On a tour of Volvo Powertrain’s 1.5 million square-foot manufacturing facility outside Hagerstown Friday, up-and-coming community leaders were warned not to touch the engine parts or machinery, but were encouraged to place their hands against the tiny holes in what looked like a large punching bag suspended from the ceiling, to feel the air rushing out.
The device, tour guide Lamar Sease explained, is how fresh, clean air is circulated into the massive plant, and marks just one of the ways the manufacturing environment has changed dramatically from the stuffy, dim factories of years ago.
The contrast is one that Volvo officials wanted to drive home to the tour group, made up of the current class of Leadership Washington County, a nine-month program for emerging leaders in local businesses and organizations, Volvo spokeswoman Belinda Vinson said.
Adam White, the plant’s director of industrial engineering and a member of the current Leadership Washington County class, arranged the tour in response to the misconception that manufacturing is dark, dirty and a dying industry, Vinson said.
Other sensory experiences on the tour included seeing the natural sunlight pouring in through skylights in the area where a new assembly line will be introduced this August, touching the leaves of real plants growing in large planters in the assembly line area, and hearing the plant’s vice president speak without a microphone in a new, soundproofed “Operation Excellence Hall” built as a quiet place to discuss innovation and recognize employees away from the distraction of noisy equipment.
There, Vice President of Operations Wade Watson told the group that Volvo Powertrain has added 506 jobs at the Hagerstown plant since 2010 and invested $34.5 million there over the past three years.
The plant’s current employment is about 1,500, about 500 of whom are in white-collar positions such as research and purchasing and about 1,000 of whom work on the operations side, Watson said.
So far in 2012, Volvo Powertrain has approved $17.2 million in new investments at the Hagerstown plant, including about an $8 million to create a new assembly line to produce Mack mDRIVE and Volvo I-Shift automated manual transmissions, currently produced in Sweden, Vinson said.
The company is hiring about 35 new employees for that line, she said.
The new transmission assembly line will begin a “ramping up” period in August and should be in full production by September, she said.