Fairfield Manufacturing Co. Inc. announced it will make a $53.1 million capital investment over the next three years at its Lafayette plant, which currently employs 1,032. The investment comes as Gary Lehman, Fairfield’s chief executive since 2003, takes over as chief executive officer of the Drive Systems business segment of Switzerland-based Oerlikon AG, which he will oversee from Fairfield in Lafayette.
The Oerlikon Drive Systems segment integrates Fairfield and Italy’s Graziano Transmissioni as well as their 14 production and sales facilities. Besides Lafayette, two are in China, three in India, six in Italy, and one each in Russia and the United Kingdom.
“Lafayette is benefiting from two significant investments,” Lehman said. “One is monetary. The other is trust in our potential to handle these huge new responsibilities.”
Fairfield and Graziano will each continue research and development work and retain their own brands in the Drive Systems division, one of six owned by Oerlikon AG, Lehman said.
Government leaders were on hand to hail the news.
Lafayette Mayor Tony Roswarski said, “The story of Fairfield in Lafayette is indeed a great one. And it gets better with every chapter. What began in 1919 as a small gear shop has grown to be a major force in the industry with worldwide recognition for its products. Our community is indeed proud that Fairfield began here, grew here, and is now writing a new chapter with Gary Lehman directing Oerlikon Drive Systems from here.”
Calling it “a proud day for Fairfield employees and the city of Lafayette,” Roswarski said, “All this means continued good jobs for hundreds of folks in our community, continued research and development of new products here in Lafayette, and continued and perhaps even expanded production as Fairfield meets world market needs. Lafayette hails Fairfield’s news today, welcomes Gary Lehman’s added division responsibilities here in our community and awaits the next exciting chapter in this company’s history.”
John Knochel, president of the Tippecanoe County Commissioners, asked, “What better way to show your belief in your workforce, your product line and your location than to make a significant investment in all three?”
He answered his own question, saying, “That’s what we’re seeing today as Fairfield counts on its workers, focuses on its research and development here, and makes a significant investment in its facility here. It’s welcome news for Tippecanoe County. It reflects a great trust in our community.”
Lehman said because both Fairfield and Graziano are respected leaders in design, development, manufacture and supply of gear and drive solutions for mobile and industrial machinery applications, the integration of the two as Oerlikon Drive Systems will bring a wider range of capabilities and drive solutions to the global market.
He expects to see increased product development and innovation in product and manufacturing technologies.
The $53.1 million in new investments comes on top of $47 million made in the last four years, for a seven-year total topping $100 million at Fairfield.
The $53.1 million in Lafayette is part of a $300 million worldwide investment in the Oerlikon Drive Systems business segment, Lehman said. “That investment is significant for the future of Fairfield and is a tribute to the confidence that Oerlikon AG has in the Drive Systems overall business strategy.”
Because of customer demand for nearby production facilities, Oerlikon Drive Systems is also expanding in—India and China. Fairfield’s Atlas facility in India, which makes the smaller range of gear solutions, will invest $71.4 million to add mid-sized gearing and drive solutions. A new, $55.4 million manufacturing facility in Suzhou, China, will make, assemble and distribute gear and drive system solutions for the domestic China market. The remainder of the $300 million will be shared by other sites.
“Our customers are expanding their global presence by moving into China,” Lehman said. “They are requiring their suppliers to support them in all regions around the world. A decision not to invest or expand into China would adversely impact our business in Lafayette and Europe because these customers would find other suppliers willing to follow them and manufacture globally. We’re not going to let that happen.”
In fact, Lehman said, “We anticipate that by following and supporting our customers globally, we will secure a greater share of our customers’ business as a preferred supplier, and this will likely mean more business here in Lafayette, in Europe and other locations as our market and business shares increase.”
Lehman added that, “We do know that a decision not to expand into China and other global regions would result in our business share shrinking and jeopardizing the future of Fairfield in Lafayette and the Drive Systems segment in general.”
He credited the Lafayette community and support from business and education with the company’s success. “We look forward to maintaining this close relationship and continuing to work toward making a positive difference in this community,” Lehman said.
News that Lehman would stay in Lafayette and led division operations from here was good to hear, said Roswarski.
“I’m also pleased to see that Gary Lehman, a graduate of West Lafayette High School and Purdue University, and now a Purdue University trustee, was chosen for this expanded leadership post,” Roswarski said. “He successfully led Fairfield through some significant challenges the last seven years. And now he will lead it to greater success, backed by Fairfield’s skilled and dedicated workforce.”