Editor's Note: This is Part 3 in a three-part series on Aisin. This piece focuses on how much the three Aisin plants have grown over the years, both in terms of production and employment.
MARION - The sprawling Aisin automotive manufacturing complex, the one that encompasses three plants and multiple product lines, employs 2,423, and covers 70 acres of the Redco Industrial Park between Marion and Carterville, began 15 years ago with one plant, one product line and 200 employees.
What do they make at Aisin?
Aisin Manufacturing or AMI makes sunroofs and door-assembly units.
Aisin Light Metals or ALM makes aluminum bumper parts and plastic dashboards and wheel covers.
Aisin Electronics or AEIL makes electronic systems used to control sunroofs; power doors, seats, mirrors and steering wheels; four-wheel drive systems; smart keys; running lights; and airbags.
Who buys Aisin products?
Toyota, General Motors, Lexus, Subaru, Nissan, Honda and Mazda.
How many people work at Aisin?
AMI employs 1,801.
ALM employs 203.
AEIL employs 419.
So, 2,423 people work at the Aisin industrial complex.
"The Aisin plants in Marion have been fortunate to experience significant, steady growth and expansion over our 15-year history," said Glenn Edwards, executive vice president of Aisin Manufacturing Illinois, one of three Aisin plants.
Edwards cited corporate reports that show AMI's sales rising steadily from $188 million in 2004 to $313 million in 2013, and then increasing by an unheard-of 36 percent over the next three years, topping out in 2016 at $492 million.
Aisin Light Metals or ALM's sales grew from $27.9 million in 2006 to $57.4 million in 2015 and $70 million in 2016. Likewise, Aisin Electronics or AEIL's sales grew to $226 million in 2015, and nearly doubled to $422 million in 2016.
"Aisin is an amazing operation," said Glenn Clarida of Clarida & Ziegler Engineering and longtime REDCO board member. "They started with one plant and a few hundred employees and grew into the manufacturing complex that it is today. I'd say the future is bright, for Aisin and for Williamson County, and that both still have plenty of room to grow."
Edwards attributes that growth to customer confidence in Aisin products and Aisin's dedication to perfecting processes and supporting employees' efforts to improve.
"Our team members are proud of the products we make every day," Edwards said.
No one would argue that the bottom line is a tried and true measure of success, but there are other Aisin statistics that just might mean more to a lot of people -- at least to the 2,423 that work at Aisin -- and that's the sharp increase in the number of co-workers, a 109 percent increase over the past five years.
"It's through their efforts, our Aisin team members, that we have developed such positive and long-term business partnerships and a safe, stable work environment," Edwards said.
Aisin's philosophy is a relentless pursuit of customer satisfaction, business performance and recognition as a "world-class organization."
But the company policy also recognizes Aisin's responsibility to provide employees with a "safe work environment," and opportunities to improve health and wellness, including a fitness center, health screenings and programs that promote healthy lifestyles.
Team members are encouraged to "contribute through commitment with consideration, communication and cooperation."
"Our vision that supports our success is 'The Aisin Way: Respect each and every person," said Charles Kuhn, vice president of quality and production control for AEIL. "Each associate's vitality drives all of our corporate activities. We look forward to difficult challenges, knowing that our vision and teamwork will guide us in future growth and success."
Aisin takes care of its team members, offering employees several opportunities to continue their education, including tuition reimbursement and enrichment programs.
The company also shows respect for the surrounding communities by contributing regularly to many local charities, food drives, blood drives and book drives and by encouraging employees to participate.
Aisin has earned more than a few business and industry awards, a number of safety awards and certificates, an environmental certification and an EPA award for recycling more than 78 different materials.
Edwards is particularly proud of the fact that AMI reached "zero landfill" status in September 2009 and has remained one of the few Illinois manufacturers that does not add to the state's landfills.
"Aisin believes very strongly in being a good corporate citizen," Edwards said.
TIMELINE OF GROWTH
Aisin Manufacturing Illinois
Aisin Manufacturing Illinois started production in the summer of 2002 in a 150,000-square-
foot plant, making sunroofs and door assembly units. In 2004, Aisin expanded the plant and in 2016, expanded it again by moving its shipping department off site -- into the old Circuit City building in Marion -- and freeing up more space for manufacturing.
Today, AMI fills a 288,000-square-foot plant and employs 1,801. Inside that huge building, employees work at a variety of manufacturing processes, including assembly, injection, and painting.
Every work day, AMI ships 4,000 sunroofs, 5,600 door parts, 300 roof rail products, 35,000 door handle parts and 4,000 center pillar products around the world to customers that include Toyota, General Motors, Lexus and Subaru.
Aisin Light Metals
Aisin Light Metals, the second Aisin plant, started production in 2004 in a 135,000-square-foot facility with about 50 employees working in an aluminum extruding operation, making bumper reinforcements, crash box extensions and anti-lock braking system bodies.
"Automotive companies are increasingly looking for ways to make cars and trucks lighter and more fuel efficient," said Mike Mitchell, plant manager at ALM. "Aluminum is the best answer to those issues due to its high strength along with being light weight."
ALM was the first overseas aluminum extrusion plant for Aisin, headquartered in Japan, whose die-casting and extrusion processes are used to create bumper reinforcements and extensions, and parts for anti-lock brake systems for Toyota, Nissan and Honda.
"We began business with Toyota in 2004, shipping bumper reinforcements to two assembly plants," Mitchell said. "We currently ship products to four customers with 11 automotive assembly plant, Toyota, Advics, Chrysler, and most recently, Honda."
The plant had a major expansion in 2003 and another that was just finished six months ago, adding 72,000 square feet to the plant and more than doubling the number of employees.
"The last year has been very challenging for all of our team members, with construction and constant change in their work areas, but everyone has really stepped up and come together to help accomplish our company goals," Mitchell said. "Our team members made it possible for us to receive the Toyota quality award for 2016, which is a very amazing achievement, considering all of the changes to our facility over the last year."
Today, 203 ALM employees are still making those aluminum bumper parts, but they're also molding dashboards and wheel covers out of a high-performance plastic that's shiny, impervious and resilient. And the plant has grown, too, from 135,000 square feet in 2004 to 201,000 square feet today.
Aisin Electronics Illinois
Aisin Electronics Illinois, the newest plant, began production in 2005 in a $20 million, climate-controlled, anti-static, 57,000-square-foot facility with 64 workers.
We "began our first full year of mass production in 2006, and we have enjoyed steady growth in sales each year," said Charles Kuhn, vice president of quality and production control for AEIL.
The plant produces sensitive electronic systems used to control automatic doors and sunroofs, seats, mirrors, steering wheels, four-wheel drive systems, smart keys, running lights and airbags.
"Our products control systems that make vehicles safe and comfortable," Kuhn said.
In 2014, a $15 million, 108,000-square-foot expansion meant 80 more AEIL employees. By 2013, more than 230 worked in the newest plant. Today, AEIL employs 419.
"Our customers have provided our electronics plant in Marion many challenges, and I am proud to report that our local members have exceeded our customer expectations," Kuhn said.
Every work day, AEIL ships about 65,000 automotive components, 40,000 sensors and 25,000 electronic control units to customers that include Toyota, Honda, Nissan, Mazda and GM.