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Germans believe in made-in-America

July 9, 2012
You might not think that a German company would be promoting “made in the U.S.A.,” but that’s exactly what Wilo USA is doing at its large horsepower pump plant in Thomasville, Ga.

THOMASVILLE, GA. — You might not think that a German company would be promoting “made in the U.S.A.,” but that’s exactly what Wilo USA is doing at its large horsepower pump plant here. Any Wilo product 2-HP or larger comes out of this plant. Wilo USA (previously Wilo EMU USA) opened the brand new 60,000-sq.ft. facility in September 2007, after the Wilo AG acquisition of EMU in 2003.

The plant uses four U.S.-based foundries, explained Plant Manager Paulina Tompea, in Georgia, Alabama, Indiana and Pennsylvania. The plant takes raw impeller castings, trims them to the proper capacity, and rebalances them so that they perform exactly as the customer needs them. All castings for wastewater pumps are U.S.-made and the motors are from Germany.

The advantage of using American castings is speed, Tompea noted. A customer had an emergency — the toilets keep on flushing when a water and wastewater utility has a pump go down — and one of the U.S. foundries got her the castings in four days. Try doing that with a Chinese supplier, she noted.

Tompea also showed off a set of hydronic and chiller split case pumps, part of an order for 23 pumps going to Texas Tech. The university will eventually receive 138 hydronic feed pumps from the Thomasville plant. All of the motors, as large as 60-HP, are U.S.-sourced from Baldor Motors. The wet end of the split-case pumps comes from a Wilo foundry in India and the base plates are made in Indiana.

The plant builds submersible mixers for sewage treatment plants that use up to 65% less electricity than competitive models, said Wilo USA President Mark D’Agostino, which is important since a sewage treatment plant may use 600 submersible mixers.

D’Agostino also showed off residential and light commercial sump and sewage basin packages that include some simple and convenient features. The plumber doesn’t need to drill a vent hole; the hole is predrilled and covered with the shipping label. To make sure none of the component parts get lost, they’re shrink-wrapped to the outlet pipe.

Water and wastewater customers demand that all pumps are tested before shipping; customers sometimes insist that they witness the testing. The plant includes a test stand containing 125,000-gal. of water in a pit 20-ft. deep. It can test pumps to a flow rate of 15,000-GPM.

The firm is working on greening its facility, replacing all the light fixtures with high-intensity discharge lighting as the old bulbs fail. It’s recycling all batteries and paper, and getting paid for recycling metal chips from the machining processes.

Wilo, which employs 60 people in the U.S., employs 34 in Thomasville, including a dozen in the plant, said Pat Choice, HR administrator. The company, which always has had a low turnover rate, has had no trouble attracting high-skill employees for the plant, which is currently running two eight-hour shifts.

“Everybody wants to work here,” she said.

That team includes as many as a dozen in the office who have been cross-trained to provide customer service support. A staff of about six usually handles customer service. The staff performs order tracking, technical support, controls monitoring, and application engineering for customers that include contractors, reps, engineers and end users, said Chris Perkins, Director of Operations.

The company has aggressive growth plans for the U.S., said Perkins, an Englishman who has worked at Wilo UK and has lived in Sydney, Australia, and Bangkok, Thailand. Wilo USA currently bills about $31 million and its goal is $80 million in sales and 100 employees by 2016. Its parent, Wilo SE, helped Wilo USA toward that goal when it gave Wilo USA a $61.6 million equity investment on June 15.

D’Agostino said his target is 25% growth year over year for the next six years. Wilo USA has only 1% market share now. Growth will come from the west for building services pumps and circulators and from the southeast for sump and sewage pumps.

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