Industrial Magnetics, Inc. (IMI) of Boyne City, Michigan, designs, engineers and custom manufactures magnetic separation devices and magnetic assemblies. The company also provides standardized products and a slew of ancillary services for clients, including testing and preventative maintenance.
“We offer a very good mix,” says Chief Business Development Officer of Industrial Magnetics, Dennis O’Leary. That mix ranges from off-the-shelf magnets, he says, to “[one-off] solutions that might take three weeks to develop and four weeks to ship, and cost between $100,000 and $250,000.
Sectors served by IMI include fabrication, petrochemicals, mining and aggregates, automotive, conveying, welding, stamping, recycling and food, feed and grain.
The company is organized into three groups each representing a different aspect of the business. There is an Automation Group, a Mag-Mate Group and a Tramp Metal Group.
The Automation Group specializes in industrial magnetic solutions for conveying, transferring, lifting, stacking and de-stacking metal parts. “The Automation Group is really designed for helping operators and facilities with material handling. Everything in this group is designed to [offer a solution that is] more effective and more efficient than any non-magnetic technology,” O’Leary says.
Product categories covered by the Automation Group include end-of-arm-tooling, magnetic conveying rail and lift-assist systems, and sheet/plate separators. Typically, the Automation Group custom-designs systems based on client requirements.
“Somebody calls us up, say an automotive manufacturer, and says, ‘Hey, we’re stamping door panels and frames at our plant. We need to move them from Station A to Station B’,” O’Leary says. In such cases, IMI would determine the job specifications then develop a customized solution. Among other niches, IMI has become particularly well-known for developing magnetic systems for conveying assemblies, O’Leary says.
Industrial Magnetics has also developed an expertise in end-of-arm tooling products. IMI’s patented Transporter® family of magnetic end-of-arm tooling products move metal items in manufacturing environments in a safe, cost-effective manner. This product family includes Transporter Cylinder Actuated Magnets, Transporter Low Profile Magnets, Transporter Mag Vac, and so on.
Most of what the Mag-Made Group handles involves standardized products. This group offers roughly 2,000 different SKUs with products ranging from manhole-cover lift systems to raw magnet material, lift devices, holding magnets, electromagnets, and magnetizers and demagnetizers. A segment of the Mag-Made Group focuses on smart programmable magnets including Spring Polymagnets, Latch Polymagnets, and Alignment Polymagnets.
The Tramp Metal Group, meanwhile, supplies magnetic separators to remove tramp metal (metallic material) in processing applications. Tramp Metal Group products include gravity line magnets, pneumatic line magnets, liquid line magnets and conveyor line magnets. The group’s clientele includes the food, mining, plastics, chemical and feed and grain sectors – among many others. This division’s products are designed to protect capital equipment and ensure that humans and animals are protected from the consumption of nuts, bolts, shavings, filings and shards, says O’Leary.
Around the world
IMI distributes its products around the world through a direct sales team and strategic channel partners. Customers can also order directly through the Industrial Magnetics website; product videos are available on the same site. Regardless of how and where its magnets are purchased, IMI is proud of its American roots. The company includes a ‘USA M.A.D.E.’ logo on products that were “Manufactured, Assembled, Designed and Engineered” in the United States.
Founded in 1961, IMI has always been focused on magnets, says O’Leary. At first, the firm was primarily selling magnetic assemblies for automotive clients. Gradually, the company’s inventory and client-base expanded. But that organic growth into several other key markets has subsequently been complemented by acquisitions.
In 2014, IMI purchased Prater-Sterling. Upon completing the acquisition, IMI split the company up to better define and identify each – they share some customers but offer a vastly different array of products. Sterling Systems and Controls, Inc., based in Sterling, Illinois, develops “solutions for automated batching systems, weighing, bulk bag filling, bulk bag unloading, process controls and plant automation,” according to company information.
Prater Industries, Inc., based in Bolingbrook, Illinois, offers hammer mills, rotary airlock valve feeders, fine grinders, lump breakers and other equipment for “particle size reduction, feeding and separation.”
Three years after buying Prater-Sterling, Industrial Magnetics purchased Javelin Manufacturing of Fort Wayne, Indiana. Javelin makes Eddy Current Separators and other systems for the recycling, scrap, waste and mining industries.
In early 2019, IMI bought Clamp Manufacturing Co. of South El Monte, California. This purchase has allowed Industrial Magnetics to add “about 100 very good SKUs of clamps and hammers” to its product line-up, O’Leary tells us.
Industrial Magnetics itself has 85 employees at present, five more than last year at this time. Add in acquisitions and the number of personnel rises to around 150 people. IMI wants to expand in a manageable way and has no plans to go on a hiring jag any time soon. “We’ve seen steady, sustainable growth. That’s been our business model. We’re a well-established company and want to continue to grow at a sustainable, profitable rate, and add jobs at a rate necessary to support our growth,” says O’Leary.
IMI enjoys the initiative and inherent risk when it comes to new hires, O’Leary says: “We’re always looking for go-getters. Our motto is, ‘It’s better to beg forgiveness than ask permission.’” But the firm still expects consideration and a good team attitude. “We spend a lot of time here together and there’s a family atmosphere,” he adds.
Like many companies, IMI has been impacted by the industry-wide skills shortage. At the moment, young people are not flocking to enter the skilled trades, which means there aren’t enough workers to replace retirees. “Everybody is looking for machinists, welders and fabricators. We’re in that same boat. We’ve been very fortunate, however. We’ve established a reputation as a desirable place to work,” says O’Leary.
Partly in response to the skills shortage, IMI emphasizes cross-training. Workers in one department might be trained to handle tasks in another area of the business. This way, IMI isn’t caught short on numbers, or short on skills, if there’s an emergency or someone in a crucial position has to take time off.
Telling the story
In terms of promotion, Industrial Magnetics has a website and social media presence, with profiles on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. The firm will have a booth at FabTech this November in Chicago and is attending the North American Manufacturing Excellence Summit 2020 in the same city next spring. IMI will be participating in a general meeting of the Associated Wire Rope Fabricators (AWRF) trade industry group in October 2019, in San Diego.
IMI wants potential customers to know that the company does more than just sell magnets. The firm offers a much larger range of services it wants to expand on, including plant audits, preventative maintenance and lift magnet testing.
Audits are usually free. A regional manager will visit a customer’s facility, check the type, location and condition of magnets and draw up a report. A follow-up visit for preventative maintenance might ensue.
Preventative maintenance is on a fee basis. Clients who opt for this service can expect a visit from an IMI technician for onsite repairs and upgrades, to replace parts, and so on. IMI offers its preventative maintenance service anywhere in the world. “If someone wants to pay us to fly a technician to France to look at a can-conveying line we installed eight years ago, we’d be happy to do that,” says O’Leary.
The magnetic field
IMI also offers Lift Magnet Testing and Certification. Tests are performed in an onsite laboratory stocked with hundreds of magnets plus cranes, weigh scales, Gauss meters, test stands, conveying systems and other gear. Specialists can conduct inspections and perform functional tests of lifting magnets to determine if they are in compliance with American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) B30.20 standards for ‘Below the Hook Magnetic Lifting Devices.’
“Lift magnets get abused pretty easily in the field. A lot of plants have requirements that lifting magnets have to be tested annually,” says O’Leary. Through workplace wear and tear, lift magnets can lose their lifting ability: “There are a lot of reasons why that magnet may not lift what it could as a new product. [Companies] will send their magnets here, we’ll re-calibrate them and send them back,” he says.
The purpose of the auditing and preventative maintenance services, is to be a “solutions provider” and not just a product supplier, says O’Leary. Plant audits, preventative maintenance and lift magnetic testing are all good ways to cement long-term relationships with clients, he notes. A specific benefit for the customer is that through these services, Industrial Magnetics helps customers meet Quality Assurance (QA) and Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) compliance requirements.
Industrial Magnetics’ combination of top-of-the-line products and excellent service has not gone unnoticed in industry circles. IMI was included on the 2019 “Michigan 50 Companies to Watch” list, as presented by an industry group called Michigan Celebrates Small Business and the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, a government-funded agency. IMI received the honor at an awards ceremony this May. “Michigan is a strong, proud, manufacturing state, so to be one of the Michigan 50 to watch is very rewarding,” says O’Leary.
Asked where he sees the company five years down the road, O’Leary says, “The goals for us are pretty simple: steady, sustainable growth. If we’ve 85 employees now, we’d love to have 120 employees in five years, and maybe more acquisitions if they make sense in our model.”
New products are also very much top-of-mind, he adds. “We’re always looking to add meaningful SKUs to our selection. We have dedicated R&D engineers. Sometimes, it’s not a new product per se, but a new circuit that goes into an existing product. We’re always pushing the boundaries of magnetic strength.”