Studying the A-B-Cs of ABB's high-tech plant

last modified Jan 03, 2012 12:00 PM
Studying the A-B-Cs of ABB's high-tech plant

Recently hired operators for ABB’s Huntersville plant receive training in a specially designed lab at Central Piedmont Community College’s Merancas Campus on Verhoeff Drive. Photo courtesy of Lake Norman Citizen.

Article taken from the December 23, 2011, issue of the Lake Norman Citizen
Written by Lee Sullivan

While construction continues on the future home of ABB's production facility in Commerce Station, the new factory's first group of hourly employees has begun an intensive training program involving local community college classroom instruction as well as on-the-job training in Sweden.

ABB announced recently that 13 newly hired lead operators for the Huntersville facility were involved in on-site training at the company's operation in Karlskrona, Sweden. The training in Sweden — at a sister facility currently similar in size to the structure being built in Commerce Station working side-by-side with training operators who will serve as mentors for the new employees until local production begins — is part of the overall training cycle that will continue into the middle of next year. It includes a series of specific courses provided by Central Piedmont Community College (CPCC) at its Huntersville campus, which lies nearly within the shadow of the 430-foot extrusion tower on the ABB site.

The primary goal of the training in Sweden is to ensure that the lead operators for the new Huntersville plant know how to safely operate the new facility with precision and quality. Equipment for the new Huntersville factory is a duplicate of that in Karlskrona to ensure customers receive the same product from both locations. The lead operators have the opportunity to work on the very same production lines they will oversee in Huntersville.

The mentors from Sweden will also travel to Huntersville next year for the factory acceptance tests and plant start-up. Lead operators hired for the new Huntersville plant, and the first group of local ABB hourly employees to visit Sweden for training, are LaFreda Ferrell, Andrew Sutter, Brent Shaver, Mark Snyder, Terry Jones, Jake Knudsen, Adam Couick, Ryan Reichert, James Watson, Michele Yago, Jodi Leeper, Joe Jordan and Robert Harwell.

Local ABB officials, as well as company officials located in Sweden, praised the hands-on approach and cooperative spirit of the training process.

"The program is a fantastic opportunity for our newest employees in Huntersville to get first-hand training from experienced professionals using the same equipment and processes already successfully implemented in Karlskrona," says Prentis Trickett, manager of the ABB factory in Huntersville.

"I think this training program demonstrates the dedication and professionalism of our newest employees and our Swedish colleagues. We truly are one team. We are committed to delivering high-quality customer service, and it starts with our employee training programs."

Hans Holmstrom, head of ABB's high voltage cable business based in Karlskrona, agrees.

"It is really rewarding to see how the teams from Huntersville and Karlskrona have integrated already," Holmstrom says. "Many years of experience and competence will be transferred in this comprehensive learning process, which will be absolutely key to a successful start-up of the production in Huntersville.

"Machinery and buildings are all very important, to be sure," Holmstrom says, "but it is really the people who will make this a success."

And from the start, the first people hired to work at the Huntersville facility have made a strong impression.

"The experience and skill level of this team is much higher than we anticipated," says Tony Velotta, production manager for ABB Huntersville. "They came with experience in cable production and extrusion, both of which are needed in our state-of-the-art facility."

Extensive training is also vital, and through a cooperative arrangement between ABB, CPCC and the State of North Carolina, most of the classroom training is offered at CPCC's Huntersville Campus. ABB signed on with CPCC to create a unique, state-funded customized training program for ABB employees. Training began in October, and the first group of Huntersville employees recently deployed to Sweden began their introduction to ABB's operation in CPCC classrooms.

"We are excited to work with ABB and we congratulate them on becoming a customized training program client with CPCC," says Michelle Miller, executive director of corporate learning and economic recruitment for CPCC in Charlotte.

"North Carolina was the first state to offer a program of this nature and we have a long history of working successfully with companies to provide highly relevant training that increases the capacity of our local workforce in the Huntersville area. We look forward to working with ABB's future employees and creating a healthy growth in the company's fortunes in the region."

CPCC's series of ABB classes, taught by CPCC professors or subject matter experts, include the basics of electricity, shop math and understanding the metric system, small forklift operation, extrusion 101 and a "train the trainers" program providing eight hours of instruction for the new plant's production area managers.

CPCC is hosting some of the classes, including the basics of electricity program, in its Integrated Systems Technology Lab, a world-class facility designed by industry leaders with direct input from ABB in customizing the training. In the lab, students get hands-on experience with electrical control circuits, mechanical drives, pneumatics and other aspects of the modern production facility environment.

The local ABB operation will be housed in a $90 million, 250,000-square-foot production plant under construction on a 23-acre tract in Commerce Station off N.C. 115 in Southern Huntersville. The industrial park is owned jointly by the towns of Cornelius, Davidson and Huntersville. ABB is the second occupant of the park, joining Pactiv (formerly Prairie Packaging). Alongside plant production, work is under way to straighten Verhoeff Drive and build a bridge over N.C. 115 to provide for more direct access into and out of the park.

The ABB facility's most noticeable landmark is the 430-foot concrete tower used in the extrusion stage of the cable-production process. The Huntersville plant, expected to employ 100 workers when it opens next fall, will manufacture high-voltage and extra-high-voltage cables for underground electrical transmission.

The Huntersville plant is the newest in ABB's massive, global network of production facilities. The Switzerland-based company is the world's number one provider of power transmission and distribution equipment and technology, with operations in more than 100 countries and more than 117,000 employees. The company, founded more than 100 years ago, pioneered the technology for high-voltage direct current transmissions in 1954. Today, two ABB-engineered cables can transfer the power of two large nuclear plants. ABB cables are used to enhance the transmission efficiency of existing grids and to access remote power sources, such as solar and wind farms and offshore facilities.

In fact, demand for underwater transmission cables recently fueled ABB's announcement of a $400 million expansion at the Karlskrona plant. The expansion at the facility will double the production capacity and include the construction of new buildings and the installation of additional manufacturing lines. The expansion will begin next year and be completed in phases continuing through 2015.

Bill Rose, a native Charlottean and manager of media relations for ABB Inc.'s Cary-based Power Products & Power Systems divisions in North America, provided much of the information for this article.

The full article may also be accessed by visiting the Lake Norman Citizen at