Local manufacturers turn to automation with $3.3 million in government funding

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Grant recipients

Workforce Innovation Grants

Iowa manufacturers with 76 to 250 employees could apply for a grant of up to $500,000, with a minimum 25% match required.

  • Stamping and fabrication of Dubuque, Dubuque – $500,000.
  • East Iowa Machine Co., Farley – $500,000.
  • Inventory Trading Co., Peosta – $500,000.
  • Plastics Unlimited, Preston – $475,000.
  • ProPulse, a Schieffer Co. company, Peosta — $453,192.
  • Manufacturing Klauer, Dubuque – $434,110.
  • First Tooling and Manufacturing, Peosta – $179,025.

Iowa manufacturers with three to 75 employees could apply for a combined amount of $75,000 between the following two categories, with a 100% match required for each grant.

Equipment Technology Investment Grants

  • Dynamic Tube, Maquoketa – $50,000.
  • EIP Manufacturing, Earlville – $50,000.
  • JAM Systems and Midland Overhead Doors, Dyersville – $50,000.
  • MJ Sports, Anamosa — $50,000.
  • Universal tank and fabrication, Dubuque – $50,000.

Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) Infrastructure Investment Grants

  • EIP Manufacturing – $25,000.
  • MJ Sports – $25,000.

Amid an ongoing labor shortage, an array of local manufacturers will receive a $3.3 million boost in state funding that encourages increased automation.

The 12 area businesses are among more than 80 companies receiving grants through Iowa’s Manufacturing 4.0 program. The grants, available through the Iowa Economic Development Authority, are designed to help address workforce issues and fund projects that encompass the adoption and integration of smart technologies.

Iowa manufacturers with 76 to 250 employees could apply for a grant of up to $500,000, with a minimum 25% match required.

One such local company is ProPulse, a Schieffer company, based in Peosta. The hose assembly maker plans to use its $453,192 grant to expand automation of its winding processes and add pick-and-place robots, said President and CEO Jeff Theis.

“We already have semi-automatic assembly and winding systems, so we will continue to add and refine them for a greater degree of performance and precision,” he said.

Dubuque Stamping and Manufacturing, which provides machining services such as metal stamping and laser cutting, received a $500,000 grant. Chairman Matt Spahn said the funding will help the company add advanced manufacturing software and equipment.

“Dubuque Stamping will invest approximately $1.5 million in new equipment and technology this year,” he said. “We are thrilled with the Manufacturing 4.0 grant that Governor (Kim) Reynolds has made available. Opportunities like this ensure Iowa manufacturing remains globally competitive.

Inventory Trading Co. in Peosta employs about 180 people between its two brands: Hero247, which makes textiles for police, fire and FBI departments, and X-Grain Sportswear, which makes textiles for sports teams.

Prior to COVID-19, the company also employed non-traditional workers who held other full-time jobs but put in several hours at Inventory Trading Co. in the evenings.

When the pandemic hit, those extra employees “evaporated like pouring water on asphalt,” Chairman Pat Einarsen said. Some workers were concerned about potential exposure to COVID-19, while others were working overtime at their full-time jobs to meet increased demand.

Inventory Trading Co. turned to increased automation, improved computer technologies and new machinery to fill the gap. A $500,000 Manufacturing 4.0 grant will help continue these efforts.

Einarsen said integrating automation can reduce training time, deepen the hiring pool and eliminate human error, while allowing employees to work more efficiently and safely.

“You can’t afford to think like it’s the 1980s or 1990s,” he said. “You have to think like it’s the 2030s. The innovation grant gives us the ability to use the right equipment, the right training, and the right process.”

In Farley, East Iowa Machine Co. received a $500,000 grant. President and CFO Aaron Saeugling said the company will use it to add robots and five-axis CNC milling machines used to create components.

“(Automation) will definitely be needed in the future, and to get some of these pieces out, we’re going to have to come up with some creative solutions,” he said.

Iowa manufacturers with three to 75 employees could apply for up to $75,000, with 100% matching required for each grant.

Dynamic Tube employees in Maquoketa will immediately see the benefits of the company’s $50,000 grant.

General Manager John Pawlowski said the grant will fund the purchase of a high-output saw, which is already installed at the company’s facility. The saw can be programmed to cut tubing at the push of a button, allowing Dynamic Tube to increase production volume and lower price.

“Especially right now, when it’s hard to find employees to fill the need, robotics and more automatic processes, where fewer real people are needed, are getting much busier,” he said. he declares.

Local business leaders contacted by the Telegraph Herald stressed that increased automation did not coincide with planned workforce reductions. Many continue to hire employees, and Theis said new technologies can create new jobs for workers who maintain equipment.

“Certainly nobody wants to eliminate the human element,” he said. “We’re just trying to find ways to make the human component of manufacturing easier, better, and more accurate.”

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