The unveiling of a new product Tuesday in Columbus might prove the point that manufacturing isn’t quite dead in the U.S.
Milton, Ga.-based Exide Technologies laid out its plans to ramp up production at its 3639 Joy Road plant to deliver high-tech batteries destined for the automotive market.
“It’s actually a pretty exciting day for the company,” said Jim Bolch, Exide’s president and chief executive officer. He and other company executives were in Columbus for a brief tour of the facility. “We’ve had this plant here since 1963, so to bring new technology into the plant and bring new products into the market -- and the ability to hire people -- you don’t get to do that very often.”
Exide said it now has 145 on its local payroll, about 60 of those a result of the new battery line. Plans are to ramp up hiring as market demand surges, with a projection that it will have 250 employees by early next year.
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“We are manufacturing the product,” Bolch said. “We’re starting to ship this month to some of our automotive channels here in the U.S. In fact, we’re already shipping some product to Europe as well. So it’s for real.”
The Columbus facility will be making Exide’s Edge Absorbed Glass Mat batteries, which are targeted for aftermarket retailers to be used in autos, trucks and sport utility vehicles.
They will be marketed for start-stop micro-hybrid vehicles that are now popular in Europe and starting to make their way to the U.S., Bolch said. He described the start-stop advantage of the battery.
“If you’re driving your car in traffic and you come to a stoplight, the gas motor shuts off, but the electrics continue to operate,” he said. “It runs your battery, your radio, your GPS, your air conditioning, whatever. And then, when you hit the gas again, the car starts back up.
“The benefit is fuel economy and also (emissions) reduction, something on the order of 5 to 10 percent improvement in vehicle efficiency. If you used a standard battery, you would kill it very quickly, because it’s not built for that many start-stops.”
Vehicles such as police cars, ambulances and taxi cabs would be strong candidates to use the batteries, which recharge faster and last longer than conventional ones.
Exide said it has invested about $70 million into equipping its Columbus plant and one in Bristol, Tenn., to manufacture the batteries. The local facility will produce the mat version, while the Bristol factory will make a higher-end cylinder six-pack battery.
The company offset nearly half of its capital investment with a grant from the U.S. Department of Energy. The $34.3 million in funding came courtesy of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.
The Columbus operation has a 155,000-square-foot facility that has long churned out industrial batteries used as backup power for telecommunication switching systems, cell-phone towers, data centers and banks. That work will continue, Bolch said. The new Edge expansion covers 45,000 square feet.
Exide, which has global manufacturing facilities and employs 10,000 worldwide, said it already is making the micro-hybrid start-stop batteries in Europe. It has built about 2.5 million there so far.
Frank Ranew, a representative for Exide, said the Georgia Department of Labor will handle the hiring for the company. The department has a Columbus Career Center at 700 Veterans Parkway. It can be reached at 706-649-7423.
“That’s where the applications are taken and the screening is done,” he said.
Bolch said he is confident the company will reach its target of employing 250 people in Columbus.
“We’re confident. It is a goal,” he said. “But the question is how fast. We’re getting a ton of (market) interest today, so it could go very fast. We’ve built this plant to run at capacity, and that’s what we’re aiming to get to.”