Pontiac Daily Leader
By Luke Smucker
Posted Dec 8, 2018 at 12:23 PM
As another chapter begins to close in the pages of history, the Caterpillar plant in Pontiac reflects on 40 years of business within the community.
Caterpillar Inc. acquired the Pontiac facility in January 1978 and it was operational by March of that year producing fuel system products. The acquisition was in response to increasing demand for engines and engine components, technological advancements and the need for a facility that was centrally located with other Caterpillar engine design and development facilities.
Today, about 1,300 people, a combination of Caterpillar employees and contract workers, work at the facility.
“Much has changed, both within the facility’s four walls and at Caterpillar itself in the last 40 years,” said facility manager Dave Viebrock. “We have brought new products in and moved products out — each of the moves working to improve the overall business and success of the facility.
“The most recent changes at Pontiac resulted from the consolidation of two other operations into this plant in 2016. This consolidation brought some fuel system components back to the facility and added large after-treatment components. It also allowed us to add new manufacturing employees to the team.”
The Internet boom of the late 1990s occurred within the first 20 years of the Pontiac facility’s existence. Since then, Viebrock said the facility’s ability to share ideas has increased dramatically. Technological advances have also improved the business’ efficiency and its understanding of customer needs.
“The introduction of various kinds of robots within our facility in the 1980s helped improve the precision, speed and efficiency of our manufacturing operations and those advances continue today,” he said. “Technology has greatly reduced the time it takes to design and commercialize engine systems. Engine systems and parts that were previously drawn by hand and took several months to complete are now done using software and simulation in a fraction of that time.”
As community employees continue to serve at the Pontiac facility, the company has made a point to serve its community, too. The annual plant-wide United Way campaign is a significant contributor to local Livingston County United Way programs. Likewise, the annual Scoring Fore Scholarships golf outing has raised more than $445,000 over the past 12 years for scholarships at Heartland Community College.
“Since 2000, the Caterpillar Foundation has invested over $500,000 in the local community through non-profits via grants aimed at both education and basic human needs,” Viebrock said. “Local organizations receiving this funding include the Boys and Girls Club, Futures Unlimited and Mid-Central Community Action.
“Also, many of our employees volunteer their time to support STEM education through FIRST Robotics and FIRST LEGO League, as well as 4-H and FFA. In addition, we partner with Bradley University to have their students work on senior projects to solve real manufacturing challenges that benefit both the student and facility.”
To show appreciation to its employees for the milestone, a 40th anniversary Family Day was held in early August. More than 2,500 people were treated to barbecue, games and activities for kids and an auto show featuring employees’ classic cars and boats.
“One employee even flew his helicopter to the event,” Viebrock said. “The celebration also gave people the chance to tour our plant, see our high-tech manufacturing equipment and get up close to various types of Caterpillar machinery that they may have only seen from a distance on construction sites. NASCAR fans also got to see the 31 CAT race car and meet Ward Burton, who delivered the 2002 Dayton 500 championship in the CAT car.”
Within the Pontiac facility today, employees build fuel systems and after-treatment systems for several different models of CAT, Perkins and MaK engines, which are manufactured at Caterpillar facilities in the U.S., Europe and Asia.
“Those engines serve worldwide owners of CAT machines in various industries, including power generation, oil, gas, rail, marine and industrial power systems. In fact, there are approximately 3 million Cat engines and machines at work around the globe today, many of which are using components built right here in Pontiac,” Viebrock said.
“Components made in Pontiac are also sent to Caterpillar parts depots in the U.S., Europe and Asia. They are used for repairing and rebuilding various engine models and giving them second and third lives at our global remanufacturing facilities. We are very proud of the role we play in Caterpillar’s global manufacturing network.”
While the products and processes have changed, Viebrock said the type of employees needed to run the business has not. Since the day it opened, Viebrock and his staff have looked to hire safety and quality-minded individuals who excel at solving problems and delivering results for its customers.
“Our goal is to keep listening to our customers, keep innovating and keep delivering products that meet and exceed their expectations,” he said. “This commitment to customers has driven our business for 40 years and will continue to do so.”