12/30/2004 5:54:00 PM Greenfield's Keihin Indiana Precision Technology has tripled in 15 years
The genesis of Keihin Indiana Precision Technology, the county’s largest industrial employer, began 20 years ago when Tom Miller worked in the Indiana Department of Workforce Development’s office in Indianapolis.
“We had just helped to get things going on the Subaru/Isuzu plant in Lafayette when I heard that several Japanese companies who are suppliers – or potential suppliers – to that operation were looking to locate somewhere close by,” Miller recalled. “We made some contacts and began talking about where some of them would like to go.”
Miller, who later served as director of the Economic Development Council Hancock County, began connecting those suppliers with officials throughout the state.
“They were all looking for a place to locate to be close to that plant and other operations, so we hooked them up with Greenfield and some other communities and that began the process,” said Miller.
Local officials contacted at least one of the concerns, a consortium of three Japanese parts manufacturers, and began a relationship with what is now known as Keihin Indiana Precision Technology.
Keihin, which now employs nearly 1,100 people, marked its 15th anniversary in Hancock County this year. A company that started with fewer than 400 workers has added many new processes over the years, building engine parts for millions of Honda cars. As it closes out its anniversary year, it’s gearing up production on fuel-management systems for brand-new vehicles that aren’t even in showrooms yet.
That kind of product pipeline has made Keihin a dependable part of the city’s economic landscape. Never, for example, has it suffered any employee layoffs.
The story of how Keihin came to Greenfield is one of determination by a group of small-town recruiters. It’s also one about the city’s favorable geography, which played a huge part in the auto parts maker moving to Greenfield.
One of the first contacts between Greenfield and the company came in 1988, when a contingent from the city, including former Mayor Keith McClarnon, went to Japan.
“We went to Kakuda City to visit with those (companies) looking for a site,” recalled McClarnon. “We went to the parent companies of IPT and saw their facilities along with several others and talked to them about what our community had to offer.”
Greenfield and state officials worked with KIPT’s parents to fashion a package of assistance, including tax abatements, to bring the plant to Greenfield. Company officials chose the site on West New Road over 50 other sites throughout Indiana and Ohio.
“They were looking for an area that was close to everything, including their biggest customer,” said Greg Young, a KIPT vice president. “Greenfield was in the middle of it.”
Company officials say the area’s good work force was also a key in making the decision.
“Everyone worked hard on a package to get the operation into the community, and it has worked out much better than even (Keihin) at first said it would,” said McClarnon. “They promised to employ about 250, but they were soon way over that and are still growing.”
Soon after signing the deal and breaking ground on the site on New Road, construction began. The firm started manufacturing fuel injection systems in Greenfield in 1989.
“There were just a few of us at first,” said Young, who started out at IPT as accounting manager. “We were here in a building kind of learning their processes, including going over to Japan to watch the process there.”
Seven new employees spent six weeks in Japan learning the production processes before returning to start mass production here.
In a few short months, the plant began to win new contracts and new business.
Soon, the plant was making all the fuel injection/intake manifold parts for Hondas assembled in the United States, and the first of seven expansions began. The plant now encompasses more 373,000 square feet under roof.
Most of the parts, which help air and fuel mix to provide combustion inside an engine, are forged from molten aluminum. The aluminum, which arrives at the plant as ingots, is melted in blast furnaces and then injected into special molds. As it cools, the piece is ejected, and the process starts all over again.
A new process for intake and fuel injection systems for the compact Honda Civic uses high-tech plastics that are lighter than their aluminum counterparts. Special aluminum attachments insulate the plastic from hot engine parts.
The processes crank out 5,500 fuel-management systems a day. Along the way, the various pieces are assembled, inspected and tested numerous times. Big bins in the plant are filled with rejects that don’t meet exacting manufacturing standards.
Before the local plant was built, all those parts were made in Japan and imported into this country.
For the first few years, it operated as a joint venture of Honda suppliers Keihin Seiki, Hadsys and Denshi Giken but incorporated under the name of Indiana Precision Technologies. In later years, the companies merged, and the new firm was called Keihin Corp. That’s when Keihin was added to the front of IPT’s name.
The startup of fewer than 400 associates has swelled to a work force of 1,055 as new products and production lines have been added.
“We had yet to have a layoff here because we do good work and stay competitive,” said Young. “Our customers, Honda, and our employees keep us sharp and on top of things, and that keeps us competitive.”
Young praised each worker in the operation for being efficient and helping to make contracts with their biggest customers bigger each year.
The plant works three shifts, around the clock, five days a week. Young said on many days, the production teams exceed their expected output.
The company’s success has helped it spawn two other businesses in its first 15 years.
Carolina Systems Technology, which produces automotive electronic systems, began operation in Tarboro, N.C., in 1997. A plant that makes air-handling systems for the auto industry known as Keihin Aircon North America opened in Muncie in 1999.
Tom Miller, who now runs a Hancock County-based consulting firm, said the deal to bring the plant to town should be a model for other such efforts.
“It really is the best of the deals that we made to bring employers to the state,” said Miller. “They promised as part of the deal to employ a certain number of people – I think it was 250 to 400. They exceeded that almost immediately, and it continues to climb.
“It has grown so much that it’s now a corporate headquarters with the two new plants the Greenfield operation has spawned.”
For economic development council director Dennis Maloy, having KIPT as a local corporate citizen helps the area’s image.
“When other companies see that a company like Keihin is happy and growing in the area, it says a lot for the local business climate – a lot of positive things,” Maloy said.
For Young and the rest of the workers at KIPT, the making of a successful business comes down to employee efforts.
“We have been successful because we follow the company’s philosophy of the five joys – that means we try to bring joy to our shareholders, customers, suppliers, society and ourselves – we want them to have a good life,” Young said.