Plant flexibility: Adapting seamlessly to changing production demands

In this Plant Profile, Michigan Manufacturing International targets superior adaptability for local and international customers.

In today's dynamic manufacturing environment, flexibility is the name of the game. The ability to adapt seamlessly to changing production demands – to ramp up production quickly when called for and to avoid unnecessary labor and operational costs during slower periods – is a business imperative in a globally competitive world of commerce.

This kind of flexibility was a key focus for components and assemblies supplier Michigan Manufacturing International (MMI) when the company set about building a new food processing equipment facility in Hosur, India. MMI, based in Stevensville, Md., has global sourcing and supplier partners in Mexico, China, India, Korea, and Vietnam; CEO Jacob Prak estimates that India accounts for 30 percent of the total volume of MMI purchases.

Opening an assembly plant in Hosur in "one of India's most dynamic industrial parks," as Prak calls it, offered MMI a strategic opportunity to deploy new products and processes within a space increasingly known as a manufacturing and technology hub. (Caterpillar is among the other global brands with a presence in Hosur.)

Through Maryland Mechanical India, the Indian arm of its business, MMI opened the doors to the 7,000-square-foot Hosur facility in 2010. Most recently, the plant has been working on a project that requires orbital welding, a process in which a mechanized arc rotates continuously around a static object to produce pipes and tubing with extreme precision. Orbital welding is "something we've never done before," Prak says. "Fortunately," he continues, "one of our neighbors produces equipment used in this process. We can draw from our neighbors' capabilities."

The plant generates $600,000 (USD) a year for MMI and employs anywhere from 20 to 30 people depending on manufacturing demands. Prak estimates that it has created a total of around 40 jobs in the Hosur area. Specialized stainless-steel seal rings produced using MMI's proprietary welding technology are one of the plant's signature products; the facility also produces components for other food processing and electric power applications.

"We are doing a wide variety of different operations including stamping, assembly and welding," Prak says. "We add production capability based on customer demand rather than simply marketing our pre-existing capabilities to our customers."

Actively involving customers in product development from the start of a project helps MMI ensure that it's on the same page as customers in terms of goals for the product and the manufacturing process itself, reducing lead time on the project and optimizing costs for both parties. The business also offers tooling design and development services to better meet customers' product specs.

"We estimate that approximately 65 percent of our sales in India come from the Hosur location, making this plant very important to us," Prak said in a 2014 press release about a recent visit to the plant. "It is vital to our ability to offer the best and most cost-effective supply options to our customers."

For customers based in the U.S. or elsewhere abroad, Maryland Mechanical India offers auditing and local market research services to help clients feel secure in their sourcing of products from Asia. The business conducts supplier audits and assessments based on individual customers' requirements for Asia-based suppliers and can perform parts inspection before they leave suppliers' premises, according to Maryland Mechanical India's website – a key service as transparency and supplier accountability are at the fore of manufacturing executives' minds.

As product sales cycles accelerate and manufacturers seek better, faster responses from suppliers to their demands, it’s necessary for a business to demonstrate the kind of agility that MMI prides itself on, Prak suggests. A manufacturing outlook released by the company last year opined, “Companies that are able to recognize and satisfy needs the fastest will be able to generate the highest rates of return.”

Twenty-four-year-old MMI is looking for its investment in supply-chain management services as well as its positioning of the Hosur site as a nimble, collaborative manufacturing partner to serve the company well.  

“Our facility is well-suited to our current activities, and we also have the engineering expertise to create production capability as needed,” Prak says.

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