Specialty Fabrics Review May 2020 - 42

Lake Shore Boat Top Company Inc.,
St. Clair Shores, Mich., purchased a
metal shop in 2018, which has allowed
it to both expand what it can offer to
its existing customers and grow its
customer base. Photo: Lake Shore
Boat Top Company Inc.

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but that there have been challenges,
such as staffing.
"When you switch over to higher-tech
machines, you need to think about the
skills required to operate those machines,"
he says. "For an employee that's used
to working a drill press, there's often a
learning curve associated with running
a CAD program on a CNC machine."
Tracy recommends that businesses
in the specialty fabrics industry look to
vocational schools or community colleges
to recruit employees and to equipment
suppliers who may offer training for
existing employees.
GO WITH THE FLOW
Like any manufacturing process,
metalwork requires examining a
shop's processes from beginning to
end to get the full benefit of advanced
metalworking machinery and eliminate
redundancies and waste. In some cases,
this means reengineering.
"Setting up your metalworking area is
quite a process if you want the materials
and product to flow through it efficiently
and into the next step," Neville says.
"Both of our facilities are set up using
the 'lean manufacturing' process." Lean
manufacturing is a systematic method
of minimizing waste while maximizing
productivity, thereby providing a higher
value to the customer.
In other words, it's not as easy as just
adding one high-tech machine. To optimize
performance when adding or upgrading

equipment, a company needs to take the
whole system into account. Advanced
equipment is usually more precise than
what it's replacing; for example, machining
to one-thousandth of an inch. Everything
that comes before and after that step has to
be more precise too.
"When equipment changes occur, the
related prep, steps and finishing may also
need to change," Tracy says. "We purchased
machines, but then the manual prep work
couldn't feed the machine fast enough. So
we needed to upgrade that process as well."
DOING IT ALL
Sometimes the smartest way to add new
capabilities and expertise to your specialty
fabrics business is to buy an existing business.
This was the case for Lake Shore Boat Top
Co. Inc. of St. Clair Shores, Mich. In 2018
the company purchased Aquarius Marine
Metal Products, a metal fabrication shop that
Lake Shore had worked with frequently.
"They've been around since the early
1960s and had an excellent client base,"
says Lake Shore owner Rob Kotowski.
"Our goals with the purchase were to
maintain their level of craft and service
their customers with additional specialty
fabric products."
At the same time, Lake Shore decided to
expand its prime location near Lake St. Clair
along what's known as "The Nautical Mile,"
where there's a high concentration of boats
and marinas, to include a fully equipped
metal facility while also maintaining
Aquarius's existing shop a few miles
away. Despite early challenges-learning
a new trade, equipment and processes;
understanding an existing work culture; and
retaining experienced workers-Kotowski
says the investment has paid off.
"It's been a good fit, and we have a lot
to offer our customer base: frames, fittings,
rails, welding applications," he says. "You
name it. We can now handle all of it."
Laurie F. Junker is a freelance writer based
in Minneapolis, Minn.

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Specialty Fabrics Review May 2020

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