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[April 20, 2014]
GM Grand [Lockport Union-Sun & Journal, N.Y. :: ]
(Lockport Union-Sun & Journal (NY) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) April 20--Call it a vote of confidence.
In January, General Motors finished up a $40 million investment in its Lockport Components Holdings plant on Upper Mountain Road. The investment was to help support the launch of a variety of new vehicle programs, mostly centered around the GMC Sierra, the Chevrolet Silverado and Corvette. Work is also involving the new Chevy Cruze and Impala.
The Lockport plant makes products including radiators, condensers, heater cores, evaporators and HVAC modules, for a range of Chevy, GMC, Buick and Cadillac vehicles. The facility is also launching products for heavy-duty pickup trucks and full-size utility trucks, said Pat Curtis, the plant manager.
"And we're proud to be a part of it," Curtis said.
Five years ago, the condition of General Motors was grim as the global auto maker was in bankruptcy and facing dire financial straits. And it wasn't that long ago the fate of the Upper Mountain Road facility was up in the air, as in 2005, then-owner Delphi was facing financial uncertainty.
Government help, quick emergence from bankruptcy and a focus on fewer product lines contributed to GM's turnaround. That upswing has continued, as recently GM reported that total sales were up 4 percent in March compared to last year. For the fifth straight month, commercial sales were up, thanks to a 5 percent increase in March.
Although it remains to be seen how a recent recall issue will affect April sales, some experts believe GM sales will take a hit as a result. GM began recalling 2.6 million small cars worldwide in February to replace faulty ignition switches.
Even so, while the recall and the wintry weather may have taken a toll on auto sales, many still expect U.S. auto sales to continue climbing this year. Edmunds.com has forecast U.S. auto sales to increase this year to 16.4 million, which would be the highest total since 2006, before the recession hit.
And so demand should be healthy for the parts that Lockport Components Holdings produces, meaning the plant will continue to be a major part of GM's business.
There are 1,675 people employed at GM Lockport, with 1,325 being hourly workers. The 2.6 million square-foot complex features four buildings, the oldest being Building 7, which was constructed in 1939.
Building 7 houses the manufacture of radiators, condensers, heater cores, HVAC modules and oil coolers. Building 8 handles evaporators, Building 9 is used for storage and Building 10 is where condenser, radiator and fan module assembly, service part packing, rubber and foam processing are done.
In 2013, more than 10.5 million parts were produced in Lockport, with radiators (1.2 million), condensers (1.5 million) and heater cores (1.7 million) making up the bulk of that.
But Lockport's value to GM isn't just about the parts. Mary Ann Brown, ?plant communications manager for Lockport and Tonawanda Powertrain, said unlike other GM facilities, a lot of Lockport's design work is done in-house.
And about three years ago, GM instituted a change in an effort to alter perceptions of the plant and demonstrate the joint commitment of management and UAW 686 to good results.
Instead of a traditional assembly line, GM Lockport's workforce was broken up into small groups on the floor. Each group focuses on a particular task, with each member switching duties every so often to protect against fatigue and maintain quality. The groups communicate regularly, often doing problem solving or finding new efficient ways to get the job done.
The groups are run by team leaders including Mike Mondello, who oversees the pack in charge of making modules for the Sierra and Silverado. Mondello said the group, which can put together a module in a very short amount of time, has embraced the small group environment.
It took some of the older workers time to adjust to the team concept, said Gordie Fletcher, UAW 686's president. Now, they've bought in fully to the teamwork idea.
"They're fully engaged in the team concept," he said.
After all these years, the Upper Mountain Road plant is still a major contributor to the well being of Lockport and the surrounding area.
As one of the largest employers and taxpayers in Niagara County, GM Components Holdings generates $16.2 million in payroll taxes. The facility's workforce is active in the community, participating in 40 different community and charitable events. In 2013, workers contributed $10,000 to the United Way, $23,000 to the March of Dimes, $5,000 to the YMCA and $2,500 each to the YWCA and the Boys & Girls Club.
GM purchased the Lockport plant with four other facilities from Delphi in October 2009, as a part of both companies' plan to emerge from bankruptcy. Delphi still maintains a technical center on the Upper Mountain Road property.
Over the years, the Lockport plant has undergone a few name changes. Prior to the GM sale, the facility was known as Delphi Thermal Systems, a name that came after Delphi spun off of GM in 1999 to become its own company. Before the split, Delphi had been a major parts division for General Motors and the Lockport plant was known as Harrison Radiator Division.
Harrison is a name that has been synonymous with manufacturing in Lockport for decades. It was in 1910 when Herbert C. Harrison founded the Harrison Radiator Co., from which Delphi Thermal traces its lineage.
Over 100 years ago, Harrison developed the first hexagonal cell honeycomb radiator, the first product created by Harrison Radiator Co. In 1917, the company was sold to United Motors, which in turn was bought by General Motors the following year. It became Harrison Radiator Division, General Motors, until GM turned its component makers into Delphi Automotive Systems in 1995.
In the interim, Lockport's manufacturing history has come full circle. Before moving to the Upper Mountain Road site, Harrison Radiator was located on Walnut Street. That building has become Harrison Place, which now houses a number of industrial operations.
Among them is Trek, Inc., the electronic instruments manufacturer that moved its production from Medina to a 50,000 square-foot spot in Harrison Place Building 4.
Today, there are about 30 businesses and the Challenger Center of Orleans, Niagara and Erie counties, a private space education center, that call Harrison Place home.
___ (c)2014 the Lockport Union-Sun & Journal (Lockport, N.Y.) Visit the Lockport Union-Sun & Journal (Lockport, N.Y.) at lockportjournal.com Distributed by MCT Information Services
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