automationIn a previous blog post we discussed why there is such a need for automated guided vehicles in American manufacturing. 2017 was a banner year for the North American automation market, demonstrating that demand. The year set new records in the first three quarters in robotics, machine vision, motion control, and motor technology.  According to, “2017 was the year that robots really, truly arrived.”

Jeff Burnstein, president of Association for Advancing Automation agrees. “The market for robotics and automation continues at a healthy growth rate. It’s evident that the investment companies are making in these automation technologies is having a positive impact on productivity and competitiveness, while saving and creating new jobs in North America.”

Why did automation break out in 2017? Roboticist Sebastian Thrun believes it was a confluence of factors, including hardware becoming cheaper and intelligence better at the same time. Only very recently have computers become smart enough and robot hardware reliable enough to make the kinds of literal leaps robotics has. Atlas, the humanoid robot developed by Boston Dynamics, can do actual backflips

For robots to go beyond working in a specified, flat-floored work envelope, they need to be able to sense the changes in their environment. That requirement depended on the development of much better sensor technology than was available until recently. Cameras and lasers are both more powerful and more affordable now, making advanced robots both possible and affordable for more companies.

What kind of numbers are we looking at? In the first three quarters of 2017, companies in North America ordered 27,294 robots at a cost of approximately $1.473 billion. That number was up 14% from 2016. Automotive orders were up 11% and non-automotive orders 20%. The industries with the largest demand for automated technology were Metals, Automotive Components, and Food and Consumer Goods.

While robots and AGVs have been used for a long time in manufacturing and fabrication, those sectors of the economy seem primed to add even more in the days ahead. With the price of this technology dropping quickly, other sectors, like food service, hospitality, and healthcare, are also looking to add them.

Analysts say that this is only the beginning of the growth spike which will continue in 2018. While companies understand that there are definite advantages to adding automation to the floor, and many of these robots do jobs that workers cannot do and so do not always replace workers, adding them will have an impact on the low- and medium-skilled workforce. This will put employers on the defensive for at least the short term. However, for many companies, the advantages in safety and reliability these robots can deliver will make it worthwhile.  

In 1977 Dale Buist bought the assets of D&M Metal Products, and the company has been in the Buist family the forty years that have passed from that day until today. For this anniversary we thought we would share with you some of the highlights we have experienced in growing D&M from a small, struggling company to the thriving and successful business it is currently.

D&M Metal Products Company was originally founded in 1946. The D and M in the name stood for Davis and Moelker, the original owners. When Dale Buist purchased the company, it had 8 employees. Prior to this Dale had worked at a small sheet metal shop, so he had experience with this type of work. One of the changes he made in the business was the purchase of the company’s first Strippit HD30/40 and a Hurco backgage. The Strippit improved D&M’s hole punching capability away from drilling or a punch-press setup. The backgage enabled a faster setup and accurate repeat gaging for bending on our press brakes.

In 1982 Dale purchased an Amada press, a turret press that was the latest in close tolerance manufacturing for blanking parts. The efficiency and quality output these new pieces of machinery gave the company helped us to expand our customer base. As a result Dale hired Doug Parker, the company’s first designated salesperson.

By 1984 D&M Products had outgrown the 8,000-square-foot space we had in Standale, and the company moved to its current location on West River Drive in Comstock Park. We built on to the existing space before moving in, giving us 18,000 square feet to operate in. At this point in time, the office was in a separate building. In 1988 we added 6,500 square feet of space for a turret department. In 1994 we remodeled, incorporating everything into one large facility with 58,000 square feet of space.

Technology has changed a great deal since 1977. Our earliest investments in computerization were the purchase of Metalsoft programming systems in 1984 and a Microshop system in 1989. We purchased a Cincinnati laser machine in 1992. This machine had a shuttle table system that made it much more efficient to operate and increased our productivity significantly.

Sadly, Dale Buist passed away from cancer in 1997. The ownership of the company passed to his son, Bob Buist, at that time. Shortly afterwards, Bob purchased and implemented the JobBOSS computer system, two OTC Robots and a Romer CMM, as well as a Fryer Machining Center.

Over the years, we’ve had the opportunity to change and develop, to take risks in expanding our building space, our equipment portfolio, and our employee base. As a result, D&M Metal is a very different company with far more capabilities than it had in our beginning years. We still hold to Dale Buist’s original drive and values, though. He was goal oriented, open to new technology, and willing to do what it took to make the company a success, and we are too.

Here’s to many more years in the metal fabrication business!

Automated Guided Vehicles, or AGVs, have been in existence since the 1950s, although they have undergone considerable improvements in engineering since that time. When Barrett Electronics debuted the first AGV, it was guided by a wire in the floor and performed onlyh simple towing tasks. Up until recently, AGVs have been used primarily in industrial manufacturing environments where they performed repetitive tasks in defined surroundings with specific constants. Today’s AGVs range on a spectrum of complexity from that same simple machine that moves parts from one defined location to another to machines that are capable of working with each other in fleets, navigating over rough terrain. Let’s explore what makes AGVs in such high demand now.

Flexible - The flexible technology used in AGVs have rendered them useful for many different tasks. It’s difficult to relocate or shift a conveyor system, but with the wireless technology AGVs use, it’s relatively simple and quick to remap a route and continue production. Today complex AGVs are equipped with sensors, clamping mechanisms, positioning fixtures, and tool attachments and, as such, are useful across a variety of sectors in many industries, including healthcare, military, and transportation. They can work alone or in tandem with other AGVs.   

Accurate - AGV computer systems can be coordinated with warehouse management systems. This allows for companies to track every detail of material handling and make adjustments to increase accuracy and efficiency. An AGV will do as it is programmed to do each and every time. It will never get bored by repetitive tasks or distracted by workplace or social activity.

Safe - AGVs can operate in a number of environments that otherwise might be hazardous for people, including those with exposure to extreme temperatures, gases, chemicals, sharp objects, or biological contaminants. A damaged AGV can be repaired or replaced without the same problems or liabilities worker injuries or health hazards create for companies and people.

Productive - AGVs can work continuously around the clock without breaks. They do not get sick. They will do a task continuously for as long as necessary without flagging or complaining. They maintain a constant speed, never hurrying or rushing to complete a task before the end of the work period.

Much has been made lately about AGVs and other types of automation replacing people in the workplace and what that means for society and the economy. This is true in some cases, but it’s also true that AGVs will do work that people cannot or will not do. In these cases AGVs are a win-win solution for everyone because their work must be monitored, adjusted, or completed by human workers who are then employed to do it. As manufacturers upgrade their facilities to become smarter and more efficient, AGVs will play a larger and more important part in day-to-day operations. We have only begun to see what AGVs are capable of doing in the workplace.

Manufacturing Day


The first Friday in October is Manufacturing Day, and it’s a celebration of modern manufacturing, highlighting what is great in the industry today in an effort to educate students, workers, the business community, the media, and politicians about how essential manufacturing is to the economy. This year that day, the sixth annual Manufacturing Day, is October 6, 2017.

On this day many manufacturers open their doors to the public, offering plant tours so that people can understand what exactly it is they do and how our everyday lives depend on the parts and products made in factories locally, nationally, and worldwide. Manufacturing has changed a great deal since Henry Ford began rolling Model Ts off of his assembly lines, and it’s responsible for bringing jobs back to America today. While robots and AGVs are becoming a part of nearly every factory floor, there are still jobs that need filling for workers of every level of education.

In American 12 million people are employed in manufacturing, and the industry supports 17.4 million jobs nationwide. By the year 2018 STEM manufacturing jobs are predicted to grow to 8.65 million. Unfortunately, workers in the Baby-Boomer and Generation-X generations make up 80% of those employed currently. Millennials and even younger people need to know about the opportunities manufacturing offers in terms of employment and opportunity. This is why Manufacturing Day is so important.

A healthy manufacturing sector creates jobs well beyond its own sphere, many of them skilled. Researchers’ and scientists’ work both depends on and influences manufacturing. Computer programming and software development jobs are created by the industry. Manufacturing also needs engineers, production workers, and technicians who can fix machines when they break down, and because all of these jobs are necessary to produce the products of the future, wages and benefits tend to be generous for those positions.

The State of Michigan has a program that is designed to help fill those positions in the future. The Skilled Trades Training Fund (STTF) has been providing funding for training and currently is giving $27 million in grants to companies that help their workers gain more skilled training. This money can be used both for current employees or new hires. Companies need only contact their Michigan Works! business liaison and apply for these grants. They have until October 6, 2017 to get their applications in.

Manufacturers need to be proactive and think outside of the box to find and train the workers they need both for today and tomorrow. What is your company doing to celebrate Manufacturing Day this year?

D+M Metal Products would like to share with our customers and readers the opportunity to help the kids of West Michigan go to camp next summer. “Run for Camp” is a fundraiser that three local camps - Camp Roger, Camp Geneva, and Camp Henry - are partnering together in order to give more kids the opportunity to experience camp for themselves.

This 5K event will take place on Saturday, September 16th, at Camp Henry on Kimball Lake in Newaygo. The trail is easy to run, jog, or walk, weaving alongside pasture and meadow land and finishing at the lake shore. The race starts at 10 AM rain or shine and costs $25 for adults and $15 for kids. There will be a party afterwards for all participants, and all participants’ guests are welcome to cheer their friends and family on.

The cooperative goal of all three camps in hosting this event is to raise money so that all West Michigan kids can go to camp, even if their families do not have the resources to afford all or part of the cost. The leaders and staff of Camps Roger, Henry, and Geneva believe that camp is an important experience for kids both developmentally and socially. Getting exercise and exploring nature are crucial for the health and well-being of children, and all three camps provide an amazing, positive, loving, fun-filled, and life changing Christian camping experience for their campers.

This past summer, between these three facilities, 8,000 kids attended camp, and over the past four years these three camps have provided over $1 million in scholarship assistance to give kids the chance to experience it. Due to the generous support of sponsors, 100% of the proceeds from Run for Camp go directly into each camp's scholarship fund.

Camp Roger’s overnight camp is located northeast of Grand Rapids in Rockford, Michigan, and recently opened a new day camp in Howard City, Camp Scottie. During the summer both facilities function as camps, and during the year Camp Roger serves local schoolchildren in exploring outdoor education while Camp Scottie serves as a retreat center.

Bob Buist is a former camper, counselor, and a lifelong supporter of Camp Roger, and D+M Metal was pleased leave its mark there by creating and manufacturing a floor sculpture in the new Ridge Hall built in 2016.

Camp can make a huge difference in a kid’s life. If you would like to take part in Run for Camp, you can sign up here. Volunteers to help with race day are also needed, and that signup is here. If you would like to hear an interview GVSU’s Shelley Irwin did with all three camps’ directors, discussing why they believe camp is important, that is available online as well. Click here to listen to the interview!