Machining Tool and Die

The next two years are shaping up to be a busy time for tool and die makers in West Michigan and beyond.

That’s according to industry insiders who say an abundance of new vehicle launches between 2018 and 2020 have most tool and die shops running at capacity as they try to keep up with customer demands.

“The industry outlook is very, very strong for the next 18 to 24 months,” said Laurie Harbour, president and CEO of Harbour Results Inc., a Southfield-based firm that tracks the tool and die industry. “We do think there is going to be spillage from year to year because there are just too many launches for anyone to handle. I don’t necessarily mean in tooling, I mean OEMs and Tier 1s that are going to struggle to get it done. It’s a very positive outlook.”

Tool and die shops are expected to work on 70 new vehicle programs that will launch over the next three years, Harbour said.

For Grand Rapids-based AutoDie LLC, the heightened pace of new launches has resulted in the tool and die maker already booking 80 percent of its capacity for the year, said Rodney Brouwer, head of program management, sales and estimating at the company.

“We’re focusing on 2018 right now,” Brouwer said. “We see 2017 being pretty full for us by the second quarter.”

AutoDie employs 297 workers at its facility in Grand Rapids.

Although the pace of new vehicle launches will have most tool and die shops busy over the short term, Harbour urges companies to plan ahead for when the automotive industry inevitably retracts.

“The challenge here is if we just put our heads down and go build tools for the next 24 months and not think about what comes after, we’re going to be in a tough spot because there’s definitely going to be some retraction of the market,” Harbour said.

Harbour notes that much of that retraction in the market could stem from a “bubble” of work in pickup trucks that “tend to pour a lot of tooling into the marketplace.”

Read more: Tool and die makers brace for busy two years, while analysts urge restraint