Hebron, OH...For many years, THK dueled in the U.S. market with other leading linear motion companies, such as Thomson, Star Linear, Bishop Wisecarver, and Schneeberger. But until the recent grand opening of its new plant in this small town near Columbus, the Japanese company could not make that famous claim, "made in the U.S.A."
THK's initial investment90,000 square feet and a fleet of grinders and other machines costing $1 million each is just for starters. Addressing a large audience of customers, suppliers, bankers, and government officials at the gala plant opening, THK President Akihiro Teramachi noted that the company plans a total investment of $100 million, expansion of its plant to four times current size, and the hiring of some 300 workers.
Targeting what its executives call the "biggest market in the world," the new plant will initially build about 45% of the THK product line. The new U.S. production capabilities will mean faster delivery and better service for North American customers, say THK officials.
The THK investment is by no means unique. All across the U.S., foreign companies are expanding their commitment, not just in manufacturing but in design authority.
In the Milwaukee area, for example, two German manufacturers KabelSchlepp and Wago are cutting the ribbons on major new plant expansions this summer. KabelSchlepp, a producer of cable carriers, is doubling its factory space. And it is investing in a raft of new equipment: 14 injection molding machines, programmable robotic parts pickers, and flexible automatic assembly equipment.
Wago, which makes terminal blocks and other IO products, also will more than double its factory space and feature new equipment, such as an automated retrieval system that will both speed production and the shipment of customer orders.
Does the new expansion indicate a stronger faith in the American operation by the German parent company. "No question about it," says Michael Lane, president of Wago's business in the U.S. He expects that production will triple in the next three years, and he is expanding his engineering team to design and modify new Wago products that have blossomed as a result of the increasing demand for field bus and distributed control technologies.
Lane notes that Wago was virtually unknown in this country 20 years ago, when he opened the country's first facility in the Milwaukee area. Now, the U.S. operation has completed its best four-year period ever, with average annual sales growth of 50% a year.
What Wago, KabelSchlepp, THK and countless other foreign companies are discovering is that the U.S. offers arguably the world's best manufacturing climate. Not only does it represent a rich market of buyers for OEM products, but it boasts talented engineers increasingly attuned to designing for global standards and highly efficient manufacturing operations. Worker productivity in the U.S. in the six-month period ending in March of this year increased at an annual rate of nearly 4.2% the best half-year performance since 1983.
MIT economist Lester Thurow notes, too, that U.S.-based operations also react faster to change and new ideas and are much freer to make the hard choices that every business must sometimes make, such as downsizing.
With those economic advantages, plus ample land and natural resources, you'll see no end to the ribbon cutting ceremonies as more companies want to say, "made in the U.S.A."