This blog reports events and interesting tidbits from Rensselaer, Indiana and the surrounding area.

Friday, January 2, 2015

A tour of Donaldson's (part one of two)

A few weeks ago at the Jasper County Economic Development Organizations Christmas event I talked to two people from Donaldson's. I mentioned that I would enjoy seeing what they do and I was invited take a tour. (It is things like this that make blogging fun.) On Monday I showed up not quite sure what to expect.

Donaldson's was founded in 1915 (which means that next year will be their centennial--I hope they do something locally) by a Minnesota man who was trying to solve a problem with the early tractors. His filter was made of wire, a can, and a tee shirt, and though simple, it got the job done. From simple filters that cleaned the air, they branched out to make filters that stopped fires caused by engine sparks. The company headquarters is in Minnesota, not too far from the Mall of America, the International Airport, and Fort Snelling National Cemetery.

Donaldson's has manufacturing facilities in many states and in several foreign companies. No manufacturing is done in Rensselaer despite the fact that the Rensselaer plant is huge--over 600,000 square feet. (That is over 17 acres!) The Rensselaer plant is a distribution center.
My tour started at 2:00, and before we left the office area, which is full of cubicles, I was shown a couple of pictures that show which filter markets Donaldson's serves. One market is the filter market for large trucks. As you can see in the picture below, a truck has many filters and Donaldson's sells them all. It sells to the original equipment manufacturers as well as to those who service the vehicles and need replacement filters.
 I asked if they made car filters and was told that was not a line that they were in.

The other main market is the agriculture machinery market, their original market. Again, farm equipment needs many filters and Donaldson's supplies them.
Their biggest customer is Caterpillar.

We then entered the main part of the building, I was overwhelmed by how big it was. I kept thinking that there is no way that I can capture the size on camera. I kept thinking of the closing scene in the Raiders of the Lost Ark where the Ark is being put into some huge warehouse.
 As I was taking these pictures I was told that there were would be better places to snap pictures later.
Safety is a priority as it is in most similar plants. They had a clock showing how many days had elapsed since the last accident (and I did not photograph it).
I have no experience in the field of distribution, so I kept trying to make connections from their world to the world I understand. One of the jobs is that of a picker. A picker assembles orders. A business may want twenty or thirty products and the picker has to go through the building finding those products to assemble the order. The picker does not have to know what the product is--he or she just needs to know where it is. It would be as if you ordered ten books from the library. The librarian would get the call numbers for the books and then find them on the stacks. The titles of the books would not matter if the call numbers are known. In a similar way,  the picker does not need to know what the product is, just where to find it. And that is done with tags like the one below.
 What I thought was interesting is that the products do not live in the same spaces from week to week. Rather they are organized by how well they are selling so that the pickers' routes will be minimized. The computer revolution certainly has done a lot to make this kind of operation efficient.

Below you see the huge batteries for the fork lifts being recharged. Switching these very heavy batteries in and out of the equipment is the most dangerous job in the plant. However, it will soon be unnecessary.
The new forklifts that are replacing the old ones can be recharged faster and simply plugged in during breaks and when they are not being used. When the last of the older fork lifts is retired, this task will no longer be needed.
 Below are old forklifts that are leaving service.

All the equipment that moves things around the floor is electrical.

When we got to the north end of the building, I could not resist taking a picture in one of the overhead mirrors.
From the north end of the building we could look down the central avenue of the building, all 1500 feet of it. Vehicles going north-south in this aisle have right-of-way and the east west traffic must yield to them.

The center has about 30 million items in inventory, with 12000 stock keeping units (SKUs). It employs about 180 people and about 60 trucks come and go during a typical day. A picker needs about a month to get up to speed--there is a learning curve.

We were about to turn the corner and head south through the shipping area. But to see what is there, you will have to wait until part two of this Rensselaer adventure.

1 comment:

Kate Harper said...

It looks almost like an Amazon warehouse.