photo of the plant manager Brad Meulenberg
There is an alarming shortage of young people entering the tool and die industry. Brad Meulenberg, plant manager at GRM Automation in Comstock Park, cites these statistics: 75 percent of toolmakers are over the age of 45; 41 percent are 55 or older.
The tool and die industry will be losing more than forty percent of its current workers within the next ten years, and it takes seven to ten years to fully train a toolmaker. Meulenberg is optimistic about the future of manufacturing, noting, “We will always have manufacturing.” But he adds recruiting young people into the tool and die trade is a “huge need.”
The GRM building, located at 3670 Mill Creek Avenue, was built in the 1980’s and has undergone a number of owner and name changes. It first housed Ironwood Tool & Die, then in 2001 became GR Spring & Stamping, and in 2014 became GRM Automation. The company supplies tooling to the automotive manufacturing industry. Meulenberg started at Ironwood Tool & Die in 1994 first as an apprentice and then a tool and die maker before becoming plant manager. He now manages the plant that is 15,000 square feet – 14,000 square feet shop floor, and 1000 square feet offices. There are 24 employees, all full time, who are apprentices, journeyman tool and die makers, machinists, machinist apprentices, and design engineers. The most recent employee has been with the company five months, and some have been there 30 years or more.