LEXINGTON — Orthman Manufacturing’s new 115,000-square-foot manufacturing site was showcased Thursday night.
“This is certainly a momentous occasion, as this is our largest investment ever,” President and CEO John McCoy said at the ribbon-cutting and open house. He purchased the farm equipment manufacturing company 16 years ago.
The large two-tone brown building is Orthman’s first built-from-the-ground-up manufacturing plant. It is south of Lexington and northeast of the Lexington I-80 interchange. It will be devoted to welding, painting and assembly of mostly noncustomized farm equipment.
Although completed during a downturn in the farm economy, the site has the potential to increase the production capacity and efficiency for Orthman products distributed worldwide. Amber Ackerson, senior vice president of human capital, said the company began using the building April 1 and has a couple more lines to move.
Larger farm equipment that is not mass produced will stay at the former location northeast of Lexington.
“The way we conceive and construct it, this is a turning of the page for the history book of Orthman Manufacturing. We see this as a springboard for decades to come,” McCoy said.
“We are investing now in anticipation that we will be in business 50 years from now,” he said. The company recently marked its 50th anniversary.
Henry Orthman, at age 52, started the company when he decided to switch his focus from farming to manufacturing. The beet farmer modified his farm equipment from the conventional center-mount to a three-point system. He eventually began offering three-point hitch conversion kits commercially.
McCoy said the ingenuity of delivering new products and solving problems for producers was what led to the founding of Orthman Manufacturing and is still integral to the company today.
During the open house, Orthman employees led tours at the facility.
An employee-made conveyor system moves steel to a heavy-duty saw where it is cut to length and is then moved to welding stations.
“We made this ourselves, all the way down to the rollers, the pins and everything,” maintenance technician Ron Honeysett said. He’s a 10-year employee.
Sections of the conveyor system are on a pivot so aisles can be kept open to work traffic.
“On the production floor, everything is a battle for space,” Honeysett said. “We’re trying to maximize what we can do within that space.”
Early in the fabricating process, overhead cranes transport materials toward the end of the line. Carts and an air pallet will be used to move the finished farm equipment onto trucks for transportation.
Curt Rickertsen, an engineer with the company, said they are constructing the air pallet and have named the project “The Magic Carpet.” Instead of lifting something 3 feet in the air, the air pallet will move it along at ½-inch off the ground.
In order for the pallet to work, the floor needs to be level and free of dirt, Rickertsen said. To help with this and general air quality, the facility has an air recirculating system that collects the air over the work areas, cleans it up by removing dust and particles, and sends it back out.
To reduce production time, the facility has four cells with automated welders. Workers in each cell load pieces on a jig to be welded. While the robot welders are working, a new piece is readied for welding.
After each piece is constructed, it moves to the painting area on a system of tracks and bays to be washed, painted and dried. Pieces are then moved to assembly where they will be put together to construct machinery.
Rickertsen said Orthman gets a lot of inquiries about special builds and customization.
“We are very open to that custom business,” he said. “There is a lot of customization that we can accommodate, and we take a lot of pride in being able to do that. Other ag equipment companies can’t do that, but Orthman is still of a size that they can work with special requests.”
At the ceremony, Lt. Gov. Mike Foley said: “What I find most exciting about this plant is that the equipment that’s produced right here in Lexington, Nebraska, is going to be shipped, not only to farmers in Nebraska and across our own country, but also to many, many foreign countries in every corner of the globe.”
He said the first-class, state-of-the-art agricultural equipment Orthman makes is a point of pride for both the state and the city.
State and city funds were used in the construction of the $14 million Orthman facility.
Plans for the site began in 2010 with a partnership between Orthman and the city, and groundbreaking was in August 2012. BD Construction Inc. of Kearney was the builder.
McCoy said Orthman also built an assembly plant in South Africa three years ago. He said Henry Orthman’s farmstead will continue as the corporate headquarters.
Bill Orthman, Henry’s son, attended the event. He said never in his father’s wildest dreams would he have imagined the company’s growth.
“Our name is on a beautiful YMCA building downtown, and now it’s on a big ol’ building out here by the interstate. It’s a very, very, big honor and a very humbling experience,” he said.