Making It in Northern Michigan: Anchor Lamina

by Clark Miller

With 150 employees, Anchor Lamina, an international producer of components for stamping dies, ranks as an important employer in Bellaire. So when the pandemic hit, General Manager Tom Davidson took quick action to keep it that way.

“We worked through the entire pandemic, only slowing down last summer,” Davidson said.

Davidson and his team met daily to adapt to the constant changes in those days, and formed small groups to communicate changes and what they could see coming in the market.

“This was a complete unknown, and the team adapted to the changes in stride,” he said. “Maybe that’s because we communicate openly and often. The more everyone knows about the current situation, the more they can help.”

Anchor Lamina’s operators were already spaced 30 feet apart, so that helped with COVID safety protocols. The exception was in the distribution and packing areas, where employees wore masks right away.

“Eventually, everyone wore masks,” he said.

They also had to alter their traditional shift schedule, which was a model based on multiple overlapping shifts to help with communication, Davidson said.

“But when the pandemic hit, we went to a 10-minute lag between shifts so the virus wouldn’t spread,” he said.

To keep employees engaged and learning, Anchor Lamina utilizes cross training, job shadowing and mentoring of new employees. They also have a program called Great Ideas, which is incentivized.

Even with all those efforts, Davidson says that May, June and July were tumultuous times in 2020, when sales dropped 25%.

Now, they’ve “bounced back and we’re extremely busy right now, especially in the canning industry and medical supply sectors,” he said.

Roughly 70% of Anchor Lamina-Bellaire’s products are sold through distributors, with the remaining 30% sold directly to end users.

Founded in 1938, Lamina started in Oak Park, Mich. The Bellaire plant opened in 1941. In addition to the Bellaire site, the company operates a plant in Beaver Dam, Wisconsin.

According to commercial data provider Dun and Bradstreet Corp., the Bellaire plant is part of Anchor Lamina America, Inc., which has 240 total employees across all of its locations and generates $57.58 million in sales. There are 68 companies in the Anchor Lamina America, Inc. corporate family.

Now that the business in Bellaire is back, Davidson says he has four goals, including supply chain management, doubling the rotary bender line of products, increasing his customer base and adding staff.

The immediate challenge is with the supply chain.

“In some cases, we’re seeing lead times being extended four to six weeks for materials coming in from Asia and Europe,” he said. “We’ve also placed orders for materials 12-plus months out to assure we have a steady supply of raw materials, especially steel and bronze.”

Davidson also hopes to widen his customer base to include robotics builders, and other industries.

“We’re going after everything we can now,” he said.

Adding staff, however, may prove to be the biggest challenge.

“The dedication of our current work force is reassuring; we just need to get back to pre-COVID employee levels,” he said.

To do so would mean adding about 20 additional workers.

“We run ads in papers and online job sites, use staffing companies, and work with local school counselors and Michigan Works, but most weeks we’re lucky if we get one or two applications,” he said.

Despite the mixed picture, Davidson’s enthusiasm is apparent.

“Our stamping dies make it possible to create all sorts of products – things that benefit end customers,” he said. “And I enjoy finding ways to make it better, faster and cheaper.”

The Grand Traverse Area Manufacturing Council (GTAMC) sponsors this column. Its mission is to support a sustainable and globally competitive manufacturing sector for a stronger economy;