In June 1989, Tim Melvin along with his Kawasaki associates, produced the first small industrial engine in the Maryville facility.
That engine was started and then packed away as a historic artifact of the beginnings of Kawasaki Motors Manufacturing Corporation, USA’s Maryville plant. The engine was unpacked this summer, lubricated and on the second pull restarted 25 years later. Many of the original employees of the Maryville Kawasaki plant followed the special engine in a long parade entry during this year’s Nodaway County Fair Parade.
“The gentleman that started it said, ‘it purred like a kitten,’”said Melvin.
The celebration of the plant’s 25th year climaxes this week with an all-employee appreciation day on August 21, including a catered meal and a commemorative gift; on Friday, August 22, a special event including tours of the production line and lunch for Kawasaki officials, community leaders, vendors and customers and then a community open house event from 9 to 11 am, Saturday, August 23, that will feature videos of production lines.
Melvin was among those first employees, which by the end of 1989 numbered 150. Currently 43 employees have the distinction of being the charter group. There are over 1,100 full-time and contract laborers today which fill the orders for small engines by working three shifts. Melvin started as a assembly line supervisor; there were two assembly lines and now there are 10.
Through the 25 years of growing pains, Melvin notes the high point of his work career at Kawasaki would be the the management team’s dedication to the workforce.
“Every time there has been a downturn in our economy” said Melvin. “The management team is shifting gears and keeping us here.”
Melvin said that it was obvious the company had a long-term vision.
“Kawasaki is here for the long run,” he remembered of the leadership. “It was like they were saying, ‘What can we do, we don’t want to lose theses people. We don’t want to lay offs.’ So they brought work down from Lincoln.”
The establishing of the Foreign Trade Zone at the Maryville plant in November 1989, allowed for expansions of their facility over 10 times through the years. Today’s incoming shipments of materials equal four to five containers from Japan and Thailand per week, plus five to six trucks per day. During the peak season, which is usually October through March, there could be outbound 30 trucks per day.
The Maryville plant has assembled small engines for ATVs, machined parts for jet skis and robots through the years. Earlier this summer the Maryville workforce produced the eighth-millionth small engine unit. An engine that is used for lawn, garden, turf and commercial use. The first million engines were made in six years, but the last million were made between January 2012 and March 2014. The engine produced in Maryville is also used for floor buffers and in Japan for rice pickers.
Melvin noted another one of the positive moves that the Kawasaki leadership made was in June 1995, with the addition of a research and development department to the Maryville plant. Prior to that, all the R&D was done in Japan. By having the R&D so close to the customer base and production line allowed quicker innovation. Today’s market demands are met by reducing the time lag of R&D to communicate with production. Since that move, Maryville’s R&D has designed and engineered six different engines that were in turn manufactured in Maryville.
“Now our R&D mows test grounds at Mozingo, both airports and the area between the plant and the highway,” said Melvin.
Melvin summed up his personal feeling about the 25-year milestone that the facility reaches this week.
“This has been a great source of personal pride for me; seeing this big ‘ol empty building that has grown and expanded,“ said Melvin.