2009 was a rough year for industry. So rough, said Roger L. Betten Jr. of Michigan Fluid Power, that some companies may have held costs down by cannibalizing some of their equipment for parts to keep other machines going.
“I think they stole parts off their presses,” joked Betten, vice president of sales at the Grandville company that has specialized in hydraulic and pneumatic power equipment for industry since 1991.
Scott Slattery, automation equipment sales manager at MFP, said he saw his customers’ inventory of machine parts go down as the recession worsened, much as the auto industry cut light vehicle production dramatically in 2009.
But 2010 is going to be better, said Betten, and the recession is ending “for sure.”
“West Michigan, I think, is going to become pretty healthy again,” he said.
MFP has a growth plan for 2010 that includes a name upgrade: Henceforth, it is Michigan Fluid Power Group, with subcategories of Systems Group, Automation & Controls Group, Commodity Management Group and Repair & In-Plant Services Group.
MFP also is upgrading its Web site to promote it as a one-stop shop for components and parts for machinery systems, including design and engineering and complete installation.
“We really target special machine builders” for industry, said Betten.
New growth for 2010 is predicated on helping manufacturing companies in Michigan and surrounding states upgrade their current machines and presses “as they capture new orders and ramp up for the pent-up order demand from 2009,” said Betten.
More training of employees during the slow periods in 2009 is paying off now, he said. It helped empower them to do more for the customer and improve their ability to find better solutions in design and engineering.
Marc Peterson, hydraulic sales manager at MFP, said members of the sales team have received product-specific training, to the extent that they can take calls from customers with engineering questions. But MFP has also hired a degreed engineer who leads that process for the custom-built equipment.
In the first quarter this year, MFP already had two large jobs involving rebuilding and upgrading hydraulics and automated equipment on two major pieces of industrial machinery. More such major jobs are expected.
Betten estimates that in 2009, MFP did about $1 million less in sales than the $17 million it did in 2008. The employee roster had to be pared down by about 10 percent or less, he said.
MFP specializes in building custom-designed manifolds for hydraulic and pneumatic power transfer, but only about 12 of its 45 employees work in its 20,000-square-foot factory at 4556 Spartan Industrial Drive SW in Grandville. Most of the company work force is in sales, on the road throughout the Midwest. MFP represents and holds the sales franchises for three major companies that supply industry: Parker Hannifin Corp. (hydraulics, pneumatics, filtration), Lincoln Lubrication (automatic lubricating systems), and Ace Controls (industrial shock absorbers and deceleration devices).
Betten said MFP has continued to diversify into more manufacturing and installation of equipment for companies involved in a wider array of markets. In addition to hydraulic and pneumatic, MFP is building its resources and expertise in electrical machine controls, too.
Still, hydraulic power isn’t in any danger of going away, despite new electrical technologies. Hydraulic is “brute power,” said Betten, which can operate with up to 3,000 to 5,000 pounds of pressure per square inch.
Other key executives at MFP include CEO Roger L. Betten Sr.; Rod Kowalski, vice president of operations; and David M. Grimm, president. Those three formed the company in 1991 and Roger L. Betten Jr. joined the company a year later.