Making Manufacturing Cool

Atlas Technologies
Written by Pauline Müller

If one could highlight a single manufacturer in Michigan for being innovative and fresh in the way it approaches the field, it would be Atlas Technologies. As a division of Stonebridge Technical Enterprises, Atlas Technologies goes above and beyond to make careers in manufacturing the envy of many in the trades and in other fields. Moreover, the Michigan-based company has achieved double-digit annual growth in the wake of tremendous transformation over the past three years.

The company went through significant change following its acquisition in 2020, including a complete ISO 9001 business operating system update and an upgrading of all quality procedures. There is no doubt that the discipline and excellence that President David K. Hense, P.Eng., and his team exude are now stronger than ever.

“All of our quality and operating procedures were reviewed and updated for relevance and efficiencies over the last year,” Hense says. “Like our quality and operating procedures, we have environmental policies and procedures in place that have also been reviewed and updated within the last year.”

Serving some of the world’s biggest names in the logistics, automotive, aerospace, appliances, and defense industries across America and globally in Argentina, England, Europe, and East Asia with its characteristic Midas touch, Atlas Technologies turns fabrication processes like industrial pressroom automation, sheet metal handling, and metal forming into pure manufacturing gold. As such, it has built a reputation for manufacturing some of the best-known equipment for frontline material handling with aluminum and steel-adapted end-of-line blank stacking systems and front-of-line blank de-stacking—especially popular among large-volume stamping outfits, offering both custom and standard development alongside thorough machine safety testing.

From washing and lubricating to processing metal sheeting and coils, plus in-press processes preceded by press feeding and followed by packaging, Atlas also removes the need for power cables with its next-generation, inductive power-driven fast die-changers and die-movers. Finally, wireless controls and game-changing battery technology make it easy to haul dies of over 40 tons each.

Atlas is not a company that plays small—as is evident from the thousands of installations it has completed around the world. Naturally, its customers’ resulting satisfaction is important.

A client recently approached the team to replace die-change equipment procured from Atlas more than three decades ago. The equipment is a truck side-rail die change cart system stretching almost 50 feet across—no small accomplishment and entirely developed by the Atlas team.

Being capable of such gargantuan engineering feats makes Atlas Technologies sought after by companies that rely on next-generation die-change equipment. The team delivers everything from automated retrieval and storage systems to quick die changers and heavy-duty die carts running on- or off-track. In terms of metalwork, the company also offers transfer tooling and in-press transfer systems that modernize die transfers. All its products and services are supported by its customization capabilities underpinned by a technical depth of mechanical engineering and controls.

At home across two impressive facilities in Fenton, Michigan, Atlas Technologies has upgraded its entire business operating system and has made considerable investments in technology. That includes retiring an outdated enterprise resource planning system and implementing a modern one, MISys, which features improved data gathering and smart capabilities that take care of job processing, costing, inventory, business management, and accounting.

Atlas also employs computer-automated manufacturing capabilities for fabrication processes such as CNC machining and employs SolidWorks, with finite element analysis for design validation, adding extra muscle to its design capabilities—especially to help customers visualize the result.

“Atlas Technologies believes in genuine ‘Made in Michigan’ manufacturing expertise,” Hense says. “We are world-class. We continue to reinvest so Atlas will continue its rich, 55-plus-year history of superior products, infrastructure, and skills well into the future,” he says.

As an engineer who is passionate about the manufacturing industry, Hense is open about how much vocational training at school informed his work as a professional in the field. “I would not have had the well-rounded understanding I have [otherwise.] Manufacturing is a great place to be. Atlas does a great job at making it an exciting career,” he says, pointing out that some of the best automation equipment anywhere on the globe comes from its facilities.

The company does not only leverage its capabilities, however. As it is surrounded by other metalwork companies that have made the Michigan area famous for quality that lasts, the Atlas team knows who to call for rare expert outsourcing. That means that whatever rarely required processes it does not offer in-house can be safely entrusted to industry partners.

In addition, and as part of its promise to provide customers with safety through consistency, the company follows a convenient single-point-of-contact model during product development, so customers can anticipate every step in the process, supported by the knowledge that assistance is only ever a phone call or email away. With clear communication as its mainstay, ample information is always within easy reach.

Employees enjoy the same care the company extends to customers, ensuring that their satisfaction is taken care of. As a result, the team spirit that prevails among its team of over 40 industry and automation experts is a source of pride and appreciation for Hense.

“Our longstanding company tradition of employee camaraderie continues today. Our employees are real people with real-life values that make us who we are. Atlas employees do not subscribe to the idea of, ‘not my job’,” he says, lauding the team for always finding the fun despite often working under pressure.

Following several new appointments across departments, Atlas continues hiring and welcoming more new members regularly. It believes in the old saying that a team that plays together stays together. With this idea at the heart of its approach to keeping company morale strong, Atlas maintains traditions like company lunches, picnics, and its company-sponsored bowling team, bringing its people together by giving them a chance to let their hair down and nurture their professional ties.

Hense finds that building a personal rapport away from work gives people a better insight into each other’s lives and talents. Atlas also cares about charitable causes, giving back whenever it can, like a sponsorship that it offers every year toward the Henry Walder Memorial Ski Race Events at the Special Olympics, various community events and golf days, the local high school robotics club, and support for the Boy Scouts of America.

Taking care of its own also involves cross-training people, allowing for strong, facility-wide effectiveness and a level of productivity that is tough to match. The company also provides staff with quality ongoing education in the electrical and hydraulic technology that runs its automation, including in-depth training on its hydraulic system work to prevent leaks and improve lifespan. Most importantly, there’s ample safety training to make sure that everyone goes home at the end of the day.

“For [our cross-training] examples, project management helps out in accounting; accounting helps out in purchasing; machine builders also do piping and wiring, and electricians help out in machine building,” Hense says. “This type of matrix organization requires a significant amount of training and, more importantly, a staff that is willing.”

The company’s engineers also present high-end, in-house electrical safety technology and troubleshooting training that makes the team untouchable when it comes to identifying problems and correcting them. Against this backdrop, hands-on OSHA-certified safety training will be reinforced with more classroom-based training in the coming months. When considering next year’s training budget of $200,000, it is clear that Atlas Technologies is a company that puts its money where it matters.

Atlas Technologies is also generous in compensating its people for the level of commitment the work requires. Equipment and tools are well maintained, ranging from office equipment to the machinery on its shop floor, and the reason behind this makes sense. When people have all the physical tools they need to exceed their capacity and the space and freedom to do that, they inevitably shine at what they do, resulting in professionally fulfilled staff members ready to take the company into a bright and powerful future.

Being current as an original equipment manufacturer is, of course, imperative to remaining relevant. “Integrating new technologies with our proven standards and best practices is a routine part of every project we do. Atlas Technologies lives with our eye on the future,” Hense says.”

Beyond ensuring that it runs on the latest technology, the team’s focus on detail and technical competence will deliver its vision of continuous improvement and growth. As Hense describes, “My management priority is to keep Atlas Technologies a great place for employee careers while supplying superior quality in our products and services to our customers.” A noble objective indeed.

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