked to work through the learning process together.
The innovation hub works with the business development team to generate ideas that are a good fit for the customer base and the company’s business strategy. Once it has an idea that has been tested, the advanced development team takes over to “quote the work out” and secure a business award. Then, it moves to the launch development and production teams.
Smeyers and Sage are working to educate the rest of their organization about design thinking processes.
“(It) is something we want everyone to take hold of,” Sage said. “Engineers really have down the concept of the ‘design, test, validate, iterate’ process. It’s that front-end thinking of empathy, understanding and defining problem statements that is usually the gap we’re trying to address. I see that being picked up and valued and executed by individuals within the organization. It doesn’t have to be done in just one location.”
Smeyers said they also have started sharing their design thinking process with their OEM customers.
“We were able to put on the roadshow, as I like to call it, where we can take everything we’ve got here and bring it to our customers and set it up and run some of the design-process workshops right on their home turf,” he said.
After one such roadshow, a customer generated a new business lead for GHSP by recognizing the process would help solve a need in another group within the same company.
“It wasn’t even a group we were targeting, but they had a different design need, and it was related to an autonomous vehicle platform,” Smeyers said.
GHSP’s appliance team at the innovation hub is making a “concerted effort” to grow, Smeyers said, while the automotive business is continuing to grow at a strong pace.
“Our new Grand Haven location will serve as an incubator for the types of technology-driven offerings that consumers will come to love and rely on in the vehicles, appliances and devices of the future,” he said.