Editorial: Whirlpool relocation nearing final stages
Sep 25, 2013 | 919 views | 0 0 comments | 49 49 recommendations | email to a friend | print
As Bradley County’s largest employer works to complete the complicated relocation from its old manufacturing complex on King Edward Avenue to its new state-of-the-art facility on Benton Pike, we are reminded of the time, energy and commitment required to achieve such a task.

In the business world, meeting customer demand is Priority One. When buyers want your product, you must deliver on a timely basis and in a cost-effective manner while assuring operational quality along the way. For those who fail in any of these measures, and especially for those who repeat an unsatisfactory performance, their price will be paid down the road when customers stop ordering their product.

Hence, the needs of the customer outweigh the wants of anything else ... and that includes in-house transitions — like moving into new plants — whose required equipment shutdowns and subsequent restarts take time and care. Their disruption to a production schedule can be devastating if not coordinated strategically by professionals with a keen sense of how to balance downtime with product numbers.

Any manufacturer who has relocated an operation to a new building, whether local or to another region, is well aware of the complexities.

Whirlpool Cleveland Division is one such example.

The longtime assembler of premium cooking products is nearing the completion of an exhausting move from its aging, century-old set of buildings just a stone’s throw from downtown to a shining — and most importantly, modern — factory at the junction of Benton Pike and Durkee Road.

Original plans called for Whirlpool to have completed the relocation by mid-2013, but a nice “problem” surfaced. Customers fell in love all over again with some of the company’s redesigned products — such as those built at the Cleveland location. Even “Consumer Reports” — the so-called “buyer’s Bible” — gave some of the appliance models top rankings.

These favorable reviews led to even heavier customer orders. And in the appliance manufacturing world, an unwritten code suggests, “ ... When a product is hot, do nothing to hinder its production.” Taking down the assembly line that builds the product — even for just a few days — would be such a hindrance. Subsequently, these physical moves can be achieved only through extraordinary means: adding shifts to take up the slack of a line’s downtime, employee overtime and shifting maintenance technician gears into overdrive.

All must be done efficiently. All must be done effectively. All must be done safely.

While the new Whirlpool plant is churning out thousands of appliance units daily, just seven miles away — as the crow flies — four assembly lines continue to operate out of the old manufacturing site’s Plant 1 facility.

Yet another complication in completing the move is the Cleveland facility is working closely with a sister cooking products plant in Tulsa, Okla., which is preparing to take production of a redesigned slide-in range currently built in Cleveland. In return, the Cleveland division should be receiving new products of its own in the future.

Plant manager Dicky Walters explained the process in a recent interview with our newspaper that was published in the Sept. 16 edition.

“As was announced last fall to our employees, the redesigned slide-ins will not be redesigned for a Cleveland chassis, and therefore production of slide-ins [will] eventually leave Cleveland,” he said. “At that time, it was also announced that we would continue to build our current slide-ins for some time and, as always, continue to evaluate other opportunities and products that could be made here in Cleveland.”

Anyone who believes moving a manufacturing operation from Plant A to Plant B is simply a matter of loading the pickup trucks, sweeping the dusty old floors and turning off the lights on the way out is terribly mistaken.

Much is to be considered.

More is to be planned.

Production must go on.

And the lights must stay on until the lights are no longer needed.

The Whirlpool relocation should be finished — almost — sometime this fall. A handful of employees will remain at the old King Edward Avenue site through late 2014. But the move will find closure. And work to redevelop the ancestral industrial site will begin.

Whirlpool and its family of predecessors — Maytag, Magic Chef, Dixie Products, Dixie Foundry, Hardwick Stove and Cleveland-Tennessee Enamel — have been part of the Cleveland and Bradley County community for as long as our grandparents can remember.

Their legacy is jobs, people and a blue-collar way of life.

As the company’s theme proudly declares, Whirlpool is “Invested in America” — and especially in our hometown community.

History, and the detailed move into a new plant, serve as proof.