The Evolution of Grand Rapids Controls

September 23, 2022


Grand Rapids Controls (GRC) has thrived as a global manufacturer since being acquired by the Charlton Group in 2004. With facilities in the U.S., China, Mexico, and Romania, GRC designs and manufactures a variety of mechanical products used in the industries of automotive, office furniture, military, and aerospace. “Most of the stuff we design from scratch,” said Global Engineering Director Dave Bach, who has worked for GRC since 1993. Dave Bach said Charlton’s acquisition in 2004 allowed GRC to open its facility in China. “We had it all ready to go — we just needed an owner to sign it,” Dave Bach said of the China deal. “The old owners didn’t want to be as global.” Director of Global Operations Penny Gohn said GRC standardizes equipment across its global facilities, which results in fewer quality issues. “We have a very collaborative relationship with all our facilities outside the U.S.,” added Gohn, who works at GRC’s facility in Rockford, Michigan. Putting it into statistical perspective, Quality Manager Mike Hofmann said GRC’s current parts per million (PPM) score is 2.0, which is phenomenal. “If we sell a million parts that means only two of those parts were bad at our customer,” Hofmann said. From the engineering side, Gohn said one thing that separates GRC is its depth of knowledge that ultimately benefits customers. “We’re good at engineering a solution to a customer’s problem,” Gohn said. “A lot of times, we’ll get customers come in, (and) something is not working in the vehicle. They’ll ask us to design, or they want a certain function in the vehicle seat. And I know that Dave’s group has taken on those challenges.” Product Engineering Manager Jim Bach, who’s been with GRC for 25 years, said the company’s design group is data-driven.“We don’t make just decisions on a whim,” Jim Bach said. “We do it with data to support it. In innovation, I think we’re innovative on a lot of products that we offer, and some of our manufacturing methods are innovative as well.” On the sales side, Charlton has been providing a salesforce for GRC since even before the acquisition in 2004, which Bach said has opened doors to sales opportunities. “They have relationships with the key automotive folks,” Bach said of Charlton. “They know all the players.” Gohn said the best part of her job is the level of collaboration between employees, including those from Charlton. “We’re always looking out for a better way,” Gohn said. “We rally around each other. And during some of the headwinds that we’ve been up against, that’s one thing that I think we’ve done a pretty good job at is globally being very connected and working collaboratively together to get out of it.” Dave Bach agreed with Gohn’s assessment, adding the teamwork at GRC is exceptional. “Nobody’s left on their own,” Dave Bach said. “We work as a team. You know you’re supported. We’re always pushing each other for better ways, better solutions. One example is through COVID and all those challenges — the team really gathered around and tried to make the best of whatever’s thrown our way. And so we feel like we can take that into future, because business changes every day.” It’s little wonder why employee turnover at GRC is less than 4 percent. “Nowadays that’s unheard of,” Gohn said, adding the benchmark is well over 5 percent. April Phillips, an assembler at GRC for more than 10 years, said she appreciates that she can walk into the office of anyone at the company if she has a question. “It’s more of a team effort with everybody,” Phillips said. “If you have an issue with a part, you can go right to an engineer. And if somebody doesn’t have an answer, they’ll go with you to the next person to find an answer.” Manufacturing Manager Javier Sanchez said he appreciates GRC’s closely knit family environment, where he knows all of his co-workers by name and good work by operators is rewarded, such as with a gift card or through a company-wide cookout or potluck event “It’s a huge impact because it involves everybody in the organization,” Sanchez said. “It brings salary folks out there to mingle with people out on the floor. So it’s a good time for everybody.” Hofmann said such rewards are great for morale. “It shows to the operators that we’re there for them, and they’re not just running parts for us,” Hofmann said. “We’re seeing the good thing that they’re doing.” Gohn said there’s a sense of equality that permeates GRC. “We feel that everybody is equal — we just do different jobs,” Gohn said. “That’s how everybody views each other. We all have specific things we do, and we support each other.”


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