Forever automotive


    Like many small companies that have long relied on the auto industry, Specialty Heat Treating is adding diversity to its customer base; specifically, it is taking on more work in aerospace and defense — but it is not abandoning the automotive industry.

    “We are and I think we always will be” an auto industry supplier, said Sara McMurray, sales manager.

    The privately held company, founded in Grand Rapids by Ron and Judy Smith in 1973 and now led by their son, Dean, has three facilities: in Elkhart, Ind.; in Holland; and in Wyoming on Eastern Avenue near 36th Street. The latter is its largest plant, at 33,500 square feet.

    Specialty Heat Treating does not manufacture parts; rather, customers ship their metal parts to it for annealing, which is heat treatment in different types of industrial ovens to make the metal harder or softer, depending on its intended application.

    While automotive contracts are still somewhere between 65 and 75 percent of its business, the parts to be treated can be from any number of different industries, including medical devices, agricultural equipment and aircraft.

    The company employs a total of about 80 people and did have to reduce head count during the last year. However, McMurray said she believes all those who were on layoff in Grand Rapids have been brought back to work.

    McMurray declined to release any information about the company’s annual sales revenues or its customers.

    Businesses has improved, she said, but orders tend to fluctuate.

    “Projects that I was working on that were on hold have come back to life,” she said.

    Holland is still where most of Specialty Heat Treating’s automotive work is done, with the Elkhart plant providing up to 50 percent of its aerospace parts annealing.

    “Our Indiana facility is the one that’s doing quite a bit of aerospace,” said McMurray. Last spring, that plant achieved NADCAP (National Aerospace and Defense Contractors Accreditation Program) certification. NADCAP is a worldwide cooperative program of major companies designed to manage a cost-effective approach to special processes and products and provide continual improvement within the aerospace and automotive industries, according to the program’s Web site.

    McMurray said there is “absolutely” a growing interest by Michigan industrial companies in seeking contracts in aerospace and defense. Traditionally, eastern Michigan has been “more aggressive” in that arena, she said, but it’s changing now in West Michigan, due in part to the efforts of The Right Place and the Michigan Economic Development Corp.

    “I think people have learned a hard lesson. Companies have learned a hard lesson from being so focused on one industry,” she said. “It is important to diversify and be specialized in different areas that complement your business.”

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