Experienced team taking L’Anse MFG into future

Posted: July 22, 2008

L’Anse Manufacturing Co. is under the direction of new owners.  The diverse machining company is growing and the new management team is carefully guiding that success.  Started in 1975 on a shoestring by entrepreneur Jim Olsen, the company machines castings for a wide variety of businesses.  Olsen built his company by driving back and forth between here and Detroit with crates of castings on a weekly or biweekly schedule.  That commitment to his customers and increasingly precise machining capability has led to L’Anse Manufacturing”s continued success.

Twenty-two year company employee Wallace “Buddy” Sweeney, L’Anse, has teamed with experienced engineer and manufacturing manager Mark Massicotte to purchase the business at the L’Anse Industrial Park.  Olsen is excited to embark on a new adobe construction venture in New Mexico.

Massicotte is the Operations Manager and President at L’Anse Manufacturing.  Sweeney, who has done virtually every job at the plant during his tenure with Olsen, is the Manufacturing Manager.  The company employs nine highly-skilled and valued employees.

Massicotte has lived in the Detroit area for 35 years and worked in a wide range of engineering and managerial-related fields.  He is married to the former Karen Salo, a L’Anse native.  She’s been back here for two years, and Mark has been back for about one year, after finishing up some additional schooling downstate.  He”s been with Sweeney at the helm of L’Anse Manufacturing for the past year.

Sweeney is a master when it comes to “fixturing”. The company has built its reputation on precision milling and machining of small, intricate foundry-cast parts for a wide variety of industries. The complex parts are often cast in stainless steel, but standard steel, brass-copper alloy (ampco), aluminum and polymer-based plastics are also machined.

The task of holding and manipulating complexly-shaped parts for computer-controlled machining goes to Sweeney.  The shelves of the factory floor are filled with complicated steel jigs he has invented and built.  They fit on milling machines and allow parts to be held securely, and rotated in multiple directions so machining operations can be done as efficiently as possible.

Parts range from orthotic (artificial knee) hinges the company has surfaced for two decades, to more exotic applications such as convertible roof locking handles for 2007 BMW sports cars.  L’Anse Manufacturing machines cargo hold-down brackets for jets; wheel hubs that allow semi-truck drivers to adjust tire pressure on their front tires while driving; and lately, drive shaft yokes that must be precisely balanced and machined for NASCAR applications.

“We get the work because we can stick to very tight tolerances,” Sweeney said.  “We can work within two-tenths of 1,000th of an inch.  Some jobs call for plus or minus one-tenth of a 1,000th. To put that in perspective that”s one-40th the width of a human hair.”

L’Anse Manufacturing also does daily plastics machining that doesn”t have to be quite so precise. The telescoping booms made at Terex and Pettibone ride on plastic guides.  Replacing heavy brass-copper alloy wear pads with plastic gives the same wear life and performance and greatly reduces the weight factor which is critical for a lengthy, extended boom.

L’Anse Manufacturing keeps Terex”s shelves stocked with wear pads daily, and Pettibone, twice a week, so neither local How long will I hold the role for 2 years, when they will be expected to reapply for it. company has to worry about inventory.

During Olsen’s ownership the company worked on military parts such as gun housings and turrets; fuel systems for the F-series fighter jets and 747 commercial jets; mining parts, natural gas valves, and many other complicated, smaller cast parts.  The smallest range from a fraction of an ounce and the bigger parts might weigh 30 pounds.

The company has also developed a unique way to straighten parts to bring them into tolerance and lower the machining that is needed. The orthotic knee hinges must be machined to within two-thousandths of an inch and Sweeney developed a way to straighten them, reducing machining time. That’s the kind of innovation that keeps L’Anse Manufacturing competitive.

Another example of in-house innovation is Sweeney’s expertise with adjusting cutting tool edge angles and geometry to most efficiently work with the material at hand. L’Anse Manufacturing can very efficiently mill and grind stainless steel, for instance.  That makes machining cast stainless parts fast and efficient when each part goes on a custom jig and into the Computer Numerically Controlled (CNC) milling machine.

“Other companies may have to use an off-the-shelf cutting tool and put up with however it works,” Sweeney said.

Once an operator clamps a part into a jig on the mill, multiple cutting operations are done simultaneously and sequentially with tools that cut and grind efficiently. Surfaces are smoothed to exact tolerances, holes are aligned and bored, threads of different pitches are cut, and endless other operations performed. While the CNC machine is busy, the employee will be at a nearby work station doing another operation. Everything is timed to mesh. Sweeney said they had one job down to five seconds an hour when the mill wasn’t actually cutting or milling.

“Our ability to hold tolerance and our diverse customer base are critical,” Massicotte added. “This industry is under attack from global competition. We must keep our costs low and maximize efficiency in every way we can.  We have a very good group of employees and we owe it to them to keep things going.”

“We deal with four main foundries and two-thirds of our business comes from outside the UP.  We are actually bringing work to our area,” Massicotte said.

Massicotte has brought international manufacturing and business expertise to the L’Anse company. He says he reads The Wall Street Journal and ponders economics as much as a hobby as a work requirement.  For instance he”s always looking at economic trends. When a company gets out of one business and moves into a new direction Massicotte wants to know why.

The manager immediately goes to the NASCAR drive shaft yokes as an example of what could be a trend.  More high performance race car work lies waiting to be developed on Sweeney’s desk.

“You can say that”s an automotive application, but it’s really entertainment,” Massicotte said.  “And entertainment is a growing trend.  We”re always looking to expand our customer base.  Having a diverse customer base is very, very important to this company.”

“We added six additional new customers last year and we anticipate adding three or four more this year.  We’re going to grow, but we’re not going to do it so fast we get too big for our britches and lose sight.  And we have a special group of employees.  We don’t have the problems other companies do.  I won’t let anything change that,” Massicotte said.

Drue, Barry. “Experienced team taking L’Anse MFG in future.” The L’Anse Sentinel 31Jan 2007: 1,3.

LMI in the News

  • Baraga businessman gets CTE award

    Daily Mining Gazette –May 8, 2017 HANCOCK — The Copper Country Association of School Boards recently presented Mark Massicotte with the 2017 Community Leadership Award. George Stockero, Copper Country Intermediate School District (CCISD) superintendent, said Massicotte has been a strong advocate for connecting business and education in the area. “He is working to bring other […]

  • L’Anse Manufacturing Selected as Northwest Michigan PTAC Government Contractor of the Year

    L’Anse Manufacturing Selected as Northwest Michigan PTAC Government Contractor of the Year 2016 (February 2017) L’Anse Manufacturing is a precision machining company with a low volume, high mix approach and a special interest in projects with tight tolerances. Their primary markets are investment casting machining, light industrial manufacturers, and specialty products including medical, aerospace, and the […]

  • LMI hosts technical training through grant

    Written by Melissa Lehto, published by the L’Anse Sentinel Like all businesses, L’Anse Manufacturing, Inc., (LMI) wants to be competitive in the workforce. For this small-town company, being competitive means keeping your employees up to date on the newest and most current manufacturing techniques available. LMI has again submitted an application for and received a Skilled […]

Professional Web Site Design by Sandstone Digital