BURTON, MI — Laurie Moncrieff said she doesn’t refer to her business as a tool and die shop anymore.
Moncrieff, who owns the Burton-based Schmald Tool & Die Inc., said she operates an advanced manufacturing company.
“Basically, due to outsourcing and a lot of foreign competition, we reinvented our company,” she said. “Starting in 2001, we noticed some decline in the market or shifts in the market. We continued to grow through ’04 or ’05 and then the bottom fell completely out.
“Seventy-five percent of my competitors went completely out of business.”
Moncrieff is in the midst of rebranding the business her grandfather started in 1948, moving from automotive to industries that include biofuel micro power plants, proton exchange membrane fuel cells, solar, wind and medical equipment.
The company’s most recent project is a zero-emission ice resurfacing machine, called an Icecat, which was developed in Finland.
An ice resurfacing machine essentially smooths and flattens sheets of ice. The machines are often used on ice rinks.
A technical demonstration of the Icecat will be held Aug. 10 in Flint.
Reimagining a company that was so closely tied to the automotive industry has been a difficult and long road, Moncrieff said.
“My grandfathered formed in it ’48, my father grew up here, inherited it, he’s much smarter than I am, I bought it from him in ’97 and we were business as usual,” she said. “I kept discussing the need to change, found it very difficult to do it in this state, because we were all enamored with the auto industry.”
Part of revamping the shop has meant purchasing new equipment and expanding the existing facility on Saginaw Road, which was done with the assistance of a grant and low-interest loan through the U.S. Department of Energy.
The company has sales, distribution and manufacturing rights in the North American market for the Icecat, which it is now exporting to France and Russia.
“We’ve had over 350 poisonings in the U.S. due to propane in the ice rink,” she said. “This is battery powered. No emissions. It’s electric.”
While parts of the machine were shipped from overseas, Moncrieff said she’s been resourcing the manufacturing of those parts to local companies to help create jobs.
The discussions include battery manufacturers to extend the life of the battery and a local boat manufacturer for the fiberglass body pieces.
“The boating industry hasn’t been that great and I’m not going to do fiberglass, but he can certainly do these for me,” she said.
Building relationships with other businesses is nothing new to Moncrieff, who started a consortium of local small manufacturers in 2008 called Adaptive Manufacturing Solutions. The group consists of companies with interlocking relationships, allowing smaller businesses to form partnerships to obtain clients and contracts.
The companies remain independent, but refer work back and forth, sharing customers, and build complete products.
“We’re setting this up so there isn’t much that we can’t make,” she said. “However, we are going to connect to other small businesses that have their areas of expertise.”