One of North America's top 100 automotive suppliers is set to open a cutting-edge manufacturing facility in the Sterling Innovation District next month.
Maclean Additive, a start-up division of MacLean-Fogg Component Solutions (MFCS), aims to create parts never seen before. What are they? Some of those early ideas are still top secret, but one thing is sure. The 97-year-old family-run business is hitting the gas on 3D printing.
MacLean-Fogg currently has eight facilities in metro Detroit, with plans to consolidate to five. Since 2019, its start-up has been revving up development of its 3D printing processes at a small engineering facility in Macomb Township. Mid-February it will open the doors to its first additive manufacturing facility, located on 19 Mile Road.
Brad Southwood, Vice President of Sales and Marketing at MacLean-Fogg Component Solutions, says Sterling Heights was a natural fit for the company.
“There's so many great businesses in or headquartered in Sterling Heights that we think we can add value to,” says Brad Southwood, Vice President of Sales and Marketing at MFCS. “We're finding a lot of opportunities to take what exists today and make it lighter, more durable, and its assembly less complex. There's endless opportunities with manufacturers on things they consume where we can be of assistance.”
"Lightweighting" is a big deal in an automotive industry shifting toward electric vehicles. The lighter the car, the more potential for adding batteries and the further those batteries will get you. Development time will also be transformed, says vice president of Maclean Additive, Greg Rizzo.
Vice President of Maclean Additive Greg Rizzo is excited about the future of the automotive industry.
“Typically when developing a new vehicle, there’s a process of designing and building prototype tooling, to then build parts,” he says. “With 3D printing, you can literally design the part and print it the next day. You can test it out and print another one if you want. Being able to shorten the development cycle and help customers and other companies that way is going to be big.”
It’ll go beyond cars, he says. 3D printing gives a creator complete design freedom with none of the geometric constraints of a traditional manufacturing process. You can add material exactly where you want, to build whatever you want.
“So when we say parts that have never been made before, in a lot of components today, compromises are made because of the restrictions to lines that can be drilled, etc.,” he says. “As you take material away, there are certain things you can and can’t do. With 3D printing, I can make that part curve to improve its air or fluid flow, things like that.”
The facility’s initial products will be durable tooling to support automotive manufacturing as well as the company’s patented, high-performance steel material, Southwood says, followed by the production of component parts.
The biggest challenge lies in being able to move quickly enough. Ongoing supply chain issues within the industry have most companies struggling to get parts both locally and overseas. MFCS is trying to address that challenge with its customers and legacy businesses where they expect 3D printing can help.
“We think by getting into these technologies as fast as we can, we can start to alleviate some of those issues in our business, as well as our customers' businesses,” Southwood says, “This facility is going to give us the space to grow and serve the increase in demand we're getting. We just need to add the machines, which we have coming in, as well as the people to help us run them.”
The company isn’t prepared yet to say how many jobs the new facility will provide, as it’s still trying to “understand what the requirements will be from a labor and growth standpoint.” Because much of the work is digital, and machines will run lights out, multiple shifts used in traditional auto manufacturing aren’t needed. But skilled jobs on the engineering side and technician side will be, says Southwood.
“We didn’t buy a big building here because it was the only one available,” he adds. “We intend to fill it.”
Sterling Heights industry, its technology, and its proximity to MacLean-Fogg customers, were reasons the global enterprise was attracted to the new location. But it was really the engagement from the city, Southwood says, and their ideas around opportunity and community connections that set them apart from other places in the Detroit area.
“Sterling Heights has long committed to strategic diversification of its industrial base, and MacLean Fogg is a perfect fit within that strategy,” said Senior Economic Development Advisor Luke Bonner.
“MacLean-Fogg’s additive manufacturing research and development team will have the ability to take advantage of our talented workforce in and around Sterling Heights,” he says, “and their resulting tech transfer will no doubt spin off new businesses. Successful developments like these continue to highlight the stellar reputation of the Sterling Innovation District.”
One of the ways MFCS works to attract local talent is through their MacLean Management Program, a two-year rotational program for recent college graduates focused on accelerated career growth. Participants experience the multiple aspects of the business through hands-on learning. The company hires about a dozen young people each year.
“As we talk to kids coming out of college, there's not a drive to be toolmakers, or to run heavy machinery anymore. This is much more exciting,” says Rizzo about additive manufacturing, aspects of which have been a part of the program since 2019, “to think in three dimensions, to design and to print it.”
High school graduates can apply for summer internships at MFCS, and some have repeated the internship in order to continue their engineering or manufacturing education. MacLean Fogg partners with local school districts each year, at its facilities across the country, to offer a 4-year scholarship to a high school graduate. Recipients display an aptitude and interest in areas like engineering, technology, entrepreneurship, or business. As the company looks to develop its community relationships and a talent pipeline in Sterling Heights, it says it's open to ideas and proposals from the community.
“We’re excited particularly for the young people who are looking for careers in technology, and in using their minds and capabilities to make things that have never been made before,” says Rizzo. “We really think that’s something that’s going to be exciting for us as a business and for the local community.”
Photos by David Lewinski.