Assembly in Action / Appliance Assembly / Robotics Assembly / Welding Assembly

Robotic Welding, Automated Material Handling Keep Water Heater Manufacturer in Michigan

December 1, 2013

Bradford White Corp. is unique among its competitors in two ways. First and foremost is its business model, which prevents the sale of the company’s water heaters directly to consumers or commercial businesses. Heaters are only sold to licensed plumbers at various supply houses to ensure proper and safe water heater installation, and to prevent code violations.

Bradford White is also unique because it is the only American company that manufactures all of its products in the United States. Although headquartered in Ambler, PA, Bradford White manufactures its water heaters at a facility in Middleville, MI.

Nearly two years ago, Bradford White considered moving its manufacturing facility out of Michigan. However, overwhelming support from company management, along with state and local tax breaks, convinced the company to remain in the state.

Bradford White then implemented an aggressive, multiyear growth plan, which included expanding its Middleville facility by 100,000 square feet. The expansion was the largest in company history, dating back to 1881.

The growth plan also emphasized the need for an automation system that improved plant productivity by reducing changeover time and eliminating unscheduled downtime. To find the right system, Bradford White turned to automation specialist TranTek Automation Corp., based in nearby Traverse City, MI, for help.

The challenge for TranTek’s engineers was to increase efficiency in three production processes: material handling (both upstream and down), automated welding and tank assembly. Their solution is a system that introduces part buffering between each process so that no single machine or operator disrupts the overall production work stream. The system also features state-of-the-art control so operators can coordinate regularly scheduled maintenance cycles with part changeovers to limit unscheduled downtime.

“Unexpected downtime, especially during periods of peak demand, is costly and has a detrimental effect on our ability to serve customers,” explains Mike McLellen, director of manufacturing engineering for Bradford White Corp. “The flexibility to perform changeovers quickly also allows us to better meet production needs.”

TranTek also made sure the system is versatile and durable enough to handle Bradford White’s many sizes of water heaters and production runs. The company manufactures product models with a wide range of diameters and lengths, and often produces small runs of specific models.

McLellen says the automation system, combined with a workforce of more than 1,000 people across three shifts, enables Bradford White to produce thousands of water heaters daily at its Middleville plant. Water heaters are shipped throughout the United States and to Canada and many other countries.

Founded in 1986, TranTek also designs robotic integration and automated assembly systems for the automotive and defense industries. These systems can handle products of all sizes, from less than 1 ounce to more than 1,000 pounds.

 For more information on automation systems, call 231-946-6270 or visit

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