Supplying Leaders

Student and Instructor

Shaen Hawkins, an integrated supply management student, works with Kevin Grossheim, vice president of manufacturing operations, as a part of Bronco Force’s consultation project with Sigma Machine.

Developing processes, increasing operational efficiency, millions of dollars in savings and value, and dozens of student interns working diligently on more than 150 projects to date.

Does this sound like a thriving business? It is, and it’s operating within Western Michigan University’s Center for Integrated Supply Management.

The organization in question is Bronco Force, a cohort of student consultants, established in 2014, which has assisted more than 20 organizations with their supply chain challenges.

Since its inception, Bronco Force has created $5.1 million in value for its clients, which represents a combination of hard cost savings, indirect savings through productivity improvements and revenue enhancement.

Kurt Hinkley, vice president of Sigma Machine, a company working with Bronco Force, says the results are unmistakable in terms of the impact Bronco Force has had on both the company and the students. What started as a small connection grew into a full relationship with demonstrated benefits for Sigma Machine and the dedicated student consultants who work there each week.

“It didn’t take long for us to realize the positive impact of Bronco Force on our company,” Hinkley says. “We see such value in having the students as a part of our team; we can now look at new projects in terms of how Bronco Force can help us problem solve and give those students the opportunity to lead.”

Sigma Machine’s 90-plus person production shop specializes in aluminum and stainless steel machining and takes projects from concept, to design, to prototype, to manufacturing. The company works with Bronco Force in regard to systems and tracking such as inventory management systems, cost of poor quality, on-time delivery and parts per million defect tracking. But Hinkley says it’s not just the savings that have them requesting a Bronco Force team to work in their shop at the beginning of each semester.

“The impact of Bronco Force for Sigma Machine has been broad and deep,” says Hinkley. “As a high-growth company with few legacy systems, we have been able to open the floodgates and reap the benefits of the work Bronco Force offers. The projects truly make a difference in our daily lives, and we are sure to explain this impact to the students. These are real and useful projects, changing both the students and Sigma Machine for the better.”

The students participating as consultants at the company are reaping incredible benefits. Students like Anthony Skinner, a senior studying integrated supply management and the student team lead for the Sigma Machine Bronco Force team. “My experience at Sigma Machine has helped me grow in many ways,” says Skinner. “It has given me real-world experience in the supply chain field and helped me take my leadership abilities to the next level.”

Ken Jones, director of education and applied solutions for the Center for Integrated Supply Management and the chief strategist and architect behind the Bronco Force program, is thrilled with the program’s success and excited about opportunities for future growth.

“The trend in supply chain management is to move from traditional linear supply chains to creating value networks that are focused on transforming companies, communities and people. With Bronco Force, in conjunction with our regional economic development partners—Southwest Michigan First and The Right Place—and our industry partners, we have accomplished that mission together. We have gone beyond the cliché of a win-win between two parties to creating multiple wins for stakeholders. That’s exactly what value networks do.”

Recently, the center launched the Bronco Force Supply Chain Services Group in partnership with PeoplePlus Software, of Ann Arbor. The partnership will support Bronco Source, a student and faculty-driven business unit focused on working with companies that are challenged with limited purchasing resources. The student consultants are currently working with two West Michigan manufacturers as well as two local breweries, formulating purchasing strategies, recommending and sourcing suppliers, managing transactions and supplier performances, and more, for the companies.

“The wonderful part of this journey is how we are finding so many Michigan-based organizations that are willing to move forward with us, buying into a greater vision of collaboration,” says Jones.


Since 2014, Bronco Force has evolved to include 14 partner companies giving integrated supply management students the opportunity to learn, grow and lead.

Founding Partners—Joined in 2014

  • Impact Label Corp. (Kalamazoo, Michigan)
  • Command Electronics (Schoolcraft, Michigan)
  • Poly-Wood (Syracuse, Indiana
  • Sigma Machine (Kalamazoo, Michigan)

The Next Wave—Joined in 2015

  • Stryker Medical (Portage, Michigan)
  • Flow-Rite (Byron Center, Michigan)
  • Dunkley International (Kalamazoo, Michigan)
  • X-L Machine (Three Rivers, Michigan)

Bronco Force 3.0 - Joined in 2016

  • Weber Specialties (Schoolcraft, Michigan)
  • CED/All-Phase Electric (Grand Rapids, Michigan)
  • Metal Mechanics (Schoolcraft, Michigan)
  • Tenneco Automotive (Marshall, Michigan)
  • Flexfab (Hastings, Michigan)
  • Mann-Hummel Automotive (Portage, Michigan)

Students and Instructor

Coaching Students to Success

Sam Kline, MBA’16, graduate assistant and senior project director for Bronco Force, plays a vital role in directing and supporting the Bronco Force student teams. “Sam has done a remarkable job coaching our students and industry partners to work together in synergistic ways to achieve greater outcomes beyond the projects,” says Jones. “He exemplifies what the ISM program and Bronco Force are all about—a culture of collaboration and servant leadership.”