Big Wheels Keep on Turning - Winston-Salem Journal: Winstonsalemmonthly

Big Wheels Keep on Turning

Caterpillar Inc.

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Posted: Friday, August 30, 2013 2:32 pm

For Mayor Allen Joines, Caterpillar represents “the type of manufacturing we want to see here.” More than 85 years old, the Peoria, Illinois-based company is the world’s leading manufacturer of construction and mining equipment, various diesel and natural-gas engines and turbines, and locomotives.

In 2011 it opened an 85,000-square-foot facility in Winston-Salem for axle assemblies for the largest Cat mining trucks—about 90 percent of them are destined for customers abroad.

Why Winston-Salem? “Logistics and supply-chain efficiency are key reasons for locating here,” says Heather Robinson, Caterpillar Southeast regional operations manager. The city’s proximity to major ports is another advantage, as products can move from factory to customer more cheaply and efficiently.

And then there’s educational infrastructure. Partnering with Forsyth Tech, Davidson County Community College, and GTCC, Caterpillar has direct access to a qualified workforce that can assemble, paint, and ship the axles. Aside from basic math, PC literacy, and blueprint reading, some of the jobs require know-how in Computer Numerical Control (CNC) machining, a significant part of the process and a challenge to install the operations for it.

With the number of employees set to increase from 370 to 500 by 2015, Robinson tries to create positive a work environment. “We have a prize drawing each month that includes those employees who submitted improvement ideas,” she explains. The practice is tied to what the company calls Values in Action—integrity, excellence, teamwork, and commitment—and recognition of the workplace as a level playing field. So far those values have yielded big results: The Winston-Salem facility assembled its 1,000th axle in July of this year.

In late summer, however, Caterpillar’s earnings dipped, due to a slump in global mining and diminished orders for products. It was unclear at press time how the slowdown would affect the local division, but Robinson exhibits the same can-do spirit that has seen the city through more uncertain times: “Our focus right now is delivering on our current commitments,” she says, “and ensuring Winston-Salem becomes a profitable part of the Caterpillar team.”

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