Area plant marks 10 years as WEFA Cedar Inc.
Shop makes aluminum extrusion dies for auto, furniture and various other industries.
A German-owned tool and die shop in Cedar Springs is pushing its roots down a little further as it closes out a decade in the small town 20 miles north of Grand Rapids.
WEFA Cedar Inc. — a division of the Singen, Germany-based privately held and family-owned company WEFA Group — this year purchased the facility it had been long-term leasing from Cedar CNC Machining Inc. for just over $465,000.
The approximately 30,000-square-foot shop, at 104 W. Beech St. NE, formerly housed the locally based Cedar Tool & Die, which then was acquired by Oslo, Norway-based Hydro — one of the largest aluminum extruders in the world — in 1994.
Hydro sold the location to WEFA Group, one of its suppliers, 10 years ago.
“The business became too small to be sustainable as a dedicated unit within Hydro. We explored many options and consider WEFA to be the best home for the future,” the company said in a 2009 statement.
Since WEFA acquired the shop and renamed it WEFA Cedar, it has narrowed its focus to producing only precision round aluminum extrusion dies, as opposed to other types of dies, as well.
WEFA Group, founded in 1972 as a subsidiary of the former aluminum company, Alusuisse, is led by brothers and managing partners Joachim Maier and Oliver Maier, who inherited the company in 2015 from their father Bruno Maier, who had been owner since 1987.
The company has nearly 300 employees worldwide at locations in Germany, Switzerland and the Czech Republic, as well as the Cedar Springs location.
The WEFA Cedar plant employs between 12 and 15 people who are nearly all Cedar Springs residents.
Fred Cini is president of WEFA Cedar.
He said the company sells aluminum extrusion dies to “any tier one or tier two supplier for really any industry,” including to Hydro — which has customers in the automotive; transportation; building and construction; infrastructure; printing; HVACR (heating, ventilation, air conditioning and refrigeration); packaging; industrial design; solar and energy; general engineering; and distribution markets.
WEFA Cedar also supplies furniture makers such as Herman Miller, Cini said.
With WEFA Cedar being a supplier to suppliers, Cini said it can be confusing for outsiders to know what the plant makes.
He said aluminum extruder customers use the precision round dies produced at WEFA to form components they will then sell to the manufacturers that make consumer products.
“(The extruders are) squeezing a billet, a section of aluminum, through our die and forming a shape,” he said.
“It’s just like, back in the day, when you had the little Play-Doh machines. You’d put the Play-Doh in this little press, then push the handle, and the shape would come out the other end.
“That’s what the aluminum extruders do, and we make those dies that they use to make the shape or ‘profile’ that they’re looking for.”
Cini said WEFA Cedar isn’t a status quo kind of company. Within the past decade, the company has completely restructured the Cedar Springs team to make it more efficient, refurbished its equipment, provided hands-on training to upskill employees and earned ISO 9001 certification to ensure quality and regulatory compliance standards.
WEFA Cedar also prides itself on maintaining a “very clean environment,” especially for a 40-year-old facility.
Additionally, it is designed to be a “pro-family and pro-employee environment” in which the level of automation it has allows the company to adjust start times and break times “around people’s lives, not just what we need to do for our customers,” Cini said.
“As long as we produce what we need to meet our customers’ timing, if people need to leave early and come back or come late and leave early, and that helps them, (we can do it),” Cini said.
WEFA Cedar is not currently running at full capacity. But Cini said as the business grows, it could potentially house up to 60 employees.
Birgit Klohs, president and CEO of regional economic development agency The Right Place, said WEFA Cedar is part of a group of about 50 German-owned companies that have entered the West Michigan market over the past few decades.
The Right Place has worked with WEFA over the years to connect it with training, employment and marketing resources, Klohs said, and she visits the home office of WEFA Group regularly when she is in Germany to stay connected to the company’s leadership.
“Like a lot of smaller, family-owned German firms, they’re very technically competent,” she said.
“It was great that they acquired the business 10 years ago now. It’s taken good root, and it’s good for Cedar Springs. It’s a good location for WEFA. They have a good workforce. They like being in West Michigan … and we’re happy to have them as part of that German family around here,” Klohs said.