By LIAM JACKSON
Capital News Service
LANSING – Mattresses that stay cool on hot nights, a table to lie on during spinal surgery and a million-dollar, one-of-a-kind handcrafted boat are among 10 candidates for the “Coolest Thing Made in Michigan” for 2022.
The Michigan Manufacturers Association (MMA) started the contest in 2018 “to call attention to the really cool products that are being made in every community in the state of Michigan,” said Delaney McKinley, the organization’s vice president of operations.
A common misconception is that Michigan manufacturing is mostly large automotive companies, McKinley said. Ford, General Motors and Chrysler have large influences in the state, but Michigan manufacturing is much more than large car companies.
“More than two-thirds of our members have fewer than 50 employees,” McKinley said. “They are committed to their communities and have often been multi-generational, family-owned businesses.”
Anyone other than MMA staff can nominate a product to be considered.
The first group of nominees was released in September and featured 39 products. The public could vote for a maximum of four products a day for two weeks. After two weeks, the top 10 vote-getters remained.
Final voting ended Oct. 7. The three highest vote-getters will be announced Nov. 10.
Among the finalists is the Dreamboat, created by Van Dam Custom Boats in Boyne City, a family manufacturer of privately commissioned wood boats. Customers bring their ideas to Van Dam and they work together on the design.
The company produces “maybe one boat a year,” said Jeremy Pearson, the company’s worldwide sales manager.
“What we build here, very few people in the world can build,” Pearson said. “There are very few companies that exist that build privately commissioned boats.”
Purchasing a boat from them is a “significant investment” and prices range from $1 million to several million dollars, Pearson said.
Each boat is made with lumber cut by hand, but also incorporates new technology. ,
Another product in the top 10 is the Spine Tabletop.
The Spine Tabletop, created by Domico Med-Device in Fenton, allows spinal procedures to be done with the help of an X-ray in an operating room. Recovery times for patients receiving spinal procedures on the Spine Tabletop will be shorter, company officials say.
Domico Med-Device partnered with Siemens, an X-ray company, to develop the Spine Tabletop.
“They came to us and said, ‘Hey can you help us configure this system so that we can position patients in a manner that we need to in order to do minimally invasive procedures,’” said Michael Czop, the president and chief executive officer of Domico Med-Device.
“It’s great to be mentioned in the same context as some of the great manufacturers in the state of Michigan,” Czop said.
Another health product on the list is Instant-Trace by Fleetwood Electronics in Holland.
The small, wearable device tracks how close people are to one another and for how long. It was used by companies during the COVID pandemic to monitor social distancing and help with contact tracing. And it could be used for monitoring other infectious diseases.
Instant-Trace was developed in six weeks, said Jeremy Buckingham, the account sales manager of Fleetwood Electronics. Companies that use the technology, like Kilwins Chocolates and Gordon Food Service, did not need to add any computer capacity to their buildings. All that was needed were the wearable badges and connection to the cloud.
Over 100,000 badges have been produced and are used nationwide and even internationally in places like Canada and Mexico.
“We try to remain humble, but there is a very strong sense of accomplishment knowing that we actually helped people,” Buckingham said. “We have this immense feeling of gratitude for being recognized for our skill sets and innovation.”
On top of informing the public about Michigan products, McKinley said the award benefits workers.
“I think that they’ve seen personal affirmation of the work that they do,” McKinley said. “And I think it also boosts the morale of their workforce to be proud of the things they are producing.”
Sean Hilbert, the president of Cobra MOTO in Hillsdale, agrees. His company makes motocross bikes for youth competitive riders.
“If you look at the professional ranks and watch supercross or motocross on TV, the vast majority of those professionals got their start on one of our bikes when they were kids,” Hilbert said.
Cobra’s new electric-powered motocross bike is on the list.
“It is cutting edge in terms of technology and in terms of the electrification of our product line,” Hilbert said. “We aren’t just electrifying them just to electrify them. They have to be much, much better than the product they replace.”
Unlike a gas-powered bike, the electric one can be set for training or racing, Hilbert said. Training mode has six different levels of performance and racing mode has different settings that cater to different conditions.
“You can essentially tailor the power to the rider’s skill set as well as to the conditions that you are racing under,” Hilbert said. “It is a huge benefit over a gasoline-powered bike. You just can’t accomplish that with a gas-powered bike.”
The other products in the top 10 are the Comfortable Tank made by Noble Gas Systems in Novi; Electro Arc Metal disintegrator made by Stillion Industries in Dexter; Magliner Two-Wheel Hand Trucks made by Magline Inc. in Standish; PS2000 WiFi Battery Backup System made by PumpSpy in Kalamazoo; PW100 Observatory System made by PlaneWave Instruments in Adrian; and Serta Artic Premier Hybrid Mattress made by Serta Mattresses in Romulus.
Michigan is not the first state to hand out an award like this, but McKinley said there is “no state that has more of an impact on manufacturing than Michigan.”
Previous winners include Stormy Kromer hats, a winter hat based on the idea of George “Stormy” Kromer, a baseball player from the early 1900s, to attach an ear band to a baseball hat to keep it from flying off while he was on a train.
“There has been a whole new fashion trend related to it, and we are happy to be able to support that,” McKinley said.