Efforts Will Position Manufacturing Plant as Premium Refrigeration Plant in North America
By Terry Troy
Whirlpool’s recent announcement that it will invest more than $65 million in its Ottawa manufacturing operations will position the Ohio plant as the company’s Premium Refrigeration Factory in its North American Region.
The investment will include an expansion of the Ottawa plant to accommodate production of premium refrigeration products, including Built-In Refrigerator (BIR) production.
With the expected growth of the BIR market, the investment will increase production and provide Whirlpool Corporation with a critical competitive advantage. In addition to plant expansion, this investment will also create more than 100 additional jobs. Expansion of the facility’s existing footprint will begin in mid-2022, with Ottawa assuming full production in 2023.
“We’re excited about this investment in the future of the Ottawa Operations and in our people,” said Don Metzelaar, vice president of Integrated Supply Chain and Qaulity. “This is a testament to our skilled workforce, and will unlock our potential to bring the newest and best refrigeration innovation to our customers who count on us to improve their lives at home.”
The company’s Ottawa Operations, established in 1990, currently produce freezers, under counter ice makers and hybrid heat-pump bases for ventless dryers. More than 485 employees there manufacture products for the Whirlpool, KitchenAid, Amana, Maytag, Gladiator and JennAir brands. The strong partnership with the JobsOhio Regional Growth Partnership, state and local officials, including the commitment of tax benefits and a JobsOhio grant, supported this important investment decision for the Ottawa operations.
“Whirlpool’s plans to invest in its Ottawa facility will bring 100 good-paying new jobs and the latest refrigeration production technology,” said J.P. Nauseef, JobsOhio president and CEO. “The cutting-edge advancements and Ohio talent will provide a strong competitive advantage as Whirlpool positions Ottawa to be a premium refrigeration plant in the North American market.”
In a separate announcement, Whirlpool Corporation’s AVID (Awareness of Visible and Invisible Disabilities) Employee Resource Group has created a unique program to help its leaders and employees see and feel the world through the lens of those with disabilities.
“The idea started when one of our AVID members talked about how she had injured her foot and she was on one of those knee scooters,” said one of the group’s leads, Menel Gregory. “As she was trying to navigate around the office, she thought it would be interesting to have leaders go through that experience of having a disability for a short period of time. That morphed into an exercise where we would give people a simulated disability and then have them try to use our products.”
There were two activities that showed how simple tasks become more complicated with disabilities. The first activity simulated severe vision impairment and had the participant try to
boil a pot of water on an induction cooktop with capacitive touch controls. In the second activity, participants were asked to place dishes in the oven while in a wheelchair. This demonstrated how many obstacles one may face in a kitchen while sitting in a wheelchair.
The objectives of the project are to build empathy for consumers with disabilities through firsthand experiences, and leverage those experiences to support further embedment of accessibility features in future product development at the corporation. In addition to putting employees through this exercise at Whirlpool Corporation’s Edgewater Tech Center in Benton Harbor, Michigan, part of the program will allow employees to take part in the experience in their own homes.
Whirlpool Corporation Senior Director of Product Marketing David Stimac was one of the leaders who took part in the exercise.
“One of the reasons why I appreciate the team putting this together and why this is important is that our whole mission at Whirlpool is to make life better at home for all of our consumers,” he said. “Activities like this help someone like myself to get a small taste of what being disabled and trying to use our products could be like. Having our employees go through this experience will definitely help to create empathy for how some of our consumers experience our products.”
Commercial Laundry Senior Product Manager Michael Buzzard, who is also part of the AVID employee resource group, was on hand observing the exercise.
“I think there’s an opportunity for us to take away from this experience, not just the opportunity to improve with respect to low vision and with respect to limited mobility, but to broaden considerations for those with any disability as we design future products. Through this experience, we can increase empathy for our customers, which helps us make our products better for everyone.”
Engineer Katelin Frayer, who was administering the wheelchair experience, had a similar sentiment.
“I think exercises like this can help the team to think about a more diverse portfolio of products,” she said. “There is no one right answer to accessibility, so making sure we have something for everyone is really going to be the key moving forward.”
In 2020, Whirlpool reported approximately $19 billion in annual sales, 78,000 employees and 57 manufacturing and technology research centers. In addition to its Ottawa plant, the company also has Ohio facilities in Clyde, Findlay, Greenville and Marion. Whirlpool is celebrating its 110-year anniversary this year.