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Lumberton home to transformer plant for more than 30 years

Cooper Power Systems helps electricity flow around world

LUMBERTON — One of the best indications that Cooper Power Systems is a leader in providing reliable power transformers for electrical distribution is that the company was consulted by engineers representing the power grid in the Northeast that failed on August 14, 2003, leaving 50 million people without power.

“After the blackout, our division was consulted by the power grid that went down because our systems are so reliable,” said Tommy Kessinger, human resources manager for Cooper Power Systems, Lumberton plant. “We have proven that reliability by satisfying customers from all over the U.S. from the East Coast to the West Coast, and all over the world.”

Electrical power products manufactured at the Lumberton facility are used primarily in the transmission and distribution of electrical power and sold direct and through distributors to the utility and industrial markets.

Cooper Power Systems employs 273 people at its plant in Lumberton that has operated under various names since 1975. The company is a subsidiary of Cooper Industries, Ltd., which has 27,000 employees in 100 locations around the world. The company that had 2003 revenues of $4.1 billion is a global manufacturer of electrical products and tools and hardware.

The Lumberton plant won the company’s President’s 2003 Cooper Power Systems Environmental, Health and Safety Award. The company has invented innovative products that help preserve the environment while reducing customer’s liability for environmental risks. For example, pollution from PCBs (polychlorinated biphenylsz) found from power transformer oils has been a big concern that has led to many millions of dollars in cleanup operations.

“At Cooper, we don’t think anyone should have to choose between saving money and saving the Earth,” said Lumberton plant manager Dave Stewart. “In response to customers’ concerns over PCB fluids and the fire safety of conventional transformer oils, we developed R-Temp, a non-toxic biodegradable fluid. R-Temp fluid has a flawless fire safety record — in more than 90,000 installations since 1975. It’s factory mutual approved and UL-Classified for easy, cost-effective code compliance in fire-sensitive installations.

“Now, we’re introducing an even better transformer fluid option — the revolutionary Envirotemp FR3 fluid for our Envirotran Transformers. Envirotemp FR3 is made from non-toxic, biodegradable, food-grade base oils. It enhances fire safety while reducing the hazards from spills, and it’s also FM Approved and UL-Classified, simplifying site requirements and regulatory compliance. Envirotemp FR3 provides a high efficiency, cost-competitive alternative to dry-type transformers.”

Envirotemp FR3 Fluid, available in Envirotran Transformers, is a natural ester-based fluid formulated from a renewable natural resource — seeds. The base oils from the seeds are blended with food grade performance enhancing additives to produce a fluid that has exceptional fire-resistant properties and favorable environmental attributes. Envirotemp FR3 Fluid is readily biodegradable and is non-bioaccumulating.

Stewart said the FR3 Fluid formula, which was purchased from a sister plant in Wisconsin, will gradually replace R-Temp.

“It is a big deal to our customers because of the environmental benefits,” Stewart said. “It is a little more expensive being a vegetable oil. Utilities in California definitely understand the benefits and are the first group of utilities looking at using these fluids.”

In addition to the environmental benefits, the FR3 fluid also has properties that help increase the lifespan of the transformers. Stewart said a lot of the company’s customers are seeing benefits to replacing the old oil fluids with FR3 because of its ability to make transformers last longer. That saves customers money.

“It is a very, very good product,” Stewart said. “This is the first year we have really seen an increase in the usage, and we are expecting to see growth over the next several years.”

Going online

The company also has an innovative approach to e-commerce. The company is using the Internet as a tool to reduce costs and increase the ease of doing business with customers.

The $5-million Lumberton plant opened in 1973 under ownership by Wagner Electric Corp., a subsidiary of Studebaker-Worthington Inc. Another Studebaker-Worthington subsidiary, Turbodyne Corporation, purchased the facility from Wagner Electric in July 1978. McGraw-Edison Company acquired Studebaker-Worthington in October 1979 and placed the Lumberton distribution transformer facility within its Power Systems Division. Cooper Industries Inc. acquired McGraw-Edison in May 1985. In June 1988 Cooper Industries acquired RTE Corporation. The McGraw-Edison Power Systems and RTE organizations were merged and became Cooper Power Systems.

Competitive improvements made

In 1997, Cooper Power Systems announced a plan to streamline the manufacturing processes at its electrical distribution transformer plants, including the plant in Lumberton. The multi-million-dollar investment involved realigning the manufacturing operations toward more of a focused-factory system and investing in new equipment to improve factory utilization. The manufacture of all single-phase padmount transformers was consolidated into the Cooper Power Systems plant in Lumberton, necessitating a 35,000-square-foot expansion of manufacturing space. The primary sources of demand for single-phase padmount transformers are in residential and nonresidential construction and new neighborhood formations.

The Lumberton plant has undergone significant competitive improvements during the past year.

“The plant continues to improve its manufacturing processes and maintain its ISO registration,” Kessinger said. “As additional requirements are added, safety is an integral part of the changes. Increased employee involvement in the safety processes is continuing to enhance the plant’s safety record.”

Kessinger said 2002 was a pivotal year in the plant’s safety program. There were strong efforts to improve the plant’s safety performance, and they resulted in a significant drop in the incident rate and workers’ compensation costs.

“The plant staff felt there was more that could be done,” he said. “To improve from a good program to an enviable program would take a behavioral change in employees’ attitudes toward safety. Employees have been encouraged to participate in the voluntary program that awards a cash bonus based on conducting STOP safety observations, making team-based safety inputs and on the number of incidents the plant has in a month. In the first year, the plant’s incident rate was reduced by 60%.

“The experience of the Lumberton plant shows the importance of employee involvement. The most important part of the program has been to encourage voluntary participation in total plant safety. The plant has highlighted the benefits of operating in a safety conscious environment. Incidents and near misses are thoroughly investigated, safe behavior is supported, and employees and management working to provide a safe work place is promoted.”

Kessinger said dedicated and well-trained employees are the key to the competitiveness of the Lumberton plant. Since the plant manufactures products “just in time,” there is not a large inventory either at the plant or at the customers’ warehouses. To do that, it is important to have manufacturing equipment in top condition.

“Customers want it just in time,” Kessinger said. “They don’t want a lot of inventory stock, the same way we don’t want a lot of stock. Everything works together. We can’t afford to have any downtime because our customers want a product at a certain time. We have to make sure we have reliable employees who show up on time and insist on quality. We are ISO 9001/2000-certified, the highest category of quality assurance certification.”

Cooper Industries is a public company, traded under CBE on the New York Stock Exchange.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Becky Gillette at bgillette@bellsouth.net.


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