By JIM FALL
Executive editor, Maryville Daily Forum
Amid a shower of balloons floating down from the ceiling, a traditional Japanese toast, and special recognition from Kawasaki Heavy Industries Ltd. President Shigehiko Kiyama, employees and managers at the Kawasaki facility in Maryville celebrated production of the plant’s eight-millionth engine at 2:45 Friday afternoon.
Regular production at the Maryville plant was halted at 2:15 p.m. for the historic observance, and three long-time employees participated in the actual rollout of the latest engine, assisted by Steve Bratt, Kawasaki Motors Manufacturing Corp. U.S.A. vice president and plant manager.
One of three employees given special recognition. Paul Walter had the honor of actually pushing engine No. 8,000,000 off Line 2. Senior employees Tim Melvin, assistant production manager, and Bob Staashelm, research and development manager, also participated in the ceremony with Bratt and other high-ranking company officials.
Employees at the Maryville plant were recognized by Shigehiko Kiyama, president of Kawasaki Heavy Industries Ltd., the local plant’s Japanese parent company, “for outstanding efforts in having the best production in the United States of America.”
Kawasaki in Maryville employees 834 full-time worker and approximately 280 additional temporary workers. The plant is currently operating three shifts per day, and working seven days per week in the foundry and machining area, Bratt said during an interview Monday.
This will be a record year for engines produced, and sales, although “because our year runs from April 1 to March 31, I don’t know the exact figure yet,” Bratt said.
“Without the workforce we have available to us here in northwest Missouri and southwestern Iowa, Kawasaki would not be where we are today,” Bratt added to Kiyama’s accolades for the local employee pool. “They have tremendous dedication to their jobs and wholehearted concerns about what they are doing.”
The Kawasaki plant opened in 1989 in Maryville in the former Uniroyal facility and produced its 1,000,000th engine in 1995. The five-millionth unit rolled off the local production line in June 2007.
The size of the building when Kawasaki moved in was “something under 300,000 square feet,” according to Bratt. Now, “after at least 10 additions I can think of, we are just shy of 800,000.”
Located near the south Maryville city limits, the plant sits on a campus of just over 113 acres.
The main Maryville product line consists of three sizes of engines for power lawnmowers ranging from heavy-duty commercial zero-turn-radius riding units to residential-size mowers and tractors. When production first began locally, the sole product was a 6.5-horsepower engine made specifically for John Deere push mowers. Engine sizes now range from 12- to 32-horsepower.