Growth Spurt: Mancelona’s Antrim Machine Products serves defense, aerospace industries

A bustling machine shop on the outskirts of Mancelona is steadily boosting its business by producing vital components for the defense and aerospace industries.

Antrim Machine Products (AMP) at 9142 Johnson Rd. has doubled its sales between 2014 and now, according to plant manager Jake Kelly.

“We were up 30% last year alone; that was almost too much growth,” he said. “We know we can’t keep that up. For the coming year, we’re targeting about 10% growth.”

AMP owner Joe Witowski began short run and manufacturing operations in 1974. Back then its key clients were mostly automotive-related, but that has changed over the decades.

Now its business is roughly 60 to 65% for defense contractors, 30 to 35% aerospace (including Boeing, Airbus and SpaceX) and less than 1% auto-related, according to Kelly, who has been with AMP for almost a decade in two stints.

In a typical year, AMP designs and produces about 1,000 different types of parts – from simple to complex – for its clients.

Plant manager Jake Kelly is looking for workers.

Like many manufacturing operations, AMP was thriving until the economy nosedived in 2008. Work was “very sparse” and the staff was trimmed to only 11 workers, down from about 30 the previous year. Now they have 22 workers running two shifts.

And AMP still could use more help, specifically machine operators and a supervisor for the second shift, which runs 3pm to 1:30am Mondays through Thursdays. In 2018, a defense contractor, Honeywell Sensing and Control, invited AMP company officials to a supplier meeting to discuss the future.

“They told us they expect 30 to 40% growth,” said Kelly, who grew up in Central Lake, learned a trade and now lives in Gaylord. “But all of us suppliers have the same problem: We’re having trouble finding help. Every trade has a shortage.”

Like a lot of companies after the 2008 economic crash, AMP shifted its focus and diversified. It aggressively pursued government work, adding several more defense and aerospace customers.

One of their longtime defense contractors dating back to the 1970s is General Dynamics, which relied on AMP to provide components for its M-1 tank and Stryker military vehicle.

The Stryker is an eight-wheeled armored fighting vehicle that has been a staple of the U.S. Marines and Army since the 2003-2011 Iraq War.  It’s named for two unrelated U.S. soldiers who posthumously received the Medal of Honor – Private First Class Stuart S. Stryker, who died in World War II, and Specialist Four Robert F. Stryker who died in the Vietnam War.

Over their years of ongoing operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, Strykers have logged more than 27 million combat miles.

A government oversight project received positive reviews when it spoke to soldiers who had served in Strykers.

“The Stryker’s fantastic,” said Col. Robert Brown, commander of the 1st Brigade of the 25th Infantry Division. “It has incredible mobility, incredible speed. We’ve been hit by 84 VBIEDs (car bombs) that have hit Strykers and I’ve had the great majority of soldiers walk away without even a scratch. It’s absolutely amazing. If I were in any other type vehicle, I would’ve had huge problems.”

AMP produces a variety of components for the Strykers, including porcelain latches and other small items.

AMP designs and produces about 1,000 different types of parts.

For Boeing’s 737 airliner, AMP provides a wing position flap censor, vital to alerting the cockpit of any wing flap problems.

“We made 1,500 of them for Boeing last year and expect to make about 1,800 of them this year,” said Kelly.

AMP has no current plans for upcoming plant expansions, but is looking to add some important procedures that they currently outsource. That would mean adding equipment, getting approval by the Environmental Protection Agency, stocking chemicals and hiring at least a couple of new workers, according to Kelly.

“Our goal for this year and next is to take the finishing work, like chemical pacification (rustproofing) that we currently outsource to an Indiana company and do it in-house,” he said.

Bringing that work in-house would save the company up to $60,000 annually, he said. “It would save shipping costs, reduce the possibility of damage (during shipping) and be a huge reduction in turn-around time,” he said. “A job that now it takes three to four weeks, we could get it done in three or four days.”