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Companies team up to build device for utilities



Warnke
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Standing in the 15,000-square-foot shop area of Oxfordís Warnke Tool Inc. are (from left) President/Co-owner Bob Warnke, Grid Logicís Chief Technology Officer Dr. Matthew Holcomb and Vice President/Co-owner Bruce Warnke. Photo by C.J. Carnacchio. (click for larger version)
July 14, 2010 - Those folks who run around telling people that Michigan's manufacturing days are over should take a gander at what's going on at Warnke Tool Inc. in Oxford Township.

Located at 3287 Metamora Road, the 34-year-old company, specializing in CNC machining, design and assembly, is teaming up with the Metamora-based Grid Logic Inc. in the development and building of a high-tech device that will eventually be sold to electric utilities.

"I think it's going to be a lucrative venture for both of us," said Bob Warnke, owner and president of Warnke Tool. "I think between Grid Logic's expertise in the field and our machining capabilities, we'll make a good marriage."

Grid Logic designs and manufactures devices that protect, stabilize and improve the efficiency of the electric utility grid.

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"We like the Warnke Tool business a lot and we'd like to continue working with them as a subcontractor," said George Caravias, chief executive officer of Grid Logic. "The device itself is a pretty complex assembly. The Warnkes have experience (with) this complexity and this size of device."

The device is called a Fault Current Limiter (FCL) and when completed, it will be about the size of an automobile.

Basically, FCLs help electric utilities address issues related to increasing power demands, power quality and the incorporation of alternative sources of energy into the electric grid.

"You could think of our devices as surge protectors, just on a larger scale and acting much, much faster," Caravias said. "The devices are used to stabilize the grid in conditions where you have big current surges."

Caravias explained that "as you add alternative sources of energy like wind and solar, it makes the grid much less stable."

To counter this lack of stability, utility companies add more infrastructure, such as breakers and other equipment, but all "that makes the grid less efficient."

"By using our equipment, not only do (utilities) have to spend less money on substations, they also don't have to put this extra equipment into the grid, so they don't have the (energy) efficiency losses," Caravias noted.

Beginning this month, Grid Logic is leasing space in Warnke Tool's 25,000-square-foot facility to develop and assemble full-scale, fully-functioning Fault Current Limiters, built to utility company specifications.

"Utilities get very specific about the characteristics of these things," noted Dr. Matthew Holcomb, Grid Logic's chief technology officer and a world expert in superconductivity and composite materials.

Multiple versions of commercial-ready FCLs will be built at Warnke Tool.

"We'll have it ready for commercial deployment in 18 months," Caravias said. "We didn't invent the device, but one of the principals in our company (Dr. Holcomb) made some discoveries at Stanford University that have made these devices much less expensive. So, we can introduce them for half, or maybe much less than half, the cost of other manufacturers."

To help establish manufacturing operations and commercialize its products, Grid Logic was recently awarded grant and loan funds totaling $5 million from the state's Clean Energy Advanced Manufacturing (CEAM) program.

CEAM awards, funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, are designed to help Michigan businesses diversify into high-growth, clean-energy industries.

"We like Michigan because a lot the manufacturing skills for building our devices are here," Caravias said. "Our devices are pretty similar to cars in that they have subsystems and machined parts. So, the talent pool is there to make Fault Current Limiters."

The partnership between Warnke Tool and Grid Logic will result in new employment opportunities.

"We should be able to provide a few more jobs for folks in the local area," Warnke said.

"We are hoping to hire both machine assembly (workers) as well as administrative personnel," said Caravias, who declined to provide specific numbers as to how many people would be hired initially.

Over the next five years, Caravias "conservatively" estimated Grid Logic would "create hundreds of manufacturing, engineering and administrative jobs in Michigan."

It remains to be seen whether Warnke Tool will be involved in the large-scale manufacturing of the FCLs once the product's been commercially deployed.

"It would be great to continue working with them," Caravias said. "It's just premature to say that."

To learn more about these two companies, visit www.warnketool.com and www.grid-logic.com.

CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.
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