Alliance is re-imagining vended laundry for the 21st century with bright, friendly facilities like this one.
American manufacturing, American jobs
My tour guide, John S., retired from Alliance Laundry Systems after working there for 40 years. Alliance likes to have retired workers give their tours, and I can see why as John knew EVERYTHING about what was going on in the plant.
Ripon has a population of around 7,500, and Alliance employs about 1,400, meaning a significant number of city residents work there. Despite employing such a high percentage of the town’s population, the company is growing and there are always ample jobs available for those who want them. With all the news about companies moving manufacturing offshore, it was gratifying to see a company so dedicated to manufacturing their products here in the good ol’ USA. The newly-build Global Distribution Center, which you will see later, is proof of this commitment.
Also accompanying me was Randy Radtke, Media Relations Manager. Randy has been working with me for the past year or so supplying images for my column, and it was nice to finally meet him in person. Like myself, he has a passion for old and vintage things, so we had a lot to talk about besides laundry!
The tour begins
I am going to detail my tour in chronological order as I went through it, rather than cover the manufacture of a washer and dryer from start to finish. It practically reads like a start-to-finish story as I experienced it, and there are several things going on simultaneously in different parts of the plant throughout the whole process (such as side panels being painted in one part of the plant while a drum is being checked for leaks in another) which make a start-to-finish story impractical.
Tool and die department
The first thing we saw upon entering the factory floor was tool and die equipment. “This allows us to make parts to repair our manufacturing equipment on-site,” John explained.
Metal presses such as this one were located all over the plant. Some of them, which you will see later, are the largest pieces of manufacturing equipment I have ever seen.
Here, the cut metal is about to be placed in to the press to be formed.
Here is the formed metal sheet, fresh out of the press. This part looks like it will be going in to a large commercial machine.
This video shows the press in operation.
Metal scraps from the manufacturing process are collected for recycling. They did not talk about it on the tour, but it is obvious that many steps are taken to minimize waste. I did not see many waste collection bins around, and I heard the word “recycling” used often. Some of the these scraps were fed into the recycle bins automatically when the metal was cut, stamped or formed.
The heart of the machine
You could say the tub is the heart of the machine,because not only is it located in the center, but because it is where everything happens.
You can see tubs EVERYWHERE in the plant. Stacked in places, on conveyor systems that wind through the plant, everywhere!
Outer wash tubs.
If you look at the foreground, it resembles a paper feeder in a printer or copier. The “feeder” on the other side is loaded with steel sheets. The machine feeds the sheets in one by one and makes them into outer wash tubs, first by rolling and welding them, then by expanding them and welding on the bottom. You can see the rolled tubs to the right of the sheet feeder.
This video shows the machine folding and welding the tubs. You will see the expander on the right when I quickly pan the camera.
John was especially proud to point out the quality of the automated weld, which is key to the long life (including a lifetime warranty) and the leak-proof performance.
This part is REALLY cool. The outer tub is raised into an expander machine that expands it and presses the ribs out.
Watch it work in the video above.
The bottom is then welded on and manually checked for leaks.
The matching wash tubs and outer tubs are then placed on a conveyor system that transports them throughout the plant. No matter where you are in the factory, if you look up or around you can see the tubs getting moved around.
It looks like roller coaster, from the upper right, down and then up again!
Those aren’t walkways you see above. The tub conveyor system runs through it, transporting the tubs from one building to another.
As you can hear from my guide, it takes over two hours to make a complete circuit.
Words cannot describe what it is like to be next to this machine or see it in operation. It is HUGE.
It is fed from the end with a massive steel roll. It is kind of surreal to see a giant roll of steel there, sitting on a spool as casually as if it was a roll of toilet paper.
You can see the machine in operation here. Notice the scrap pieces falling into bins as it goes through its paces.
This area is used to clean and prepare the dies between jobs.
Lots and lots and lots of steel
If you read my original piece about Speed Queen, you will see that when I leaned on the machine I said it felt like I was leaning on a solid block of steel. Here is some of that solid steel that gets made in to machines like mine.
Like the giant machine shown earlier, the pictures do not adequately convey the sense of scale.
Here is another huge metal press. This one was so big that this was the only angle that enables me to get the whole thing in the frame.
Finished metal parts
The metal parts are then delivered to the areas where they will be used to assemble the machines.
I found these bikes parked at various places around the factory. The factory is so big that sometimes the workers use them for transportation or to shuttle parts around.