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Brose's Jan Kowal stands next to a seat structure display inside the supplier's New Boston, MI, plant. Products produced at the New Boston facility will include door modules, latch modules, seat structures, and drives for power lift gates. (Kami Buchholz)

Mechatronic system production on the uptick at Brose's Michigan plant

A supplier of mechatronic vehicle systems has invested more than $60 million for the purchase and renovation of a 381,700-ft² (35,500-m²) plant in New Boston, MI.

“Everything we do is really focused on moving the parts in the car in an electromechanical way, fulfilling energy savings and weight savings expectations,” Jan Kowal, President of Brose North America, said in an interview with Automotive Engineering at the supplier’s New Boston plant grand opening celebration on Sept. 26, 2014.

Brose set up shop at the Michigan plant, located near the Ohio border, in 2012 with eight employees. The facility now has more than 400 workers, according to Jorg Graichen, the plant’s General Manager.

“Our intention is to produce a large part of our product portfolio here in our plant in New Boston. That will include door systems, closure systems, seat structures, and power lift gate drives,” said Graichen, adding, “In the area of power lift gate drives, we have expanded our product variants for our customers Nissan and Honda, and thus have increased the volume of production by 50%.”

The family-owned mechatronics supplier with 22,000 workers worldwide has taken an active role in developing trained technicians via the Michigan Advanced Technician Training (MAT2) program. MAT2 was modeled after a Germany training program, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder said during the grand opening ceremonies.

“The German apprenticeship (program) is the best model in the world,” he said. “We had to make a few changes because there are some cultural differences.”

The three-year MAT2 program mixes employer-paid community college coursework with on-the-job training. Current associate’s degree study/apprenticeship options include information technology technician, technical product design, and mechatronics technician. Brose, BorgWarner, Detroit Diesel, Eberspaecher, FRIMO, and ZF are among the participating companies.

Said Gov. Snyder: “I view [MAT2] as one of the key tools that we should be using to bring back the middle class in this country. These are good, well-paying jobs.”

Brose’s New Boston plant currently has 12 students in the MAT2 program. Kowal said the MAT2 apprenticeship is “great for the state and great for the industry.”

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