Ann Arbor Ball Bearing Company Grows in The Sault



The bullets they make go into things as mundane as Windex printers and bottles, but also into fracking rigs, respirators, and COVID-19 testing.

Hoover began its expansion in 1924 with the acquisition of a Detroit company called Imperial Bearings Co.; in 1955, it merged with a die-casting company; and in 1958 he bought two more manufacturing companies.

The move to the Sault was a process that began in 1968 when a company called Ultraspherics Inc. was started focusing on manufacturing plastic balls. In 1978 Ultraspherics moved to Sault Ste. Marie and in 1983 was acquired by Hoover, which changed its name to Hoover Precision Products LLC.

In 1990, Tsubaki Nakashima Co. LTD of Japan purchased Hoover and then changed the name from Hoover to TN Michigan LLC. The Sault plant employs approximately 70 people and manufactures balls in metal, plastic, tungsten carbide, nylon, Teflon, torlon, polypropylene, polyethylene, polystyrene, cobalt oxide and aluminum oxide, with automotive applications. , the navy, the aerospace industry and, in particular, medicine.

“The Hoover purchase allowed Tsubaki to enter the United States, and it allowed us to go to the rest of the world,” said Terry Adams, plant manager at Sault, an engineering graduate from Lake Superior State University, which has been with the business since 1983. “When I graduated from college, I drew a 100 mile circle around Sault Ste. “My wife is from The Sault too, and we weren’t going to get very far.

He said today that the plant ships about 50 percent of production outside of the United States.

The factory was seen as a vital business when the coronavirus hit. Its products are used in thousands of different medical devices and products, and they are an important part of respirators and COVID-19 test kits. Many medical components are manufactured in the company’s 8,000 square foot Class 100 cleanroom to ensure sterile manufacturing conditions. The factory has 68,000 square feet in all.

“We’ve grown this business a lot,” Adams said of parts sold to companies making products and devices used to test or treat COVID patients. “We were getting a lot of calls. The work has helped us to fill a few vacancies. We didn’t have to add any equipment, but there was a lot of overtime.

Tsubaki Nakashima has 20 factories on three continents. The US subsidiary, TN Americas Holdings Inc., is headquartered in Cumming, Georgia. It has four manufacturing plants in the United States, one in Georgia, two in Tennessee and one in Michigan.

The other three factories in the United States have heavy autofocus, so production there was significantly reduced when COVID shut down the auto factories.

“We have carried the business over the past few months,” said Adams. “I joke with the other plant managers, ‘It’s getting hard to carry you guys.'”

But even before COVID, Adams said the parent company planned to expand Sault’s operations. “Our margins are better than those of automotive suppliers,” he said.

Non-medical products made in the Sault include beads that control the volume and speed of triggered sprays such as those used in hand sanitizers and inkjet printers. “Almost everyone with a printer has our balls,” Adams said.

He said a medical supplies customer purchases 27 million quarter-inch polystyrene balls per month.

Adams said revenue is growing every year and is expected to hit $ 20 million this year, up from around $ 16 million in 2018.

The factory operates 24/7, with some employees on eight-hour shifts and others working 12-hour three-shifts, two days off, and then back again. Adams said payroll and local purchases exceed $ 4 million per year, a big impact in a city with an estimated population of around 13,500 in 2018.


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