Uponor has reached another milestone in its history; manufacturing PEX pipe in its new facility in Hutchinson, Minn. Surpassing the goal of pipe production six months ahead of schedule, the 237,000-square-foot facility was purchased, renovated and received regulatory approval in less than a year.
“Getting initial production launched at the Hutchinson plant on schedule is quite an accomplishment,” says Jon Sillerud, vice president, operations. “More than 50 employees and 14 workstream leads dedicated approximately 23,000 hours in less than one year to bring this project to fruition. Accomplishing this task required focused teamwork from all departments across the company, including operations; engineering; supply chain; finance; IT; human resources; communications; project management and senior leadership.”
Uponor North America announced the $6.35 million Hutchinson investment in July 2017 after signing an agreement to purchase the existing facility to support its growing U.S. manufacturing operations. At the time of that announcement, the company estimated operations in Hutchinson would begin in early 2019. The opening of this plant marks 11 expansions since 1990. The previous 10 occurred on the North American headquarters campus in Apple Valley, Minn.
Sillerud, who has spent half of his 30-year career managing new growth projects for large manufacturing facilities, says the Hutchinson plant is modeled after the Uponor Apple Valley facility, which was honored with the Minnesota Manufacturers Alliance Manufacturer of the Year Award in both 2013 and 2018.
“To ensure our facilities function efficiently, we are involved in the areas of operational excellence and lean manufacturing,” says Sillerud. “We are using strategic digital technology tools and targeted planning to ensure our existing and new manufacturing spaces run with minimal waste, high efficiencies and flexibility.”
The company is also mirroring its ties to the Apple Valley community in Hutchinson, becoming a member of that city’s chamber of commerce and also supporting the Center for Technical Excellence at Hutchinson High School. This program provides students with hands-on training in the areas of mechatronics, construction, engineering, automotive, renewable energy, manufacturing, design and agriculture.
To ensure a full team of employees when the plant opened, Uponor held a job fair at the Hutchinson facility in March, filling positions in maintenance, manufacturing, quality, engineering and operations training. Currently, there are more than 30 employees working in Hutchinson, and that number is expected to increase over time. In addition, some Apple Valley employees elected to transfer to Hutchinson to work at the new plant.
Dennis and Wes Jacobson, for example, are a father-and-son duo who both worked in maintenance in Apple Valley, but moved to Hutchinson to work at the new facility and get a fresh start in the smaller town southwest of the Twin Cities.
“I am very proud of all the hard work, dedication and agility that went into procuring the Hutchinson facility and commencing pipe manufacturing six months ahead of schedule,” says Bill Gray, president, Uponor North America. “With the official start-up of this plant, we are continuing our progress of building a future on innovation, education and advocacy to serve our customers while also growing the manufacturing workforce in Minnesota.”