Manufacturing Odds & Ends

A/E Graphics expands printing capabilities; Johnson Controls’ joint venture lands Ford hybrid battery contract; Grocery distributor to close Milwaukee center; Jefferson ethanol producer files for bankruptcy;
Court rules on the side of small business in asbestos case

A/E Graphics expands printing capabilities

A/E Graphics, with locations in Milwaukee and Brookfield, has expanded its printing capabilities to include creating outdoor site signs, banners, wall graphics, window graphics, point-of-purchase displays, magnets, labels and more.

The company has purchased an environmentally-friendly Roland Soljet Pro printer.

"This expansion was really a logical step for our business. For over 30 years, we have been providing our customers with quality printing on paper with fast turnarounds, and now we are able to offer this same level of service across more mediums to better assist clients with their total branding efforts," said Tom Taubenheim, owner of A/E Graphics.

A/E Graphics has also added sign installation, removal and storage to its list of services. In addition, the company is using the new printer to expand into vehicle, fleet and floor graphics.

"Our goal really is to be a full-service printer for our customers helping them with all of their marketing and display needs from site signs, point-of-purchase, trade show graphics, small and large format digital printing and scanning, to banners, window clings, wall graphics and more," Taubenheim said. "This will provide them a level of consistency that they have been unable to achieve up until now."

Johnson Controls’ joint venture lands Ford hybrid battery contract

Johnson Controls-Saft will supply the complete battery system for Ford Motor Company’s first series production plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV), which will be introduced in 2012.

Ford announced plans for the battery partnership today at the Washington Auto Show.

"This is a great day for the automotive industry in America," said Alex Molinaroli, president Johnson Controls Power Solutions. "Today, nearly all batteries for hybrid electric vehicles are manufactured offshore. As the United States works to build a manufacturing infrastructure and supply base for hybrid and electric vehicles, this contract signals significant progress for our industry here."

The battery packs are to be designed and manufactured by Johnson Controls-Saft, a joint venture that includes Glendale-based Johnson Controls Inc. The packs, including cells, mechanical, electrical, electronic and thermal components, will be assembled in the United States. Initially, the cells will be produced at the Johnson Controls-Saft production facility in Nersac, France.

The core development and initial pack assembly work for the new batteries will be conducted at Johnson Controls’ 58,000 square-foot Battery Technology Center in Glendale, the largest and most sophisticated automotive battery research and development facility in the United States. The work in Glendale will include cell design, system engineering, testing and integration.

"Clearly it’s good news. It certainly means an opportunity for green jobs in the United States," Kim Metcalf-Kupres, vice president of global sales and marketing for Johnson Controls Power Solutions, told BizTimes Milwaukee.

Metcalf-Kupres said it was too early to speculate about how many new jobs will be created in Wisconsin to support the program, which also could receive a boost in production by President Barack Obama’s economic stimulus plan.

"We’re certainly encouraged by the stimulus elements," she said.


Grocery distributor to close Milwaukee center

S. Abraham & Sons Inc. announced it will close its Milwaukee distribution center at 7500 N. 81st St., beginning in phases on April 10, eliminating 67 jobs.

The closure will be completed when the company’s lease expires in September.

The Grand Rapids, Mich.-based regional wholesale food distributor serves convenience stores and small grocers in seven Midwestern states. The company distributes name-brand groceries, health and beauty aids, snacks, store supplies, and tobacco.

The Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development Dislocated Worker Unit will be working with the HIRE Center in Milwaukee to arrange applicable services for the workers who will lose their jobs.

Jefferson ethanol producer files for bankruptcy

Wisconsin’s largest ethanol producer, Renew Energy LLC in Jefferson, has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

"The harsh reality is that there aren’t many, if any, Wisconsin ethanol producers making money right now," said Joshua Morby, executive director of the Wisconsin Bio Industry Alliance (WBIA). "Our industry is still quite new – the first plant in Wisconsin was built in 2000 – and we’re going through a tough time in the business cycle."

The industry was weakened when gas prices fell from $4 per gallon to less than $2 in a relatively short time frame.

"Wisconsin consumers have a short memory," Morby said. "Right now, people aren’t thinking about $4 a gallon gas. The long-term forecast is that gas is going to shoot up in price again, and when it does, the ethanol industry will be there to help relieve that burden on consumers by reducing our dependency on foreign oil and producing a cleaner burning, renewable source of automotive fuel that adds jobs and benefits the Wisconsin economy."

The Jefferson company said it will continue to operate as it works through the bankruptcy filing procedure.

Court rules on the side of small business in asbestos case

The Wisconsin Supreme Court has ruled that an insurance company must fully defend and indemnify asbestos and environmental claims filed against their policyholders.

The case before the court was over a dispute between Plastics Engineering Company (Plenco), a family-owned plastics company in Sheboygan, and its insurance carrier, Liberty Mutual Insurance Co.

Plenco was a defendant in multiple asbestos lawsuits for alleged exposure from Plenco products that occurred between 1950 and 1983. Plenco was insured with Liberty Mutual from 1968 to 1989. After the claims against Plenco were initiated, Liberty Mutual attempted to change the policy in order to restrict their coverage owed to Plenco by seeking contribution from Plenco for the pro-rated portion of defense and indemnity costs attributable to years preceding Liberty Mutual coverage.

The National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) Small Business Legal Center, the nation’s leading advocate for small business, filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the case, arguing that allowing insurers to adopt a pro rata apportionment scheme would have a crippling impact on small firms.

"This is a great decision for Plenco, and it will protect many other small-business owners in Wisconsin," said Karen Harned, executive director of the NFIB Small Business Legal Center. "Due to the nature of asbestos claims, it is often impossible to pin point exactly when exposure occurred to claimants. It would be extremely unfair if insurance companies were allowed to wiggle their way out of providing coverage to their policy holders by adopting pro rata apportionment schemes. The Wisconsin Supreme Court made the right decision by siding with the small business owner and requiring the insurance company to live up to its obligations. This precedent-setting case will help small business owners stay in business."


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