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Ecolab prides itself on process

April 15, 2001

Ecolab prides itself on process



By BOB PARTLOW / Staff Writer


MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Pat Barrios said he loves to show off his workplace.

The manager of the 228,000-square-foot Ecolab facility located on 28 acres off W.Va. 9 East said people are often surprised that what he shows them does not match their image of an industrial plant that mixes and ships chemical products.

"It's not loud. It's not dirty. It's not smelly," he said. "And everybody is really focused on customer service."

The plant opened last summer, but will have an inauguration this month with local civic and business leaders, Gov. Bob Wise and U.S. Rep. Shelly Moore Capito.

Plans for the plant, one of 14 in the United States and more than 40 around the world run by Ecolab, were announced in the late 1990s. Martinsburg was the right location to serve an area from South Carolina to the Canadian border, Barrios said. It is close to customers and to road and rail transportation.

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The plant mixes 500 products and has an inventory of 2,000, which are stored and shipped as needed. They serve almost exclusively commercial customers with products such as window cleaners, laundry soap, floor cleaners and other products needed by companies like motel chains, restaurants, dairies, cruise ships or military operations.

The company started 77 years ago as Economics Laboratory and is now based in St. Paul, Minn. This is the third new plant in six years, and more are in the works. The company has sales of $3 billion annually, Barrios said.

Everything in the plant is high-tech, computerized and automated.

For example, Barrios punched up a screen showing how much liquid remained in different storage tanks. The same information is supplied automatically to vendors, who supply the materials stored in the tanks.

The vendor automatically sends new supplies. The company has detailed instructions, specifications and checklists for all operations.

As products are mixed, they are sampled when the process begins and, once it ends, tested against specifications set by the research and development staff, Barrios said.

Although the plant is huge, only 40 people run it - a number which will increase to probably 70 later this year. The jobs start at between $11 and $15 an hour, and workers are hired locally.

"I really like it," said Tony Crisel, 24, Martinsburg, a production association who started at the plant in February after working at Quad Graphics and Quebecor Printing.

Barrios said success is based in the simplicity of the operation.

"I say if I can explain this operation to somebody who may not know anything about chemical plants, we've got a good plant," Barrios said.

He then reeled off a 30-second explanation of how the bulk product arrives on one side of the plant, is stored, mixed and moved out the other - with almost all the work done by computer and high-tech equipment.

"It's all just one straight line from one side of the plant to the other," Barrios said.

The plant is built around providing a clean, open environment where employees can concentrate on quality. And it's built on safety, he said.

Despite all the liquids, the plant has no floor drains. That puts a high premium on safety, he said.

"We keep it nice and dry," he said. "Nothing hits the floor. "

Skylights have been built in. All the piping is on the sides, not overhead or in the way of workers.

Employees are strongly encouraged to make suggestions for improvements - the company has saved $60,000 this year based on employee ideas.

"They're the ones who are out on the floor," he said. "They have a lot of good ideas."

The company tries to use environmentally friendly products and has been recognized for doing that, Barrios said. Although this plant mixes only liquid products, it ships such things as solid pellets of laundry soap, and minimizes the amount of packaging used.

The inauguration ceremonies are set for April 27.

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