Judging by the activity last Friday at its Greene, N.Y., headquarters, The Raymond Corp.—and seemingly the industrial lift truck business as a whole—has missed the memo about slowing U.S. economic growth.
The maker of manual and electric lift trucks chose Oct. 2, which was National Manufacturing Day, to unveil a 47,000-sq.-ft. addition to its facility and a reconfiguration of manufacturing space. Raymond also hosted high school students who the company hopes will pursue careers in manufacturing and technology. Both events reflected growing needs both at Raymond and across the material handling equipment industry.
The new 32,000-sq.-ft. Raymond Operations Center includes a second level with office space for operations and support, collaborative workspaces, and an employee fitness center. The addition allowed the company to reconfigure 60,000 square feet on the manufacturing floor, which it said will improve efficiency and production capacity. An additional 15,000-sq.-ft. expansion to the building is home to new 60-ft. test-bay capabilities, office space, team rooms, and break rooms.
Raymond, which received the 2014 IndustryWeek Best Plant Award and a 2015 Manufacturing Leadership Award from Frost and Sullivan, also made a number of upgrades to its manufacturing technology. It installed advanced automatic welding and laser-cutting technology, upgraded its warehouse management software, and integrated its corporate logistics plan with just-in-time deliveries of equipment and materials.
Raymond has long been a supporter of STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) education in New York's "Southern Tier" region, which runs from the Finger Lakes region and cities like Ithaca, Corning, and Binghamton, to the Pennsylvania border. Raymond hosted approximately 250 high school students, who toured the manufacturing plant, tested out technologies like 3-D printers and a forklift driver-training simulator, and learned about SkillsUSA, an organization of students, teachers, and industry that collaborates to develop skilled workers through a structured program of technical and professional skills training.TECHNOLOGY IMPACTS LABOR NEEDS
For Raymond, local outreach is critical because its rural location makes it difficult to attract talent from beyond the area. The company has hired more than 600 people since the beginning of 2013, and the population of Greene doubles when all of Raymond's employees are at work. It also has facilities in Muscatine, Iowa.
In an interview, CEO Michael Field attributed much of the increased demand for his company's products to the explosive growth of e-commerce fulfillment. The typical configuration of warehouses and distribution centers that handle e-commerce orders favors the narrow-aisle electric reach trucks and man-up order pickers that are among Raymond's top sellers.
According to the Industrial Truck Association (ITA), orders for lift trucks in North America through August were up approximately 11 percent compared to the same period last year. The organization is forecasting orders will reach 220,000 for the year, up from 214,000 in 2014. In recession-ravaged 2009, North American orders tallied a paltry 98,000. As industrywide demand continues to grow, Raymond is not the only lift truck maker looking to boost staffing.
The challenge is that manufacturing is changing, and job requirements are changing along with it, said Rick Harrington, Raymond's senior vice president, operations, during the student presentation. "Industry 4.0," which he called the "next industrial revolution," allows machines to communicate and transfer knowledge directly. There will always be a need for fabricators, welders, assemblers, and similar positions, and demand for such skills is growing, Harrington said. But changes in manufacturing technology, as well as the more widespread use of lift truck telematics, are creating a demand for "the next generation of engineers, technicians, and corporate management" in the material handling equipment industry, he said.
These professionals will need to understand not only how to apply technology in manufacturing, but also how to manage the human elements of collaboration and decision making, Harrington said.