Eastman Machine becomes prototype for Northland agency collaboration

Story originally ran on June 21, 2022 in Buffalo Business First

By Katie Anderson — Reporter, Buffalo Business First

A machine manufacturer with 134 years of history in Buffalo has become a prototype for how the Northland manufacturing resource corridor can assist companies.

Eastman Machine Co. is expanding its location on Washington Street after a decade of steady growth. With that expansion came the need for new, upgraded equipment and additional workers. The company leaned heavily on Buffalo Manufacturing Works, Insyte Consulting and the Northland Workforce Training Center to achieve those goals.

“It’s a unique thing that Eastman did, starting in the Shift program,” said Ben Rand, president of Insyte Consulting. “They were doing a lot of manual machining and said, ‘We have to become more efficient.’ ”


Benjamin Rand, president of Insyte Consulting, speaks at the Buffalo Business First Manufacturing Power Breakfast

The Shift program, run through Buffalo Manufacturing Works and funded through the Buffalo Billion, ran from 2017 to 2021. Part of the program included an innovation audit that studied Eastman’s processes and compiled a list of opportunities to improve efficiency, Rand said.

“It all came down to looking at the way we were doing things,” said Robert Stevenson, CEO of Eastman Machine. “The demand for automated product was growing. We’ve been making automated machines for our customers, but we were doing it with a lot of manual processes.”

Eastman manufactures fabric and textile cutting machines of various sizes for the aerospace, defense and marine industry.

“It’s kind of an embarrassment that customers are buying our automated machines, but we haven’t upgraded yet,” Stevenson said. “We ought to be a showcase as well. Now our factory will look much better, and our customers will see that we have a modern facility where we’re manufacturing and selling them that same modern technology.”

About 20% of the company’s parts were made on CNC equipment. Stevenson’s goal was to completely automate that parts fabrication by 2020.

“The pandemic slowed us down, but we’re almost there,” he said.

The company brought in three new CNC machines and specifically choose machines that Northland students use.

“We went to them and said, ‘We’ll buy the type of machine you’re using to train your people,’ ” Stevenson said. “It’s hard to find qualified people because the art of machining has kind of died. But machining is still a big part of manufacturing.”


Robert Stevenson, CEO, Eastman Machine Co, tests a Blue Streak ii fabric cutting machine.

Eastman has hired one Northland graduate and plans to recruit three more. The company also sent a couple of its employees to Northland for training on the machines.

To accommodate the new machinery, Insyte Consulting helped Eastman lay out the $1.5 million, 25,000-square-foot expansion to accommodate workflow and inventory storage.

“Everyone knows Buffalo is a comeback city, and now, we’ve got the institutions like Northland, Manufacturing Works and Insyte, so let’s use them,” Stevenson said. “The payoff is that we’re going to increase our workforce, and it makes us comfortable in staying in downtown Buffalo. We want to be an anchor here for another 100 years.”

Rand said the Northland manufacturing corridor is unique and gives Buffalo a competitive advantage.

“This is how small manufacturers can really take advantage of what’s here in Western New York,” he said.

Stephen Tucker, CEO of the Northland Workforce Training Center, said collaborations will become stronger in time.

“The long-term vision is to transform the Northland campus into an advanced manufacturing and energy corridor,” he said. “We collectively can provide the manufacturing sector with the resources they need. We kind of all work together by making referrals to address those issues or challenges as they’re requested.”