Lean machine

Waupaca Foundry opens facility dedicated to machining brake components

Posted on May 14, 2019 :: Plant News
Jessica Thiel
Posted by , Insight on Manufacturing Staff Writer

A new Waupaca Foundry facility allows the company to expand operations beyond raw castings and support customer demand.

The company will use the new machining center, located on the site of the former Buyers Guide building at 600 Industrial Drive in Waupaca, to machine brake components for the commercial vehicle market. The facility, which includes 50,000 square feet of manufacturing space, employs 15 skilled workers leading CNC machining of Waupaca Foundry-produced cast iron components.

John Wiesbrock, executive vice president of sales, marketing and supply chain management for Waupaca Foundry, says the facility allows the company to implement a vertically integrated model that removes supply chain waste for customers.

Casting a part and shipping it someplace else to be machined isn’t a value a customer wants to pay for further down the line, he says. The facility allows the foundry to cast and machine parts onsite rather than shipping them to Tier 1 suppliers.

This is the foundry’s second machining facility and the first of its kind in Waupaca — the company also operates one in Effingham, Ill. The parts manufactured at the facility are used for air disc brakes in Class 6 through 8 trucks, including freightliners, dump trucks and school buses.

“This is a growing market. It’s a changing market,” Wiesbrock says. “Cars and trucks transitioned in the ’60s and ’70s from a drum brake to a more efficient disc brake. Now the same transition is happening in commercial vehicles.”

While drum brakes will still be around for some time, Jason Grasman, manufacturing machining manager for the new facility, says there’s a lot of incentive to choose air disc brakes. “There’s also a service component to that. Air brakes are a lot cheaper to service from a fleet management standpoint,” he says.

Waupaca Foundry acquired the building in February 2018 and began renovating and improving it immediately. The center, which became the company’s fifth production facility in the state, features state-of-the-art technology and three CNC machines, with plans to add five more in the future.

The facility incorporates modern manufacturing features designed to automate production and provide ergonomic advantages for employees. The plant includes eight robotic operations — four loading/unloading machines and four automatic guided vehicles.

In the past, a worker would load 45- to 50-pound components onto a machine all day, but that’s no longer the case with the new technology, Grasman says.

“It’s way more technology-driven and less brute force. The skill set is different, and at the end of the day, it’s a lot better for the workers,” he says.

Wiesbrock says the highly sophisticated machines introduce a need for workers with more specialized expertise. The foundry will need workers who can not only troubleshoot and maintain robotics, but also program them, he says.

James Newsome, director of marketing and new business development for the foundry, says the company, which brings in $2 billion annually in sales and employs more than 4,500, is looking to hire for all positions. It offers progressive apprenticeship programs and works closely with the state’s technical colleges.

“We’ve expanded our opportunity to bring in new employees and attract a different type of employee while giving further opportunity for existing employees to grow as well,” he says.