Known as Line 10, the assembly operation is the first to transition from the existing century-old industrial complex on King Edward Avenue. To produce 27- and 30-inch wall ovens, and microwave combo units for multiple brands, the line previously operated in the Plant 1 West facility.
Today’s plant launch took place at 6 a.m. following a brief series of stretching and warm-up exercises by employees which is another part of the facility’s new culture. The event took place with little fanfare although additional celebrations for employees, the company and the Cleveland and Bradley County community are scheduled for later this spring and summer.
Assembly workers actually got a jumpstart on today’s official launch by cranking out new products late Friday and Saturday in order to begin filling the supplier pipeline that will stretch to hundreds of retail floors across America within the next couple of months.
Because the products are new, have not been publicly unveiled and are not yet on retail floors, authorized photography from the factory floor was limited this morning as a Cleveland Daily Banner editor was allowed to roam the line, interviewing workers while wearing the same protective equipment as the employees — safety glasses, ear plugs, and cut-resistant, arm-length sleeves and gloves.
“Obviously, running the first salable product is a big milestone for the new plant,” Whirlpool Cleveland Division plant manager Dicky Walters told the Banner. “I’m delighted to see the new product and look forward to begin moving the rest of the plant.”
A second assembly line is already being moved. Construction on Line 2 from the old Plant 2 facility, which manufactures cooktops, is under way and will be producing new product soon.
New cooking products rolling off the inaugural assembly line this morning were a mixed selection of Whirlpool-brand wall ovens. Craig Brown is the line leader.
Today’s retail-bound wall ovens were actually preceded by the assembly of engineering pilots — the equivalent of test units — that are tested for performance, quality and other measures important to the manufacturer and customers.
“The pilots are a process to prove out our production, planning and quality systems,” Walters explained.
Today’s plant launch climaxed a series of important milestones for the new 1 million-square-foot facility that included the initial Whirlpool announcement on Labor Day 2010, the groundbreaking three months later on Veterans Day and then plant dedication ceremonies two weeks ago held in honor of two groups — more than 2,000 Whirlpool employees and the community, both of whom were credited for making the Whirlpool dream a reality.
Additional events remain in the planning stage including an official ribbon cutting and an open house.
Today’s plant startup brought plenty of smiles to Line 10 workers who couldn’t help but compare its cleanliness and organization to the age and grime of their former work home that was spread across 90 acres of hilly terrain and included multiple manufacturing facilities — Plant 1 East, Plant 1 West and Plant 2, as well as several support buildings.
The new plant will be joined by a 400,000 square-foot Factory Distribution Center later this year and eventually a new home for the site’s engineering team, also known as the Global Product Organization.
The plant was originally valued at $120 million, but its total investment over a period of time will eventually near $200 million.
Workers up and down the assembly line this morning praised the company’s decision to rebuild in Bradley County. They’re also impressed with the structure’s sense of organization.
“I like it,” said one-year employee Robert Lawson who was handling a piece of equipment called the stacker which mounts one wall oven onto another to create the double unit. “It’s a change from the old plant.”
In this case, change is good, according to Tiffany Perry, a seven-year Whirlpool worker who was busy driving screws from the back of a wall oven unit.
“It’s a better environment from the old plant,” she said. “It’s refreshing because it’s cleaner and neater.”
Giovanni Martinez, a 2 1/2-year worker who was attaching a control panel to an oven cavity, stepped his descriptor up a notch.
“It’s great!” Martinez stressed. “It’s well organized. It’s cleaner ... and it’s air-conditioned.”
The air flow comes from giant ceiling fans intended to create a shift-long breeze for busy workers below. One employee laughingly called them “helicopter-sized.”
Donna Brock, a 25-year plant worker, said this morning she “loves” her new surroundings, and she explained her feelings.
“I love this new plant!” she exclaimed. “Why do I love it? I’ve been here 25 years. That pretty well tells the story.” Her reference was to working in an aging facility whose efficiencies, organization and cleanliness pale to that offered by the workforce’s new daytime quarters.
Tena Ford, a 19-year worker who serves as group leader for control panels, was just as animated in her views.
“I love it here!” Ford said. “This is a new way of life. It’s our chance to start over and make everything better. It is more organized ... not as much chaos.”
Scottie Davis, who has worked at the factory under its Whirlpool and Maytag names for 31 1/2 years, offered, “It’s nice ... not too bad.”
J.B. Williams, a 10-year employee whose Whirlpool career was highlighted in 2007 by being selected to join a six-member Cleveland team at Whirlpool Building Blocks in Phoenix to build Habitat for Humanity homes, said he feels more “relaxed” in the new facility.
“It’s cool!” he stressed.
Two workers who operate the Line 10 testing station — Gail McGowan and Debbie Price — didn’t have to say anything to show their working pleasure. The size of their smiles — and their giggles — when approached by a Cleveland Daily Banner photographer did all their talking.
Whirlpool Cleveland Division manufactures premium cooking products under brand names like KitchenAid, Jenn-Air, Maytag, Whirlpool and IKEA.