GRAND RAPIDS – Construction has begun at Western Michigan University’s Grand Rapids regional location for a state-of the-art manufacturing laboratory.

AMP Lab @WMU, an Advanced Manufacturing Partnership Laboratory, will be built in collaboration with West Michigan manufacturers and Grand Rapids Community College to address the shortage of skilled trades and engineering employees in the region. The Lab will occupy the first two floors of WMU’s downtown Grand Rapids location, which is located on Cherry and Ionia in the city’s Arena District.

According to a recent employer assessment by Talent 2025, an organization consisting of 100 CEOs from West Michigan who are working to ensure an ongoing supply of talent for the region, the demand for engineers and designers within manufacturing outstrips the supply of qualified individuals by at least a factor of two. The assessment also states the supply for managers and supervisors within the manufacturing industry in the region is about 90 percent of the demand.

The facility will serve as a program to cultivate the next generation of engineers, designers and other skilled individuals to serve the manufacturing industry. The AMP Lab will combine prototyping, training and small-scale manufacturing with the opportunity for individuals to earn a degree.

“AMP Lab @WMU will establish academic and career pathways between workforce development entities, educational institutions and industry partners for our region.” says Dr. Dawn Fortin Mattoon, associate provost of WMU’s Extended University Programs.  “These pathways can lead to new skills, certifications and degrees, but more importantly, careers in manufacturing, engineering and design.” 

The lab will be divided into hands-on instructional learning and research areas. Future arrangement of the facility will support college lab sessions, professional workshops, training sessions, K-12 outreach and workforce development activities.

“AMP Lab will be a place for collaboration and learning in an advanced manufacturing and design environment,” says Dr. Steven Butt, professor and chair of WMU’s Engineering Design, Manufacturing and Management Systems department. Entrepreneurs will have opportunities to prototype their ideas. For some it may be a place to start and for others it will be a place to hone a new product, process, or skill. We are pleased to offer this state-of-the-art laboratory for innovation, instruction, training and research.”

WMU plans to open the Lab in fall 2018. At that time, the program will connect students with opportunities in manufacturing and engineering education options. Along with WMU, Grand Rapids Community College will have access to offer various manufacturing and engineering courses inside the Lab. An option for other universities from the region to access the facility and high school courses are also being explored.

The development of the AMP Lab @WMU is being partially funded through private investment efforts.

John C. Kennedy, president of Autocam Medical, based in Grand Rapids, has been involved in programs to raise awareness for the need and education of skilled workers throughout West Michigan. He has been instrumental in building support within the engineering and manufacturing communities for the creation of AMP Lab @WMU.

“This open, urban location will allow individuals to see inside an advanced manufacturing space and will help enhance the image of manufacturing,” says Kennedy. “The AMP Lab is a makerspace in its truest form, addressing the needs of entrepreneurs and providing a space to bring ideas to life. Programming this facility will foster a format of collaborative learning between educators and students.”

Some of the equipment that will be used at the AMP Lab will be relocated from a current GRCC facility, which was funded through an MEDC grant in 2015.

WMU’s downtown regional location dates back to the 20th century as a manufacturing facility. The building began as the Brown and Sehler Co., a wholesale manufacturer of horse harnesses and collars from 1925 to 1935. Various businesses moved in and out of the building for the next 40 years before H.H. Cutler Co., an infant and children’s clothing manufacturer, occupied the space until 1995. The University moved into the building in May 2001, and has since renewed a long-term lease.