Building a brand-new 250,000-square-foot manufacturing plant and bringing it online takes collaboration, creativity, and teamwork. The newest GAF plant in New Columbia, Pennsylvania, is a testament to how hard work, support from the community, and flexibility all contributed to bringing this new facility to life.
Building a New Plant
New Columbia general manager Michael Widerquist explains that getting a plant ready for operations is a multiyear process, and building one during a pandemic made it especially challenging.
"With travel restrictions, we did not have the full support we would with a normal start-up," he says. "The GAF corporate support team is from all over the USA. We had to adapt quickly and get used to doing normal tasks remotely."
Logistics were a challenge, with much of the equipment coming from Europe. Fifty shipping containers carried the main equipment for the plant, and Widerquist says they were fortunate to have a handful of the equipment suppliers travel to the plant to assist with the installation and commissioning.
Plant production manager Caleb Williams says the support from the GAF corporate team was key to getting the plant built and operational, as was Widerquist's experience managing other GAF polyiso plants. The New Columbia plant also features equipment made by the GAF ISO plant in Cedar City, Utah, and some of the operators from there were able to travel to Pennsylvania to help train new operators.
Collaborating with the Community
As Widerquist mentions, the teamwork and partnerships within the GAF team is the secret behind the successful start-up of the plant.
"Every department has critical partnerships, but the closest partnership is with our Corporate Engineering and Operation Technology group," he explains. "The teamwork on the ground with our team in New Columbia has been outstanding."
Collaborating with the community was an important part of the plant becoming operational and ensuring that safety would always be a priority.
"We worked with the local volunteer fire department in New Columbia to help them familiarize themselves with our facility and the chemical we use on-site," says Williams. "We gathered several safety suggestions from the fire department and look forward to a long-term supportive relationship where we plan to help them with training opportunities on our site."
Since the start of the project, the GAF team has prioritized safety, which is evident in the plant's culture. Widerquist says the culture emphasizes safety, collaboration, continuous improvement, and community engagement.
"All employees at the plant are empowered to make decisions, develop solutions, and evolve our processes," he says. "Employees are trusted to have ownership over their work and have the personal power to improve results. The plant environment is driven by diverse ideas, employees who are invested and engaged in their work, and a team that inspires one another to be better than yesterday."
The New Columbia plant has established programs that focus on continuous improvement and environmental health and safety. These programs provide employees with the opportunity to help innovate the facility by developing solutions and improvements that make their jobs safer and more efficient.
One of the most memorable team moments for Williams was the day they raised their own custom-built US flag made from GAF TPO membrane. The machine technicians now operating the production line assembled the flag. "This was a great and unique day that makes us proud to work at GAF," Williams says.
Since opening the newest plant, GAF has created 50 new jobs for the community, and that number is expected to grow to over 130 employees once hiring is complete. Anyone interested in joining the team at the new plant or at any of the 34 GAF manufacturing operations across the US can visit the careers page to review job openings.