A recent decision by Whirlpool Corp. to halt the design of a new slide-in range that would have been built at the new Cleveland cooking products plant may have given some in the Bradley County community an undue cause for alarm.
Such business decisions are always a part of the development process of innovative, new products whether they are cooking, refrigeration or laundry appliances, according to Kristine M. Vernier, senior manager of Global Public and Media Relations for Whirlpool Corp. whose corporate office is headquartered in Benton Harbor, Mich.
“Whirlpool Corporation always has a multitude of new-product development projects at various stages of development,” Vernier told the Cleveland Daily Banner. “Only a few of these projects will actually make it into production. The process includes several evaluation points that we call ‘tollgates’ that look at how well a product will perform in the marketplace.”
In the case of one of the newest slide-in designs, Whirlpool pulled the plug in favor of other new platforms (appliance models) that are coming down the planning pipeline. When the internal announcement was made to employees at the new Cleveland plant several days ago, a few rumors surfaced in the community that Whirlpool was moving certain assembly lines to a sister facility in Tulsa, Okla., which also manufactures cooking products (freestanding ranges).
This is not what’s happening, Vernier confirmed.
“As one of our projects for a new slide-in range moved through some early evaluation points, it was determined that it would not perform as needed in the marketplace, and the project was stopped,” Vernier said. “Current slide-in production in Cleveland will continue through at least the end of 2013. We are working to identify another platform to replace this production at that time.”
Vernier verified, that because the Cleveland plant is dedicated mostly to built-in cooking products including slide-in ranges, that the new slide-in platform was headed for the local facility if it had advanced through all design stages and tollgates. This one did not, so corporate designers are moving on to other product innovations, some of which could be assembled in the Cleveland facility once all design, engineering and pilot stages have been satisfied.
“This is a normal part of our everyday business as we consider several options when planning any new product rollout,” Vernier stated. “No decisions on a new slide-in range platform or production location have been made.”
Vernier explained the company’s reasoning behind such a detailed design and planning process.
“By making this change (the decision to halt planning on a specific platform) in the early development stages, we ensure that we will only build winning, innovative products in Cleveland that will continue to delight our customers,” she said.
The global communications leader pointed to the importance of the new $200 million, 1-million-square-foot factory in Cleveland.
“We have capacity in Cleveland and are continually evaluating projects for this new, advanced manufacturing facility,” she said. “We are very committed to this facility.”
Vernier declined to comment on future new Whirlpool products for “competitive reasons.” In the appliance industry, manufacturers traditionally do not disclose details about plans for appliance innovations until they are unveiled at trade shows or other public events. Such information, if released prematurely, can be used by manufacturing competitors.
The spacious new Cleveland plant is already producing several new products, a few models of which recently earned top-ranking marks by Consumer Reports magazine, a monthly publication that is considered a watchdog of new and existing products in a variety of categories ranging from automobiles to household goods.
“In May, we launched a new Whirlpool wall oven and a new Maytag wall oven,” Vernier said. “We are currently launching a beautiful new KitchenAid wall oven. All of these products are made in Cleveland.”
Because it is considered predominately a premium, built-in cooking products plant, the Cleveland facility manufactures wall ovens, slide-in ranges and cooktops. The local plant also builds the popular Gemini double-oven, freestanding range, and select commercial ranges.
Although the new slide-in range design has been stopped, production of existing slide-in models will continue until the company finalizes a successor.
“We do not anticipate any reductions in the workforce headcount,” Vernier said of potential local impact by the design stoppage.
In the meantime, the Whirlpool Cleveland Division transition from the old King Edward Avenue facility to the new Benton Pike plant remains on schedule. The timetable still calls for completion of the relocation by mid-2013. Several assembly lines and processes like finishing and fabrication (presses) are already operating in the new plant.
“We are extremely pleased with the plant’s operation,” Vernier cited. “Our new plant in Cleveland offers an amazing, experienced workforce, advanced technologies and very efficient operations.”
Local plant operations employ more than 1,500 workers. Collectively, Whirlpool Cleveland operations in Bradley County include more than 2,000 employees. Along with the production facility, Whirlpool operates a call center (Whirlpool Cleveland Customer eXperience Center) on 20th Street.