JACKSON CENTER — Airstream gave a glimpse of the next 80 years of the company Friday morning with a tour of its new manufacturing facility.
“There was a lot of pull and opportunity to build this facility somewhere else. But when we really looked at the pros and cons we realized that, and it’s something we knew and understood already, it’s the workforce here in Shelby County, Ohio, that makes Airstream what it is,” Airstream Chief Operating Officer Justin Humphreys said.
“Without the quality, dedication, loyalty and craftsmanship that this workforce demonstrates every day of the week, there would be no Airstream. The reputation for quality that we have had for 88 years, we would have none of that. This is our big stake in the ground for the next 80 years, and we’re happy to do it in Shelby County.”
Some features of the new facility, which spans 750,000 square feet, includes a high bay and roof, a white roof and flooring to help reduce temperature on the floor and high-efficiency LED lighting that works in conjunction with skylights placed throughout the building to cut down on energy cost. The plant was designed with reducing environmental impact in mind and will be completely powered by renewable energy credits.
Other additions to the new manufacturing plant include a media room within the offices on the production floor, a medical clinic and a museum and cafeteria, to welcome the community into Airstream and give a better look at the history of the company. Likewise, corporate offices will be located at the new facility.
“It’s very important that purchasing and engineering be as close to the manufacturing process as they can. One of the things that is really at the heart of the Airstream brand is that we are a manufacturing company,” Airstream CEO Bob Wheeler said. “We want the folks that work in the office to stay connected to the manufacturing space and the people that have to build the Airstream travel trailers. Keeping that connection between salaried folks and the folks that build Airstreams is a really important part of our brand.”
Currently, many materials used to build the trailers are stored across the Airstream facilities and have to be transported to the main manufacturing plant, regardless of weather conditions. With the new facility, all materials will be stored on-site.
“(This) will reduce handling and improve visual control of the material, which is pretty key for efficient manufacturing, material flow and material supply,” Wheeler said.
The facility is one-story, a decision that Airstream came to in order to improve efficiency and be mindful of safety concerns among workers.
“We bit the bullet and said, ‘Let’s make the footprint bigger. Let’s eliminate the mezzanines except where we have to have them. Let’s do all the work at floor level.’ It’s safer, more efficient, less handling and less risk of damage or injury. That’s the approach we took,” Wheeler said.
The move to the new facility will begin in December when the factory closes for the holidays, with an end goal of the move to be completed sometime in January 2020. Most of the move is done by the Airstream team, but riggers are hired to transport larger equipment from the current facility to the new facility. Between the maintenance group and lead manufacturing group, the move is staged station by station.
“The logistics of the move are very, very complicated, but we’ve got a really good team. We’ll build out the old plant and move it from the first stations online first, as we build the line out, and then those new stations here will start off and start building Airstreams, and we’ll stage it in in the same sequence,” Wheeler said. “All we can do is plan, and make sure we hit the ground running.”
Wheeler said he was proud of the team that put the new facility together.
“When you work for a brand that’s this old, you don’t own the brand, you aren’t the founders, you don’t own the company,” he said. “You’re kind of the stewards; you’re the caretakers for this period of time. But still, it makes us proud to recognize that, during our period of time that we are responsible for the brand, we’re able to grow it, improve quality, bring more people into the Airstream lifestyle and build this facility, which will be the foundation for the brand for the next 80 years.
“There’s a lot of pride, and it’s thrilling to see this coming from the ground here, rising from the mud in Western Ohio.”0
He said he was thrilled to be able to stay where the company was founded.
“It would have broken my heart if all the signs pointed toward the need to build somewhere else,” he said. “When we put down the pros and cons of staying local, it wasn’t a hard decision. It all added up to stay here, and it all comes down to the workforce. Airstreams are built by hand. You need people that understand craftsmanship, what Airstream represents, and their need and commitment to build a quality product. Those people are in Shelby County.”
Reach Blythe Alspaugh at 937-538-4825.