During the past 100 years, Whirlpool Corp. has withstood labor unrest, mergers and acquisitions, product design changes, new technology, new materials, changing consumer tastes, globalization and restructurings. But, through it all, one thing has remained steady-its manufacturing plants and production prowess.
Whirlpool traces its roots to the Upton Machine Co., which was started by Lou and Emory Upton in 1911. While working as an insurance salesman in Chicago, Lou acquired a patent for a small, manually operated washing machine. He asked his uncle, Emory, who ran a machine shop in Benton Harbor, MI, if he could attach an electric motor to it.
The entrepreneurs designed a gear train and hooked up a small motor to the machine, which featured a wooden tub with ribs enclosed in a metal tank. It was driven by a sprocket gear. The wooden tub rocked back and forth, sloshing dirty clothes over the ribs to get them clean.
The Uptons filed a U.S. patent for a “power transmitting device for use in association with clothes washing and wringing machines.” The device contained numerous metal and wood components that were attached with more than 100 screws and tacks. The “constantly rotatable power shaft” provided a “simple, durable, easily running and practically noiseless power-transmitting mechanism” that could supply “oscillating intermittent rotary and reversible motion.”
Upton Machine sold its first electric motor-driven wringer washing machines to the Federal Electric division of Chicago-based Commonwealth Edison. At first, daily production numbered four machines or less. The devices were manually assembled in a back corner of the machine shop.
The first major order for 100 washing machines came almost immediately. However, a problem arose when a cast-iron gear in the transmission failed in every single machine. Upon learning of the issue, Lou Upton replaced the defective parts with a new cut-steel gear. Impressed with the fledgling company’s business ethics, the customer doubled its order to 200 washing machines.
A century ago, washing machines were primitive devices that consisted of a large wooden barrel attached to cast-iron legs and an odd assortment of gears, cranks, levers, springs, pulleys and belts. The rotary washing machine had actually been invented more than 60 years before.
But, electric washing machines were still relatively new in 1911. A U.S. patent was issued to Alva Fisher just one year earlier for a “drive mechanism for washing machines.” It featured a “pulley driven from a small electric motor” mounted on a cross brace under the machine.
“Before 1920, agitators were typically suspended from the lid of the tub with the gear systems, which drove them, being mounted on top of the lid,” says Lee Maxwell, a retired electrical engineer in Eaton, CO, who has amassed the world’s largest collection of an-tique washing machines and written a book on the subject.
More than 100 manufacturers produced a wide variety of washing machines a century ago. The Uptons had to compete with well-established companies, such as the Thor Appliance Co., a trademark used by the Hurley Machine Div. of the Electric Household Utilities Corp., and Western Electric Co., which specialized in telephones. Both companies operated large factories in Chicago.
Another leading Appliance Manufacturer at the time was the Maytag Washing Machine Co., which was founded by Frederick Maytag in 1893 (the company was acquired by Whirlpool in 2006). Maytag built his first washer in 1907 to supplement his line of agricultural equipment.
“It seems like everyone and his nephew knew how to build a better washer in the early 1900s, and they set out to do it,” says Maxwell. “By the 1920s, there were more than 700 manufacturers of washing machines. Most succumbed to mergers, buyouts and bankruptcies.”
Back in 1911, electric washing machines were still considered to be a modern marvel. Period advertisements touted such features as “Just a ‘twist of the wrist’ starts or stops the machine!” and “You turn on the power as easily as you turn on the light, and back and forth goes the tub, washing the clothes for dear life.” Other ads proclaimed “Now electricity makes the washer go. Doesn’t that sound like a new era for women?” and “The hardest drudgery there is about housework done by two cents’ worth of electricity.”
Before Maytag and the Uptons came along, most washing machines were still hand-operated contraptions. Others were dog-, sheep- and goat-powered, using a treadmill. “The electric motor was the single most important factor which enabled the washing machine to become a common household appliance,” claims Maxwell. By the 1920s, the most widely used power unit was the 0.25 hp, 110-volt, 60-cycle induction motor.
Some manufacturers, such as Maytag, also mass-produced gasoline-powered machines, which were popular with farmers and other rural consumers. Maytag built its own two-cycle gas engines between 1916 and 1952, when it switched to engines produced by Briggs and Stratton.
Manual AssemblyEarly Maytag and Whirlpool factories were similar to other manufacturing facilities of the period. For example, the Nineteen Hundred Washer Co. operated a three-story brick factory in Binghamton, NY. It mass-produced machines under brand names such as Cataract, Kenmore and Whirlpool.
Maytag operated a large factory in Newton, IA, which quickly became known as the “Washing Machine Capital of the World.” It offered two types of electric machines. More than 57,000 Model 41 machines were built on Maytag assembly lines between 1911 and 1925, while more than 48,000 Model 42 units were produced between 1911 and 1924.
Maytag’s factory was five stories tall. “The manufacturing process would start on the top floors and gradually progress to the lower floors,” says Leland Smith, a retired industrial engineer who worked at Maytag for 40 years, starting in the mid-1950s. “Elevators were used to move materials and finished products up and down.”
Assemblers in early appliance factories worked at long workbenches positioned near large windows. The benches were equipped with vises and numerous hand tools, such as screwdrivers, pliers, files, wrenches and hammers. A maze of overhead line shafts and leather belts, which turned constantly, supplied power to presses, riveters, drill presses, lathes and other machines, which were placed parallel to the shafting.
Building a washing machine was a laborious process. Workers typically moved from workstation to workstation performing a specific task or a series of assembly tasks. Parts and components were hand delivered to each workstation.
In the early days, cooperages were an important part of washing machine factories. Wash tubs were made from wooden staves held together with steel bands. Cypress and white cedar were widely used, because they resisted rotting. However, wood tubs were prone to leaks.
Maytag engineers experimented with copper tubs, but the lye used in early soaps corroded the material. In 1919, they succeeded in casting the industry’s first aluminum washer tub, which most experts claimed couldn’t be done. As aluminum tubs replaced wooden barrels, foundries became a key operation. Maytag mass-produced 3 million cast-aluminum square tubs between 1922 and 1941. By the end of the 1920s, porcelain-coated steel tubs also became popular.
The Maytag Gyrofoam was introduced in 1922 and quickly cornered the market. In fact, consumer demand for the machine boosted Maytag production more than 300 percent between 1923 and 1926. In 1927, the 1 millionth Maytag washer rolled off the assembly line in Newton. The trendsetting machine featured a gyrator agitation system that was driven by rack-and-pinion gearing.
Maytag engineers replaced wood parts, such as frames, cabinets and support legs, with sturdier metal components starting in 1918. By the early 1920s, they perfected reversible swinging wringers and a gyrating agitation system. The machines featured forward, stop and reverse controls, thanks to a clutch mechanism that used bevel gears.
As more people demanded electric washing machines, Upton Machine also continued to grow. By 1925, it had become the sole supplier of electric- and gasoline-powered washing machines to Sears, Roebuck & Co. During this time period, the company borrowed an idea from the auto industry when it installed moving assembly lines at its St. Joseph, MI, plant.
Increased demand forced Upton to merge with the Nineteen Hundred Washer Co. in 1929 and a new plant was built in St. Joseph. During the 1930s, washing machines became more streamlined as engineers experimented with new materials, such as Bakelite plastic, and new features, such as motorized agitation.
The Nineteen Hundred Corp. survived the Great Depression. In fact, it even expanded and modernized its factories. For instance, the company installed an overhead conveyor system at the St. Joseph factory in 1937.
During World War II, the company ceased manufacturing washers. Factories were modified to produce components for the P-40 Warhawk aircraft and other military vehicles. More than 2 million pounds of war materials were produced, including anti-aircraft guns, aircraft propeller pitch controls, trailing edges for fighter wings, hydraulic steering mechanisms for tank retrievers, carburetor parts, pumps, gears and gear cases.
The company began producing washers again in the summer of 1945, anticipating that within three years, consumer demand would be twice that of 1941.
Age of ExpansionThe modern era of Whirlpool began in 1950 when the Nineteen Hundred Corp. was renamed Whirlpool Corp., in honor of its signature brand, and it began producing dryers and irons. That same year, Maytag opened a new, dedicated factory in Newton, IA, for assembling automatic washers.
Whirlpool boasted $48 million in sales and annual earnings of $3 million. The company capitalized on that success and diversified into other household appliances. During the boom years of the 1950s, it acquired several appliance companies in the Midwest.
For instance, in 1955, Whirlpool purchased Motor Products Corp.’s manufacturing facilities in Marion, OH, and turned it into a dryer production plant. That same year, it bought International Harvester’s refrigeration plant in Evansville, IN.
But, one of the first strategic moves of the newly named Whirlpool Corp. was the acquisition of the Clyde Porcelain Steel Co. in 1952. The 250,000-square-foot Clyde, OH, facility was converted into a wringer washer production plant. In 1954, Whirlpool purchased an adjacent 170,000-square-foot plant from Bendix Corp., a leading manufacturer of belt-drive washing machines.
By the time an article about the plant appeared in the January 1961 issue of ASSEMBLY (then known as Assembly Engineering), the Clyde facility was the backbone of Whirlpool’s expanding appliance empire. An engineer at the factory explained how an automatic machine was used for the precision insertion of two bearings and one seal into the chrome-plated tubes that fit inside the hol-low post of the rotary basket in washers.
“Bearings, seals and tubes must all close limit switches before the machine will sequence and operate,” explained the engineer. “This eliminates any chance of producing partial or defective assemblies. With this machine, one man loads two bearings and one seal into each of 635 tubes per hour, a fast rate for precise assembly.”
Meanwhile, Maytag engineers developed a helical drive system in 1956 that revolutionized the appliance industry by eliminating many moving parts and simplifying assembly. It allowed washers to switch from agitation to spin cycle with a reversible motor.
The typical Whirlpool automatic washer in the late 1950s contained 144 assembly components and 312 threaded fasteners and parts, such as plugs, shelf supports, grommets and spacers. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, appliance engineers attempted to simplify mechanical complexity and streamline assemblies.
By 1977, the average washing machine contained 25 percent fewer fasteners and 20 percent fewer assembly components than a 1959 model. “The change in the number and type of fasteners used in the appliances reflected the development of thread-rolling and self-drilling screws, improved locking fasteners, and other cold-headed innovations that eliminate costly operations and extra components,” claimed a news item in the January 1978 issue of Appliance Manufacturer (the former name of applianceDESIGN, ASSEMBLY’s sister publication).
During the mid-1970s, Whirlpool decided to vertically integrate its manufacturing operations to reduce dependence on outside suppliers. The company started assembling its own hermetic motors at a plant in Danville, KY.
Maytag was also traditionally vertically integrated, “producing more components in-house than any other appliance maker,” according to an article in the November 1993 issue of Appliance Manufacturer. “Typical components made in-house include die castings, rubber and cold-headed parts.”
According to retired engineer Leland Smith, Maytag made its own screws and bolts up until the 1950s. “We tried to do as much in-house production as possible,” he points out. “The philosophy was ‘If we make the product ourselves, we can control the quality.’”
But, that strategy started to change in the 1980s. For many plastic parts, Maytag decided that in-house production was not as competitive as buying from outside vendors. “We must be good with in-house parts or we get out of the business,” proclaimed Robert Paulson, the company’s vice president of manufacturing.
Plastic has had a profound influence on appliance manufacturers during the last 50 years. Maytag started using plastic in the late 1940s,” recalls Smith. “It was first used to replace aluminum in agitators. Maytag started an in-house plastic injection molding department in the early 1960s.”
According to an article in the May 1978 issue of Appliance Manufacturer, the industry at the time used 12 times the amount of plastic it consumed in 1960. As a wide variety of metal parts were replaced with ABS, polypropylene and polystyrene, it opened the door for new assembly processes such as adhesive bonding and ultrasonic welding.
“Porcelain is no longer competitive,” a Whirlpool executive told Appliance Manufacturer in August 1986. “Plastic is now very acceptable in the marketplace and in many respects allows greater design flexibility, which affords improved utility for the consumer. Plastic, too, allows the product to be designed for greater energy efficiency.”
That trend, coupled with a new software-based tool called Design for Manufacturing (DFM), had a profound impact on Maytag engineers when they embarked on an ambitious project in the early 1980s. Their goal was to simplify the transmission used in washers. The engineers were also forced to redesign another key component-the agitator.
“We evaluated die-cast gears, plastic gears, plastic components and castings,” recalled Maytag’s head of research and development in an article published in the February 1990 issue of Appliance Manufacturer. “This project represents our greatest DFM cooperative effort between manufacturing and research and development in anything we’ve ever done.”
The new Dependable Drive transmission system featured four main components-a small pinion gear, a torque block, a yoke block and large bevel gear. It used only 40 parts overall, compared to 65 parts in the previous design.
The nine-year R&D effort resulted in a “fresh approach to machining and assembly operations.” The redesign lent itself to automated assembly, which was a big improvement, because the old transmission was manually assembled. And, the new design was so successful that Maytag increased its transmission warranty from five to 10 years.
During the 1960s, the appliance industry continued to consolidate. For instance, in 1966, Whirlpool acquired the Norge refrigeration plant in Fort Smith, AR. Meanwhile, Raytheon Co. acquired a small company in Iowa called Amana Refrigeration Inc. (it was eventually acquired by Maytag in 2001).
A cover story in the October 1965 issue of Assembly Engineering explained how Amana mass-produced refrigerators, food freezers, refrigerator-freezers, air conditioners and dehumidifiers on five assembly lines in a state-of-the-art factory. Welding and brazing played a key role in the assembly process.
For instance, one of the early steps in the assembly of an upright freezer was heliarc welding of the aluminum tubing joints in the freezer line. The plant used an automated welding operation to join corner seams of the freezer door shell. But, after the compressor and insulation was added to the cabinet on the final assembly line, tubing lines were joined manually by gas torch brazing.
New Tools and TechnologyIn 1967, Amana unveiled a new fangled device called the Radarange, which was based on microwave technology developed by a Raytheon engineer in the mid-1940s. The 100-volt oven fit on a countertop and cost just under $500.
By the early 1980s, microwaves became a must-have device in American kitchens and the average price dropped dramatically. Growing market demand forced Amana to launch its first major redesign and develop a line of midpriced units. The company invested $12 million in a “cost-effective automated production line.” The 33,000-square-foot facility was featured in the July 1985 issue of Appliance Manufacturer.
The main assembly line featured a float (nonsynchronous) conveyor vs. a slat conveyor that was used for the premium product. According to the article, “advantages of float over slat include: each workstation becomes a specialized task center; workers remain at one location, with the work coming to them; each task is performed on a stationary unit; workers work at their own pace; and through turntables, no rotating of heavy ovens is required.”
In addition, assemblers “work on one side of the line. Components are supplied to each workstation, and subassembly operations, such as the blower, are positioned right next to the line.”
Amana engineers were inspired by float lines they saw while touring television assembly plants in Japan. The new equipment was manufactured to Amana’s specifications using technology developed by Hirita Corp. Seven computers controlled the new assembly lines, which featured a 1,492-foot-long conveyor, 65 workstations and 26 turntables on the main line. A door assembly float line consisted of a 96-foot long conveyor and 11 workstations. Cycle time was 4.5 seconds per workstation.
Each assembly task was performed on a 29.5 by 29.5-inch pallet. Once finished with a task, assemblers pressed a hand switch or foot pedal to send the pallet to the next workstation.
Inline testing and packaging were performed downstream. A computer-controlled scanning operation that measured emission leak-age around the door, window and back of the oven replaced a manual scanning operation.
By the start of the 1970s, Whirlpool offered appliances to handle laundry, home heating and cooling, and the full cycle of food preservation, preparation, consumption and cleanup in the kitchen. However, appliance manufacturers were forced to comply with a slew of new regulations stemming from the creation of government agencies, such as EPA and OSHA, which were both established in 1970.
Energy and the EnvironmentRecognizing the need for energy and material conservation, Whirlpool established a new business model in 1970 that focused on energy efficiency and environmental sustainability. The Office for Environmental Control implemented numerous standards across all the company’s operations.
But, the price tag for compliance was hefty. “Every manufacturer in our industry has felt the financial jolt of environmental standards, either directly in the form of expenditures for capital equipment, or indirectly in the form of increased prices from suppliers passing along their increased costs emanating from environmental requirements,” said John Platts, Whirlpool’s president, in an article in the September 1977 issue of Appliance Manufacturer.
Platts, who served as president of Whirlpool from 1962 to 1977, worked his way up through the ranks. He started working at the company in 1941 as an assembler on the wringer washer line at the St. Joseph, MI, factory.
“Our company spent more than $30 million on pollution control equipment and related operational expenses during the last decade, and present projections indicate we’ll be spending another $9 million on pollution control equipment in the next six years,” Platts pointed out.
According to an article in the September 1979 issue of Appliance Manufacturer, Whirlpool’s “additional costs as a result of government regulation [added] up to $20,187,331.” Out of that total, $3,156,769 was for EPA-related expenses, while $1,207,167 was OSHA re-lated.
An article in the September 1977 issue of Appliance Manufacturer examined one type of production solution that Whirlpool engineers were forced to implement as a result of more stringent regulations. The Evansville, IN, plant switched from water to gas leak testing on its room air conditioner line.
“Clearly, in these times of faster and faster assembly, the water test belongs in another era,” the article proclaimed. Air conditioners were carried to the testing station by an overhead, powered monorail conveyor. Whirlpool invested $45,000 in a machine that used a mixture of 80 percent dry air and 20 percent refrigerant, in addition to quick-connect couplings to help speed the testing proc-ess.
“With the tracer gas system, the air conditioner is 70 percent complete when we test it, compared to 30 percent when we used the water test,” explained a manufacturing engineer who worked on the project. “And, with the gas test, we don’t have to strip any preassembled components from the air conditioner frame.”
A decade later, appliance manufacturers were forced to comply with energy-efficiency requirements mandated by the U.S. Department of Energy. Whirlpool’s Fort Smith, AR, refrigerator assembly plant installed a new PC-based test system that ran 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Quality assurance tests on production units were run for 72 straight hours under varying climate-controlled conditions.
The configuration allowed Whirlpool engineers to test 48 refrigerators simultaneously, with different test parameters for each unit if necessary. It increased testing capacity by 33 percent. Data on voltage, watts per hour, inside temperature, defrost cycles and compressor run times were collected from thermocouple and transducer sensors.
By the early 1990s, Whirlpool engineers had redesigned the company’s refrigerator-freezers to be 20 percent to 25 percent more energy efficient. That change altered assembly procedures in the Fort Smith plant.
“Refrigerant systems are no longer built separate from the cabinets,” explained a manufacturing engineer. “Therefore, we no longer need the previously used elevators and overhead conveyors to route partially completed cabinets.
“Portions of the refrigerant system are installed before adding the foam-in-place insulation,” added the engineer. “The electrical wiring system is placed inside the foam, eliminating any wiring or tubing on the back of the unit, giving it a clean-back design.”
Whirlpool also invested in new types of production technology throughout the 1990s. For instance, programmable logic controllers (PLCs) had a profound affect on the company’s assembly lines.
An article in the December 1991 issue of ASSEMBLY examined how PLCs had recently replaced relay logic as the predominant control technology at Whirlpool’s Findlay, OH, plant that assembled 8,000 dishwashers and free-standing electric ranges daily.
According to a control engineer, “there was little automation in the plant a decade ago, with 90 percent of assembly manual.” There were only five PLCs used in the factory. By the early 1990s, however, more than 200 PLCs were in use throughout the Findlay plant.
“We use PLCs in a variety of areas, and our use has increased in the last three to four years,” explained a senior control engineer. “Currently, we have PLCs in the assembly, subassembly, metal fabrication, welding and plastic press areas. The controllers are used extensively in our dishwasher pump, tub and rack assemblies.”
Whirlpool used servo motion control technology for precision placement of parts and welds. For instance, on the dishwasher rack, workers welded one index at a time with a servo motion control transfer inserting the rack into the welder area.
Most of the Findlay plant’s early PLC technology was installed with test equipment for both the range and dishwasher lines. “Now, we have PLCs more integrated on the line to store the parameters for line speed settings and other control settings,” the engineer pointed out in the article. “Plus, they track downtime information and production requirements.”
Whirlpool’s Fort Smith refrigerator plant was busy investing in automated guided vehicle (AGV) technology around the same time. A $1 million system was installed to serve the factory’s new assembly layouts.
An article in the July 1993 issue of Appliance Manufacturer explained how AGVs reduced work-in-process inventory from 300 cabinets for two assembly lines to just 45 cabinets for three lines.
“Because the automated system requires a single human operator, labor costs are much lower, resulting in a one-year payback when compared with a manual system using hand carts and a dozen workers per shift,” the article explained. “[And], cabinet damage has effectively been eliminated by the AGV system. By continuously matching vehicles to priorities, the material handling system automatically balances the assembly lines.”
The Fort Smith plant also installed two identical fabrication cells for refrigerator and freezer doors that required no manual changeover for height, width and depth. “Through the use of programmable operations, changeover between two models can be achieved in two minutes,” claimed a manufacturing engineer.
“The automatic plasma arc weld stations, for instance, have a programmable vertical feed adjustment to accommodate different door thicknesses,” added the engineer. “The welders use only the door metal to close the seam and require no filler materials.”
Whirlpool also invested in robotic technology during the 1980s. For instance, an early application was material handling at the Clyde, OH, plant. In 1981, engineers began planning a revamped production facility for assembling a redesigned line of automatic washing machines dubbed Design 2000. The new products featured direct-drive instead of belt-driven motors, high-spin speed and 30 percent fewer parts.
Robots were installed to tend 1,500-ton presses that molded several different sizes of plastic tubs. “The tubs are automatically removed from the molds by robots,” said an article in the June 1985 issue of ASSEMBLY. “The parts are placed by robots onto belt conveyors, where they pass through an automatic pierce fixture which re-moves the disc gate from the part.”
Global PlayerToday, Whirlpool operates more than 65 manufacturing and product development facilities around the world. But, 25 years ago, the company was primarily only focused on North and South America. An aggressive globalization drive during the late 1980s and early 1990s doubled Whirlpool’s revenues and transformed the company into the largest appliance manufacturer in the world.
After toying with the idea of entering the furniture or garden products market, Whirlpool management decided to stick to household appliances. The company formed several strategic joint-ventures in Europe, China and India to gain a manufacturing foothold in those regions.
Those efforts eventually paid off. By 1996, Whirlpool manufactured appliances in 12 countries, while 38 percent of corporate revenue was generated from overseas.
To standardize parts and production processes around the world, Whirlpool focused on technology transfer between continents. “When we set up project teams, engineers from North America spend time here in Europe and European engineers spend time there in North America,” explained Halvar Johansson, vice president of manufacturing at Whirlpool Europe B.V. in an article in the February 1995 issue of Appliance Manufacturer.
“[We’re maintaining] an ever-growing database tracking cost and quality at each of [our] plants to ensure that best practices are recognized and transferred,” added Johansson. “At our factories, we’ve given our plant directors ownership of continuous improvement efforts.”
Whirlpool also implemented flow-line manufacturing processes at its European operations. “All assembly and testing operations for a given product are integrated and performed on a single assembly line,” said Johansson. “That line can be used for multiple models. Our goal is to achieve more commonality of components and more modularity in our manufacturing lines.”
Manufacturing and design engineers developed an affordable, compact washer that “can be manufactured on offshore turf using resident talent and materials.” The World Washer featured lightweight construction and 15 percent to 20 percent fewer parts than traditional Whirlpool automatics.
An article in the November 1990 issue of Appliance Manufacturer explained how it was assembled in Brazil, India and Mexico using “low investment, flexible manufacturing processes.”
“We wanted to reduce the size of the appliance and make sure the operators in these plants could be trained to provide acceptable quality assemblies,” explained Tony Mason, Whirlpool’s director of international product design. “We designed most of the unit in modules. For example, the drive and support assembly, as well as the control system, are put together as packages that can be tested before proceeding to the next phase of assembly. Ninety five percent of our material needs are met through local suppliers.”
Maytag engineers were also busy adjusting to the pressures of globalization. “The marketplace is forcing us to be more flexible and to produce models on demand,” Robert Paulson, Maytag’s vice president of manufacturing, told Appliance Manufacturer in a November 1993 article. “This requires us to apply world-class concepts. You are world-class when you can sell 40 percent of your products outside the U.S.”
According to Paulson, the company was “paying more attention to inventory management and just-in-time, as well as to more advanced technologies.” The appliance manufacturer was also keeping an eye on offshore assembly. For instance, in 2001, it an-nounced a $2 million effort to establish a manufacturing base in Mexico.
“To expand its ongoing cost management initiatives, Maytag will establish a subassembly operation in Mexico to support its major appliance manufacturing operations in the United States,” reported an article in the November 2001 issue of Appliance Manufacturer.
“Currently, the subassembly of product components and parts is performed at each of Maytag’s major appliance production facilities in the United States, or the work is done by outside suppliers,” the article pointed out. “The new Mexican operation will supply subassemblies that go into finished products, and it will allow [Maytag’s] U.S. manufacturing operations to become more focused on fabrication of parts and final assembly of innovative, high-quality products.”
To stay competitive, Maytag also launched a Lean Sigma initiative in 1998. “The initiative is being practiced throughout all the Maytag operations, including Jackson, TN, where an 18-month effort transformed a half-mile long continuous-line dishwasher assembly operation into seven assembly cells capable of a wide range of product-mix capabilities,” explained a November 2001 Appliance Manufacturer article.
The transformation freed up 43,000 square feet of manufacturing space, improved productivity by 15 percent, improved quality by 55 percent, increased assembly capacity by 50 percent and reduced work-in-process by 60 percent.
By November 2005, when an article about the plant appeared in ASSEMBLY, the impressive statistics kept piling up. For instance, the facility had reduced OSHA-recordable injury rates by 64 percent while improving first-pass quality yields by 84 percent.
The 13-year-old plant had also reduced its internal defect rate by 32 percent and lowered hours per unit by 27 percent. Assemblers built more than 100 dishwasher models daily, with brands including Amana, Jenn-Air and Maytag.
“Our goal is to deliver the right product at the right time,” said Terry Spalding, director of manufacturing. “We have the flexibility in our facility to immediately respond to customer demand. Teams can adjust assembly cells with minimal notice to changes in the schedule. Through the use of our lean manufacturing principles, we have the ability to produce any model dishwasher at any hour of the day.” A
A Century of Progress
1911-Upton Machine Co. is founded by Lou and Emory Upton in Benton Harbor, MI, to produce electric motor-driven wringer washers.
1915-Maytag develops a gasoline-powered washing machine for customers in rural areas without electricity.
1916-Upton Machine Co. sells its first order of washers to Sears, Roebuck & Co., beginning a long business relationship.
1919-The first residential KitchenAid stand mixer is introduced.
1924-One out of every five washing machines in the United States is made at Maytag’s assembly plant in Newton, IA.
1929-Growing demand requires Upton Machine Co. to merge with Nineteen Hundred Washer Co. of Binghamton, NY. The new firm, The Nineteen Hundred Corp., adds large manufacturing facilities in Michigan and New York.
1934-Amana Refrigeration Inc. is founded.
1938-The Nineteen Hundred Corp. invents the first washer with motorized agitation.
1941-The Nineteen Hundred Corp. and Maytag shift operations to support World War II production efforts.
1947-Amana (then the Raytheon Co.) invents the first microwave oven. After an employee naming contest, the new machine is dubbed the Radarange.
1948-Maytag starts building a second assembly plant in Newton, IA.
1955-Whirlpool Corp. acquires a dryer assembly plant in Marion, OH, and a refrigerator assembly plant in Evansville, IN.
1957-Whirlpool introduces the “Miracle Kitchen,” a line of imaginative, futuristic appliances.
1960-Whirlpool wins NASA contract to design and build America’s first “space kitchen.”
1967-The “Maytag Repairman” debuts in advertising.
1967-Whirlpool tops $1 billion in sales for the first time in company history.
1969-Whirlpool introduces the trash compactor.
1977-Whirlpool tops $2 billion in sales for the first time.
1986-Whirlpool tops $4 billion in sales.
1989-Maytag acquires vacuum manufacturer Hoover Co.
1993-Whirlpool Asia establishes offices in Tokyo, Hong Kong and Singapore.
1994-Whirlpool breaks ground on a new plant in Tulsa, OK, to make gas and electric ranges.
1996-Whirlpool begins assembling KitchenAid appliances at a new plant in Greenville, OH.
1999-Whirlpool tops $10 billion in sales.
2000-Whirlpool selects a vanguard of 75 employees to learn innovation methodologies. The effort would later spawn a host of new products.
2000-Whirlpool debuts in the Assembly Top 50.
2003-Whirlpool becomes the world’s first appliance manufacturer to set a target for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
2004-Maytag’s dishwasher assembly plant in Jackson, TN, wins the Shingo Prize for Excellence in Manufacturing.
2006-Whirlpool acquires Maytag, Jenn-Air and Amana brands.
2007-Whirlpool tops $19 billion in sales.
2010-Whirlpool invests $85 million to build a new headquarters in Benton Harbor, MI, and an additional $120 million to build a new assembly plant in Cleveland, TN.
2011-Assembly plant in Clyde, OH, produces 1 million washers in just 35 weeks.
To learn more about Whirlpool’s centennial, click www.assemblymag.com and search for these articles:
- A Peek Inside the Marion Plant.
- A Walk Back in Time.
- Everything But the Kitchen Sink.
- Lean Manufacturing Transformed Whirlpool.
- The World in 1911.