Timken recently announced plans to expand the production capacity of its Tyger River plant to serve the wind energy market. Production, which will begin in 2009, is part of Timken's strategy to strengthen its position to serve the growing demand for highly-engineered large-bore bearings that will help customers harness wind power to meet the energy demands of the future.
The company expects demand for large-bore bearings used in main-rotor shafts and gear drives in wind turbines to grow rapidly in the coming years as reliance on renewable energy increases. The expansion of the Tyger River plant will allow Timken to meet increased demand from North American customers and provide expanded capability to produce prototypes in support of new wind turbine programs.
The expansion was made possible by Union County's construction of a spec building in Union Commerce Park according to Timken Human Resources Director Eric Holland. Timken is leasing the building from the county for its industrial bearing services which was originally located at the Tyger River facility. Holland said the availability of the spec building enabled Timken to free up space at Tyger River for the expansion of its production capacity. He praised the county's decision to build the spec building as being proactive to meet the needs of industry and as a show of confidence in the future.
That confidence is being reciprocated by Timken's decision to expand production at Tyger River.
“This investment by the Timken Co. shows a lot of confidence in Tyger River,” Holland said. “It shows a lot of confidence in our associates' skills and abilities.”
The renovation of the floor space and installation of the infrastructure necessary to support the expansion is already underway at Tyger River. Holland said Timken is making a significant capital investment in the plant though the final amount has yet to be determined.
Timken is establishing a wind energy business unit which will be supplied by the Tyger River plant. The plant already builds products for the steel, mining and power generation industries and Holland said this experience makes wind energy a ready made market for Timken.
“Wind turbines require bearings technology, materials technology and highly-engineered products which we produce so the market is ready-made for us,” Holland said. “We've been producing bearings for wind turbines for the past two years, but the expansion will allow us to produce much larger bearings for much larger turbines. We'll be starting production this month on existing equipment for prototypes with full production of these scheduled for the second half of 2009.”
A quarter of Tyger River's overall production goes overseas and the plant helps serve Timken customers in North America, Europe and Asia. The company expects its global customer base to expand in the future and the Tyger River plant will play an important role in meeting those customers' needs.
Initially, employees already working in the plant will be shifted from their current activities to the expanded wind turbine bearings production. Holland said the company wants it's most experienced associates working there in the beginning, but will consider hiring more personnel in the future.
Potential Timken employees must have their high school diploma or GED to have any chance of being hired by the company. Timken is also looking for people with training and experience necessary to become productive associates as quickly as possible. The company has taken steps to help create that pool of trained, potential employees.
Operations Manager Matthew Nelson pointed out that Timken has donated two $100,000 CNC (Computer Numerical Control) machines to the Union County Career and Technology Center to help give students experience in machining and machine tool technology. He said that the company is looking for machining professionals who are capable not only of being productive at their assigned tasks, but are also able to contribute ideas to improve the company.
“The more a potential associate knows the shorter the training period the quicker they will generate value for the company and themselves,” Nelson said. “A trained, educated and experience work force that is able to continually improve itself is the only way to balance the lower labor costs in other countries.
“They provide a secure financial future for themselves and the company by being productive and contributing ideas for our continuous improvement program,” he said. “We've formed a partnership with our employees because we're all in this together. We want people who can think.”
The main attraction of wind power is that it is environmentally-friendly. Beyond contributing to the growth of wind power, Timken is also working to be environmentally-friendly itself. The Tyger River plant recycles 97 percent of its waste stream with scrap steel sent to be melted down for reuse. The company's design policy is to build bearings with a better surface finish which reduces drag and thus reduces the amount power required to turn it.