Friday, October 14, 2011

TOP STORY > >Jacksonville plant hires more workers

Leader staff writer

Business is up at a manufacturing accessories plant despite the struggling U.S. economy. It is hiring workers and acquiring new machines.

Crosby National Swage, 2511 W. Main St. in Jacksonville, provides parts to the booming oil industry and for projects worldwide, including 44,000 pieces holding together the Millennium Dome in London, which is the size of three football fields.

That is just one of the company’s many accomplishments, said vice president and general manager Mike Chandler, beaming with pride.

The Crosby Group acquired the plant in 1969. National is the world leader in the manufacture of swage fittings used in the fabrication of wire rope slings and pendant lines for cranes. National offers its patented “Cold-Tuff” process that gives mechanical properties equal to or exceeding those of stainless steel swage fittings.

The plant employs about 90 people, who work in two 12-hour shifts. It is trying to pump that number up to 103. National is looking for machine operators and a few individuals to help out with the heat-treating process. The pay is between $18 and $20 per hour.

The machines are fed specifications and they can mold a part to those specifications. Thereare two types of CNC machines, a mill and lathe. A mill machine doesn’t turn a part inside it, but it works on a stationary piece. A lathe machine does turn the part as it molds it.

National Swage is expecting one $250,000 CNC mill machine to arrive in two weeks, Chandler said. The company has also ordered another $500,000 CNC lathe machine and a drilling machine.

Chandler said the plant does four things to what it receives in an inventory of about 1.2 million parts. One of those four processes is using the machines to shape parts.

That inventory is shipped out as finished products about eight times per year, which means National Swage sells about 10 million products each year.

Workers at National Swage powder coat, heat-treat, use machines on and cold extrude parts before shipping them out as finished products.

Powder coating a product involves bonding phosphate to the metal of a part and then paint bonds to the phosphate. The purpose of the process is cosmetic, Chandler said.

Powder coating ensures that the paint on a part never wears or chips off because it is chemically bonded to the metal through several rinses and a 400-degree oven that melts the powdered paint onto the part.

Some parts require heat-treating. They go into a 1,700-degree oven. The process makes a piece both hard and ductile, which means it can be pulled but it won’t break, Chandler explained.

The parts are put through non-destructive testing before they are branded with the plant’s logo and bagged to be sent out.

One test magnetizes the part and then washes it with phosphorous that is attracted to any cracks in a piece. A black light reveals any imperfections in the product.

Then a part could go to another testing method in which a machine pulls it with the force that is equal to two and a half times what is approved as the part’s safe working load.

The assembly section helps with the tools workers need to do their job in manufacturing the products. There is also a die shop. Swaging is a forging process in which the dimensions of an item are altered using a die or dies, into which the item is forced.

Chandler spoke to the Jacksonville Rotary Club a few weeks ago and said his company is making parts for the lucrative oil industry, which is doing well worldwide.

Although construction isn’t great in the U.S., it is doing well in other places. About half of the parts the plant produces for construction are shipped to other countries.

. He spoke about the on-the-job training through Workforce Alliance for Growth in the Economy (WAGE) program.

Ken Bunch teaches in the WAGE instruction room built specifically at the plant to seat up to eight employees. The company offers 640 hours of training and workers are paid to receive the training.

Chandler told Rotary members National’s productivity went up 25 percent after implementation of the program and its annual bottom line increased from $10 million to $18 million.

The Crosby Group boasts 1,600 employees at three U.S. plants, one Canadian plant and five European plants. It is a worldwide leader, selling products everywhere, including China.

Chandler told Rotary Club members the plant can compete with those in Mexico and other places that could pay workers less.

“We are ahead of our competition in quality,” Chandler said. “With a slight advantage and a slight head start, we can compete with anyone in the world. We have that.”