Steve Van Zant, director of manufacturing in Calhoun, said the milestone represents a return to full capacity for the plant that employees 250 workers, many of whom were in the plant celebrating as the Mark 9 excavator rolled off the assembly line, slated for delivery to a distributor in Louisiana.
“This year we are on track to make 1,800 excavators in Calhoun,” Van Zant said. “We’re seeing a big difference in the number of orders we have. This year we will make three times the number of excavators that we did in 2010. Our production levels are back to about what they were in 2008.”
Van Zant said the Calhoun plant builds excavators in six model classes — ranging from 16 to 48 metric tons — for the Kobelco brand in the United States, Canada and Latin America. Kobelco excavators are found on major construction job sites and highway projects from coast to coast. In addition to manufacturing, the plant also houses product development and engineering facilities and staff.
Van Zant said the Louisiana distributor is buying three new excavators, including the 25,000th. The company has a network of more than 200 distributors nationwide, he said.
The Calhoun plant is one of CNH’s 15 construction equipment plants worldwide and one of four in the United States.
Ennyu Masayuki, now vice president of a joint venture between Kobelco and Case-New Holland, was in Calhoun 23 years ago, when Kobelco opened its plant.
“I came to Calhoun to start this plant, and now I’m back for this milestone,” Masayuki said. “I see many old friends that helped start manufacturing here.” Kobelco honored more than a dozen current employees who have worked in the plant since 1989.
The plant that stands on Richardson Road today is a good bit different than the one Masayuki helped open 23 years ago.
In 2008, Kobelco invested $10.5 million in expansion of the warehouse and production facilities at the Calhoun plant, including replacement and upgrade of all computer numerical control (CNC) machining centers. The expansion also permitted in-sourcing of certain fabricated components using space freed by warehouse expansion, resulting in improved delivery capabilities.
Calhoun Mayor Jimmy Palmer toured the plant before the ceremony, and said it was good to see employment trending back up.
“That speaks well of how the economy is going,” Palmer said. “You have turned out 25,000 excavators — all American made — but in addition to celebrating that milestone, I want to celebrate the fact that Kobelco has been a great corporate citizen of Calhoun.”
Japanese steel giant Kobe Steel established the American manufacturing subsidiary, Kobelco Construction Machinery Inc., in Calhoun in 1989. The company name was changed to Kobelco Construction Machinery America LLC in 2002, a joint venture between subsidiaries of CNH and Kobelco Construction Machinery.
Kobelco milestones 1905 – Kobe Steel, Ltd. founded.
1982 – Sales subsidiary, Kobelco America Inc., established in Houston, Texas.
1989 – Kobelco Construction Machinery Inc. established in Calhoun.
1990 – Components-based assembly began at Calhoun plant.
1993 – Expansion of fabrication and machining began at Calhoun plant.
1995 – Kobelco America Inc. (KAI) and Kobelco Construction Machinery (KCM), merged.
1998 – 10,000th Kobelco excavator produced at Calhoun plant.
1999 – Launch of Tier 2-certified Kobelco excavators.
2001 – Comprehensive global agreement signed with CNH Global of FIAT Group.
2006 – Launch of Tier 3-certified Kobelco excavators.
2008 – Kobelco invested $10.5 million in expansion of the warehouse and production facilities at the Calhoun plant.
2011 – Launch of Tier 4 Interim Kobelco Mark 9 excavators. Launch of new excavator models increased product portfolio to serve United States, Canada and Latin America. Production at plant doubled, requiring nearly 100 additional jobs at Calhoun plant.
2012 – 25,000th Kobelco excavator produced at Calhoun plant.