Sault Tribe of Chippewa Indians highlights John Ermatinger

Pounding the pavement leads to success for Ermatinger

John Ermatinger knows what hard work is, and worked hard to build both a successful career and then business. For over 40 years his company, Industrial Control, has been known by west Michigan industrial manufacturers as a supplier of the most advanced emerging technology in automation.

Pounding the pavement leads to success for Ermatinger
Ermatinger was born in the Sault and grew up across the street from the Soo Locks. And after graduating from the Sault branch of Michigan Tech (now Lake Superior State University) in 1961, he spent the next 10 years in the U.S. Defense Military Complex as an electrical engineer. He said at the time there were no opportunities in the Sault and few elsewhere in Michigan.

So he packed his car and with his wife headed to Boeing in Seattle, Wash., for his first job working on the Minuteman missiles. “We drove out there without much money, found an apartment with no furniture, slept on the floor for a month until our neighbors gave us an air mattress… and we slowly started buying furniture,” he said. “We stayed there for about two years then moved to St. Louis trying to move closer to Michigan and worked for MacDonald Aircraft on recon jets. I was there for one year and accepted a job closer to home at General Dynamics in Mystic Seaport Connecticut when they were building nuclear submarines, and spent two or three years there but was still driven to come back home.”

He was working at Donnelly Mirrors as a new product development engineer developing automatic mirror dimmers and decided to quit his job. “It was going to be like going to the moon — and when I got there I was going to burn my ship and stay there. I decided I was going to figure out something I could do to make a living and put my kids through school and be my own boss. One of my co-workers had left his job to start a new company selling glass to Xerox. He called me to say his machine was breaking down, so I spent about two weeks trying to solve that problem, which turned out to be a variable speed drive that kept blowing up,” Ermatinger said. That co-worker was the founder of a small business that later evolved into Gentex Corp. – now one of the largest and most successful businesses in West Michigan.

He said Gentex Corporation is their largest customer, with their building located across the street from Industrial Control. Ermatinger began looking for companies that needed help by asking them what they were having trouble with. “My job became that of a business consultant, to look for and find what they needed fixed - and fix it,” he said.

Industrial Control was founded by John and Doris Ermatinger in 1975, and became a High Tech Distributorship specializing exclusively in advanced machinery automation rather than through the sale of commodities like wire and cable.

Ermatinger said an example of how they help companies solve manufacturing problems is their recent work with a food processing company in Zeeland, MI. “We recently solved a leakage problem for a local food processing company by detecting flaws in clear plastic containers before food was added and an aluminum cover was put on. The manufacturing line sent containers at 600 parts per minute, which is faster than the eye can see any flaws, and we had to inspect the circular contour shape of each empty container passing by.
“Our LMI 3-D dimensional vision sensor would look at the top of each lip on the jar and tell us which container was deformed and reject that one. General Mills soon called us and said that this company was now sending them 100 percent flaw free product that no one else was able to do that.

“General Mills had four machines in Toronto that they needed outfitted as soon as possible. They wanted us to build a panel and modify the machines to install the system and teach their employees how to use it. It wasn’t long and people from all over the country were contacting us saying they had the same problem and wanted our help solving it,” Ermatinger said. “We dominate the market in our specialty because we keep focused on the latest automation technology.”

Industrial Control became the first distributor in the country to put on a Manufacturing Exposition. “Our first Advanced Manufacturing EXPO was held in Hudsonville, Mich., in 2015, with large number of suppliers of factory automation and machine builders participating along with state agencies and local colleges,” he said.

Their most recent Advanced Manufacturing EXPO was held in Grand Rapids in August 2016, where they doubled their attendance and it was such a huge success that they intend to duplicate it again next year, including holding one in the Detroit area.

Today, Industrial Control is owned and operated by John’s sons Karl and Mark Ermatinger, who purchased the business in 2006. The company employs about 10 mechanical engineers plus a small support staff. In addition to their main office in Zeeland, they also recently added a small office in Detroit.

Ermatinger said that Michigan employs about 88,000 mechanical engineers, but because there is such a demand for upgrading machinery they are hard to find. “We are continually looking for mechanical engineers, because we are always trying to grow. Right now there is a shortage of technical talent in Michigan. The real money is in manufacturing and technology – because that is where the need is.”

For more information, visit their website at

By: Brenda Austin who wrote this Indian Newspaper atricle
Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians
Staff writer/photographer