Sterling Heights

New research and development center in Sterling Heights expanding defense innovation

This story is part of a series profiling entrepreneurs and leaders in business, design, technology, manufacturing, and more, in the Sterling Heights Innovation District. With the support of the City of Sterling Heights, we capture the stories of what it means to be an innovator in today's climate, the challenges and triumphs involved, and what the future looks like. 
DCS Corporation is no stranger to Southeast Michigan. The professional services company, which offers engineering, programmatic, and technical support to the Department of Defense (DoD) and other national security customers, has been active in the area for decades.

Last year, however, DCS took its existing engagement in the region to another level with the completion of a new Ground Vehicle Research and Development Center of Excellence in the Sterling Heights Innovation District. The company's efforts at the new facility are primarily directed towards supporting the work of two U.S. Army facilities based at the Detroit Arsenal in Warren, Michigan, the Tank-Automotive & Armaments Command (TACOM) and the Ground Vehicle Systems Center (GVSC). GVSC focuses on research and development for the army, while TACOM is more concerned with handling acquisitions and logistics.

John Johnson is a DCS Ground Vehicle Integration Systems Division manager who has been working with the defense contractor in Michigan for more than 20 years. He oversees the new center and is enthusiastic about where it's headed. 

"We are very excited to continue to build upon our experience of over three decades of support to our army TACOM and GVSC customer base, leveraging the technology resources and engineering talent that the Sterling Heights business and technology community has to offer." 

John Johnson has high hopes for a new research and development center in Sterling Heights.

A history of innovation

Headquartered in Virginia, DCS was founded in 1977 by Carl Dubac, Sidney Cox, and David Shumaker — the three men whose initials make up the corporation's name. In its early days, the company collaborated primarily with the Navy, providing research and development testing and evaluation to naval aviation customers, particularly in the area of sensors. Since that time, it's branched out to work with all of the U.S. armed forces, including the marines, and also works with other national security entities like the Department of Homeland Security. 

In the 1980s, DCS became an employee-owned company. Its Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP) is an employee benefit program that puts stock into a trust with shares that are allocated to individual employees at no cost to them based on salary and tenure. When they retire, their stock is bought back by the corporation. The program was instituted to promote an ownership culture in the organization and to encourage employees to strive for success. 

Today, DCS employs just under 2,000 employees at nearly 20 locations across the United States.

"We're an engineering services company," says DCS CEO Jim Benbow. "Our primary product is our engineering and technical minds. We provide highly qualified engineers, analysts technicians [and] are very, very closely aligned with DoD programs." 

Expanding possibilities in Michigan

When DCS began to think about expanding its operations about two years ago, locations in both Southeast Michigan and Massachusetts were considered as sites for a new R&D center. Ultimately, though, the corporation chose Metro Detroit for the facility. 

The defense service company was keen on setting up its new research and development center close to the Detroit Arsenal and its longtime U.S. army customers. The region also was also appealing to DCS due to its connections with the auto industry and local universities, as well as the fact that Michigan has the highest concentration of engineers in the country.

After deciding to expand in Southeast Michigan, the corporation began looking for the best spot to house its new facility.

"Once we got to that point, we considered locations within the Southeast Michigan area with our priority being to find a facility that met our engineering fabrication and integration needs both for our current business needs as well as our anticipated future growth," says Johnson. "We considered several locations and in our search, we found our Sterling Heights location met all our business and technology needs."

While scouting and setting up its new facility, DCS received ample support from the State of Michigan and the City of Sterling Heights. It was also awarded a $500,000 performance-based grant from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation via the Michigan Strategic Fund. The Ground Vehicle Research and Development Center opened this past November and is now bustling with activity. 

"We have currently over 200 employees down at our Sterling Heights, Michigan office, primarily engineers and technicians who specialize in vehicle systems integration on ground vehicle systems for the army, with some administrative support as well," says Johnson. "We're expected to generate an additional 92 well-paying jobs at the location, contributing to the Sterling Heights community's economic growth."

Mobilizing to the future

During its time in Southeast Michigan, DCS has had a multifaceted relationship with both GVSC and TACOM. Its work with GVSC and various subcontractors has involved analysis, design, development, test, and fielding services for the center's research and engineering business groups. That support has included work with vehicle electronics, power architectures, vehicle autonomy, and robotics, vehicle survivability and protection, physical and immersive simulation, life cycle and software engineering, systems engineering, and systems vehicle prototyping. With TACOM, has supported program management offices in overseeing the acquisition, fielding, and sustainment of army vehicles and watercraft, including the M1 Abrams Tank, the M2 Bradley Fighting Vehicle, the M1126 Stryker Combat Vehicle, and the Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicle. While these efforts encompass many different areas, DCS involvement there has been strongly focused on software and Command, Control, Communications, Computers Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (C4ISR).

Looking to the future, the corporation's leadership is fired up to have an increased presence in Metro Detroit at a time when automakers and area universities are exploring cutting edge innovations like self-driving cars, advanced battery design, electrification, and advanced manufacturing that takes advantage of 3-D printing. In turn DCS sees a role for itself in helping to apply these emerging innovations to military purposes and developing related technologies like helmets that make use of augmented reality and advanced war machine interfaces dealing with human-robotic interactions.

"We see a lot of excitement in our employees and also in our ability to recruit," says Bill Protzman, Executive Vice President and Manager with the DCS Army and Marine Corps Sector.  "There's a lot of people really drawn into these technologies and find it really exciting and want to be part of it."

The corporation continues to seek out experienced engineers as well as students and graduates seeking or holding degrees in Electrical, Computer, and Mechanical Engineering. Interested candidates have opportunities to explore fields like cyber security, autonomy systems, robotics, vehicle electronics architectures, advanced and secure communication systems, embedded software development, modeling and simulation, vehicle system safety, military vehicle systems architectures, military vehicle active protection, and avoidance systems, and sensor systems.

With DCS experiencing "fantastic growth" at its Michigan office, Johnson expects the need for quality engineering talent to grow correspondingly and he urges potential candidates to learn more about potential openings within the company.

"It's a never-ending good thing that's happening for us here in the Southeast Michigan area," he says. "We definitely invite and encourage any engineer that's interested in speaking with DCS to view the opportunities we have in the area as well across the country."

All photos by David Lewinski.

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