There probably is no modern manufacturing industry without foundries. With centuries of history behind them, foundries remain as relevant today as at any point. While not what they once were, foundries have adapted to changing times, capitalized on new technologies, become more efficient through lean methods and focused on instilling a family-like culture from the C-suite to the facility floor.
“You learn real quick whether foundry work is for you — it’s hard work, but it’s exciting and every day is different,” said John Workman, co-chair of Eagle Alloy, a leading foundry creating castings for over a dozen unique industries and now at the forefront of attracting a youth movement into one of the industry’s oldest sectors. “I think there’s an honor to what we do; there’s something to take pride in and those who do it almost always love it for life.”
Despite the dark and dangerous myth attached to manufacturing, new technologies have greatly reduced the trial and error once identified with the work. What was once highly mechanized labor has become managed as much by the computers, scanners and 3D modeling as by the workers pouring 3000-degree liquid metal into molds.
“The mix of new tech and old methods is something I think that appeals to young people,” says Mark Fazakerley, co-chair of Eagle Alloy. “If you like working with your hands, there’s something for you. If you are looking to engage with some of the most sophisticated technology, that’s available here also. Plus, because of the stake our workers have here, as they grow in their careers, there’s opportunities to move into a role that suits them best.”
Eagle Alloy follows an employee stock ownership plan (ESOP) with 53 percent of the business currently being employee-owned. Already with a succession plan in mind, Mark and John anticipate the eventual selling of the business to the men and women who have helped ensure its current success.
“This business is built on trust. The trust John and I have in each other, the trust between us and the employees, and the trust each employee has toward their brothers and sisters on the floor,” Mark says. “We provide a great entry level system and a family culture; one of the first things people who work here talk about is how much Eagle Alloy can feel like home.”
Foundries are transformative places for many of the workers, as well as Mark and John. Eagle Alloy representatives routinely demonstrate metal casting techniques in grade schools and engage with local high schools at career day events. Internship programs also exist to allow tomorrow’s talent to explore how foundries might be for them.
The combination of science and art brings excitement to young people still deciding where their career passions lie. The fact that the work is not for everyone also provides the added incentive of upward mobility and a lifelong path for those with a calling for it.
“This ain’t your father’s foundry but it can be yours,” Workman says with satisfaction. “We’re creating products of higher quality, faster and safer than ever before and our work ethic doesn’t stop at the facility doors, we’re out in the community because that’s where we grew up. We love this area and it’s our responsibility to give back.”
Since its founding in 1979, Eagle Alloy approaches corporate responsibility in a comprehensive manner. In addition to improving employee health care and reducing consumption and cost associated with daily operations, the company shows its social responsibility through economic support and volunteerism. Included among the over 40 charitable organizations are American Red Cross, Big Brothers Big Sisters, Hackley Community Care Center, Junior Achievement, Lakeshore Youth for Christ, Love INC, Mercy Health Partners, Muskegon Chamber of Commerce, Muskegon Community Foundation, Muskegon Museum of Art, Muskegon YMCA, Salvation Army, Sportsmen for Youth, United Way, USS Silversides Museum, West Michigan Symphony and Wings of Mercy.
“To be honored with the John G. Thodis Michigan Manufacturer of the Year Award — we’re kind of speechless,” Fazakerley admits. “It represents a team effort and the pride and hard work everyone puts in each day. I’ve had a love for manufacturing for as long as I can remember and John and I are both closer to the end of our careers than the beginning. Seeing what we’ve accomplished, receiving this honor — its evidence that we’re doing it right and have the right team ready to take over.”