2017-07-16 / Front Page

Kamax all in on Lapeer

$22M expansion wrapping up, ‘aggressive’ growth planned
810-452-2609 • adietderich@mihomepaper.com

Nolan Collins, of Burton-based Liberty Glass, works on the outside of the atrium of what will be a new entrance to Kamax L.P. in Mayfield Township. 
Photo by Andrew Dietderich Nolan Collins, of Burton-based Liberty Glass, works on the outside of the atrium of what will be a new entrance to Kamax L.P. in Mayfield Township. Photo by Andrew Dietderich MAYFIELD TWP. — Kamax L.P.’s $22 million expansion at its Mayfield Township facility is expected to be completed by August, but company officials already have “aggressive plans” for future growth at the site.

The 165,000-squarefoot expansion at the Rood Lakes Road facility in the final stages of completion resulted in 85 jobs being moved from Troy to Lapeer County during the first half of 2017.

It also brought the total square footage of Kamax in Mayfield Township to more than 335,000 square feet, and the employee count to 355.

Company officials expect such growth to continue, already making plans for the large chunk of land it has to work with in Mayfield Township, while anticipating hiring 20 percent more employees over the next three years.

Kamax L.P. in Mayfield Township has grown from about 75,000-square-feet in 1995 to more than 335,000-square-feet today. This photo shows expansion projects during the growth period. 
Submitted photo Kamax L.P. in Mayfield Township has grown from about 75,000-square-feet in 1995 to more than 335,000-square-feet today. This photo shows expansion projects during the growth period. Submitted photo In short, Kamax is all-in on Lapeer County. “The huge benefit of Lapeer is the potential for growth,” said Tushar Mulherkar, director of business development and application engineering. “In Troy, we are landlocked. We don’t have that in Lapeer.”

Kamax’s Troy location — near the iconic White Chapel Cemetery along I-75 — is bordered by the highway (without an on-off ramp), and residential and other business developments. Having already been downsized via the jobs moved to Lapeer, the remaining sales and administrative offices are relocating to Rochester Hills.

“We do have aggressive plans to utilize the (Lapeer) site to its capability,” said Tom Atkins, director of facility and environmental health safety at Kamax in Mayfield.

Local officials like Lenny Schneider, commissioner, Lapeer County Board of Commissioners, recognize the importance of Kamax to the community. Schneider’s district includes Kamax.

“They are a huge employer with some good salaried jobs and that’s why it’s really important to us in Lapeer County,” Schneider said. “We rely on a lot of our current manufacturers to expand and grow…it’s difficult for us to attract and bring a new one in because a lot of times they don’t have the time to build a new facility.”

Kamax is a tier one supplier of fasteners (bolts) for most automakers, including some of the newest to the market.

Tier one suppliers are those that work directly with original equipment manufacturers, such as General Motors Co., FCA Group, Ford Motor Co., Honda Motor Co. Ltd., Hyundai Motor Co., Nissan Motor Co. Ltd., and Tesla Inc.

Kamax also makes fasteners to other tier suppliers, such as Federal-Mogul Corp., TRW Automotive, and Johnson Controls International PLC.

Kamax made about 3.3.billion fasteners globally in 2016. That includes 750 million made at the Roods Lake Road plant, according to David Winn, vice president of operations, Kamax L.P.

The kind of bolts made by Kamax are used throughout the vehicle, performing crucial duties, such as holding the engine in place. A typical vehicle can include up to 500 bolts.

“Our fasteners are in just about every vehicle,” Mulherkar said.

Kamax launched in 1935, founded by Rudolf Kellermann in Osterode, Germany. The name is an amalgam of the German “ka”, or force, and “max,” as in maximum.

Kellermann began with a staff of three and zero capital equity. The purpose of the business then was the same as it is today: manufacture fasteners (bolts) for the automotive industry.

During World War II, growth of the company was bolstered by having to switch gears and produce fasteners for the aircraft industry.

By 1945, Kamax returned to its original purpose of making fasteners for the auto industry. A second plant opened in Homberg, Germany in 1955; a third in Alsfeld, Germany in 1970.

In 1974, the company began supplying U.S.-based automakers. In subsequent years, plants were opened in Spain (the company’s first outside of Germany) and the Czech Republic.

The company came to Mayfield Township in 1995, when it acquired bolt manufacturer G.B. DuPont and its fastener-related operations in Hamtramck (now closed), Troy, and Mayfield Township.

Winn, who started at G.B. DuPont in 1993 while he was still a student, said it’s been exciting to be part of the company’s growth.

That growth included Kamax’s first Lapeer expansion in 2007, and the most recent this year. Since 1995, the current location has expanded from about 75,000 square feet to more than 335,000 square feet.

Such investments are necessary, Mulherkar said, due to the company’s continue growth. About 20 years ago, when Kamax bought G.B. DuPont, the company had U.S. revenue of about $55 million.

Last year, Kamax’s U.S. operations posted $136 million in revenue.

Mulherkar said he expects revenue to grow another 8 percent in 2017. (Global sales for the entire Kamax organization were about $791 million in 2016).

So how has Kamax become such a large company selling only bolts?

Mulherkar said it’s due to the company’s consistency from plants like the one Kamax has in Lapeer.

“Right now, your car is parked and the bolts are working,” he said. “So you need to have that consistency in quality.”

Bolts produced at Roods Lake Road are made using a three-step process: stamping the bolts out, threading them, and heat-treatment (which gives final products their strength). Each bolt is then inspected.

Before the most recent expansion, bolts would be produced in Lapeer then shipped to the Troy location, where they would, in turn, be inspected, warehoused and shipped to customers.

“Troy performed the triage of the parts to the suppliers, along with warehousing, packaging and shipping,” Mulherkar said. “This added complexity to the group because we literally had to manage two different sites.”

Mulherkar said the company wanted a more seamless operation, so moved the end of the process to Lapeer.

“Now, we can have a better flow to make the part, so we increase efficiencies there,” Mulherkar said. “It’s all in one line and it’s shipped out to the customer. It streamlines everything.”

Company officials say they are more than happy to stick with Lapeer.

Mulherkar praised local and state officials for working with the company on the expansion, including the Michigan Economic Development Corp., Mayfield Township, the Lapeer County Road Commission, the Michigan Department of Transportation and the Lapeer Development Corp.

Through the efforts, nearly $1 million was secured through a grant to resurface Wilder Road between Imlay City Road and I-69. Without the project, the road — which is the most direct route from Kamax to I-69 — was at risk of losing its all-season status.

Kamax also was granted a 12-year industrial facilities exemption certificate by Mayfield Township board of trustees at its regular meeting on Feb. 8, 2016.

Being located directly on the DuPont-Lapeer Airport even has benefits, too. Mulherkar said there have been times when Kamax customers have needed bolts in an emergency-type situation and the company has flown them out of Lapeer.

Other aspects of the Lapeer area are attractive, too. Notably, Kamax officials said, the employees.

“We have very loyal people — we have several people that have been here 40-plus years,” Winn said. “There’s lots of people who have 25, 30, 40 years.”

Winn said he attributes that loyalty largely to the work ethic of people from Lapeer and the surrounding area.

“It’s not the mentality (of people from the Lapeer area) to jump around,” he said. “It’s little challenging to recruit people because it’s a more rural area. There are some positions we have a hard time filling. But once we have people on board, the retention is better.”

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