As business expansions go, it’s not so massive. No changes to the building are visible from outside. Very few additional employees. But in less obvious ways, it’s a big deal.
This year, Briggs & Stratton added its first domestically produced commercial engine line to the Auburn plant.
“It’s a step into the future for the plant, ” says Plant Manager Russ Stone. “Obviously, in order to spin off and make a commercial engine, quality levels have to be very high.”
For nearly 20 years, the plant has produced 2, 000 or more engines a day, suitable for the household that mows the grass maybe once every week or two, Stone says.
The new Vanguard 810cc engines are designed for a commercial firm that’s going to be mowing and chopping debris all day long, every day. Briggs & Stratton produces two other commercial-grade engines, but both are manufactured in Japan.
“This is a much higher grade product, ” says Stone. “It’s a much more expensive product, so it has better margins, and it has a much more stable market that doesn’t go up and down with the seasons.”
It’s low volume, he says. Instead of the thousands of home-duty engines produced daily, the plant will make only 20 or so of the commercial grade.
And only two hands may touch it, instead of the usual 20.
“It’s a craftsman product, ” he says.
While the new product line only adds about five people to the 450-person workforce, “these are master certified technicians, ” says Stone. “They’re the top guns around here.” Together, the three technicians currently assigned to the project have 35 years of experience. One is a woman who joined the Briggs & Stratton team 15 years ago with no engine experience, started on the assembly line and worked her way up to this new top spot. “Everything she’s learned about engines, she’s learned here, ” he says.
While most of the workforce comes with engine experience — maybe their dad worked as a mechanic and taught them the rudiments — Briggs & Stratton prides itself on training its own workforce.
Text by Nedra Bloom