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Company thrives on U.P. work ethic

Tuesday, July 22nd, 2008

L’Anse — A L’Anse company is bucking the downward trend of manufacturing and is proving that by using the work ethic of Upper Michigan, you can grow your business.

L’Anse Manufacturing uses precision machines to modify parts for 21 businesses around the country.  Some of their parts are used in NASCAR vehicles and military weapons.

Although they’re far away from most of their customers, the owners say their employees high productivity levels make it worth it for them to be located in L’Anse.

“We have a product that we’re directly competing for with an Asian company and our productivity levels are such that allows our customer to be successful and retain business stateside,” co-owner and president Mark Massicotte said.

The owners are also looking to double their working space, increase gross sales by 20% and add a couple more jobs this year.

“Company thrives on U.P. work ethic.” WLUCTV6: 22 May 2008.

Talented crew, diversification fuel L’Anse MFG

Tuesday, July 22nd, 2008

High production helps company weather economic downturn.

At least one local manufacturer is weathering the global economic crisis successfully – so far.  L’Anse Manufacturing has aded three new employees, bringing its 2008 work force to 14. The company is on target to expand its facilities and add more people in the next year or so.  Another new employee was set to start this week.

The company in the L’Anse Dynamite Hill industrial park was purchased from founder Jim Olsen in early  2007.  Long-time employee Buddy Sweeney teamed up with Mark Massicotte to purchase the business.  Olsen had built the company on precision-machining of a wide variety of industrial parts.  Sweeney’s an expert on fixturing and processing the parts; Massicotte has a long resume of business, engineering and cost estimating skills.  It’s been a successful partnership.

“I’m the ‘make-it’ guy and Mark’s the money guy,” Sweeney noted.

Diversification has been a motto at L’Anse MFG from the beginning, and even more so in recent years.

“We”ll continue to diversify,” Massicotte said.  “We have 23 customers and 12 primary customers.  Years ago we had seven.”

The company has invested in a growing collection of expensive computer numerically controlled (CNC) turning centers and milling machines that can machine parts large or small to very close tolerances.  L’Anse MFG machines various types of stainless steel, 8600 steel, lots of aluminum, alloys and plastics.

The crew at L’Anse MFG is used to working with tolerances even tighter that 0.001 of an inch.  A human hair is four times thicker than that.  That kind of precision has opened the doors for machining everything from tiny stainless steel medical and surgical equipment to 40 and 50-pound connectors for Manitowoc Crane booms that must be near-perfect for safety’s sake.

“We’re very fortunate to be sitting where we are,” Massicotte said.  “The work ethic of this region is unique.  We’re competing all over the world on a regular basis.  We’re beating China on price.  We beat Pakistan on process.  A German company is looking at us on components.”

“We have very good people.  If the productivity wasn’t there we couldn’t compete.  That’s a true strength of this area,” Massicotte said.  “You need quality people to work here.  You have to get that machine up and going.”

The company’s diversity of customers is seen in sample parts spread across a large table in the conference room.  There are precision-machined pistons for military drones that must fly continuously for 60 hours.  Larger aluminum pistons are helicopter and race car prototypes.  There are drive shaft yokes for NASCAR.  L’Anse MFG got that business because it could machine the rough castings more accurately than anyone else, reducing the drive shaft balancing that was needed later.

Also on the list are precision surgical instruments and medical parts in shiny stainless.  One of L’Anse MFG’s customers is Pioneer Surgical, a growing medical equipment maker in Marquette.

“They’re a very progressive company. They’re very technically sound and that allows us to do very good service,” Massicotte said.

The company machines MRI medical components for a downstate firm.  A South Range company places what are basically MRI cameras in unique billet aluminum cases machined at L”Anse MFG.  They;re destined to be used for medical scans in China.

“We anticipate the medical device business will have sustained growth.  We have a part-time rep in New York who has a history in medical device sales and a strong engineering and design background,” Massicotte said.

L’Anse MFG does some work for local manufacturers such as Pettibone and Terex.  The company also farms out work when it makes sense.  Sometimes it”s an operation that is not L’Anse MFG’s specialty, or the company may get too busy.

“We have four (subcontractors) here, one up the road and one in Escanaba that work with us,” Massicotte said.  “Where it makes sense we will continue to look.  As long as we can keep the business in the UP, I’m OK with that.”

Massicotte is often on the road drumming up new business. He’s run machines years ago, and had a lot of engineering experience, including years at Ford Motor Company- so he speaks the language.

Meanwhile Sweeney is back in the shop conquering the next machining challenge with his Manufacturing Supervisor, Al Dantes, and crew.  Dantes will be going to Milwaukee for specialized training on the new $100,000 turning center.

“We have a milling machine, but this is a turning center,” Sweeney said.  “It can allow us to do a lot of things. We have to get more into the live tooling.  Before, we had to take a part out of the turning center and put it in the milling machine.  This will allow us to turn and mill and make a complete part in one machine.”

L’Anse MFG invested $35,000 in changes in the plant to accommodate the new Haas machine.  To free up some room the company moved some operations across the street to space leased in Draper’s Great Lakes Specialized Carriers building.  So far L’Anse MFG is fulfilling its short-term plan to grow, diversity and expand.  But in this economy, it’s wise to be cautious.

“The first year (2007) went as planned and the second one did, too,” Massicotte said.  “Hopefully that will continue.”

“It’s hard to say,” Sweeney added.  “The economy could turn tomorrow.”

Meanwhile L’Anse MFG will stick to its formula for success: “Never send out a bad part, and always be on time,” Massicotte said.  “Make the customer’s life easy.  It doesn’t sound hard, but sometimes it’s not so easy.”

Drue, Barry. “Talented crew, diversification fule L’Anse MFG.” The L’Anse Sentinel 7 Jan 2009: 1,8.

Experienced team taking L’Anse MFG into future

Tuesday, July 22nd, 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.

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