by Rob Mullner, Chief Enthusiast-JC Whitney
Photos by the Author
The latest episode of Made In America finds us halfway across the country in Paragould, Arkansas, to visit Tenneco Inc. This plant produces Monroe®shocks and struts and Rancho®shocks for distribution in the aftermarket.
Arriving at the plant, we immediately got a sense of the scale of the operation. In addition to being one of the largest employers in Paragould, the Tenneco plant covers over 450,000 square feet with adjacent warehousing and strut assembly manufacturing nearby. Opened in 1970, Paragould is the second largest plant in the Tenneco portfolio of more than 100 manufacturing operations and is the primary manufacturing plant for Monroe aftermarket suspension in North America, astonishingly producing more than 15.7 million shocks and struts annually! Even more impressive is that some current employees have been at Paragould since the plant opened!!
We were greeted by (from left): John, Operations Manager; our tour guide, Sudhir, Plant Manager; Denise, Marketing Communications Manager; and Misty, Human Resources Manager.
As we donned protective gear, John led us to the prototype and testing center adjacent to the manufacturing floor. John shared that Monroe product engineering occurs in Monroe, Michigan, with product support at Paragould, ensuring that Monroe new products can be introduced and launched quickly with stringent quality control. Teams at Paragould also conduct prototype testing for production approval and destructive testing and teardown to learn more about component design and wear over the life of the shock or strut.
Leaving the lab and moving to the main plant floor, John told us that Paragould is a vertically integrated manufacturing operation that features virtually all of the sub-processes required to manufacture and assemble the huge range of shocks and struts for 98% of North American motorists across 8,000 unique Monroe and Rancho part numbers. Paragould also receives raw materials and production components like chrome rods from sister plants across North America, with springs received from Tenneco’s OE plant in Australia.
We started our tour at the far end of the plant, where raw steel arrives and is turned into shock and strut tubes and rods. Nearby manufacturing cells cut, stamp and weld components used downstream. We also learned firsthand of Monroe’s obsession with quality and consistency. Each component that goes into a Monroe® shock or strut is measured against its original design specifications with noncompliant parts rejected to the scrap bin.
The Paragould plant has been manufacturing Monroe products since 1970 and,as you would expect from a global company,has achieved multiple international quality standards including ISO TS16949 and 14001. The plant prides itself on being a good neighbor and has developed an internship program with a local technical college that teaches students real-world skills they can use if they join the Monroe team at Paragould or any other manufacturer. The plant is also environmentally friendly and has realized a 30% reduction in greenhouse gases as well as 100% compliance with wastewater treatment and recycling. Tenneco Paragould employees are also the largest contributors to the United Way in Greene County.
With 78,000 shocks and struts produced daily from thousands of individual components,you can imagine the tremendous precision required in master planning, demand forecasting and scheduling. If a particular component isn’t available, production on that line must stop, and the ripple effect across the plant will be felt by nearly all of the 1,200 Tenneco employees working five days a week in two shifts at Paragould. Paragould also runs a supporting 3rd shift to manufacture 1,250,000 individual components per day to be used at Paragould and Tenneco sister plants around the world.
As the tour continued we got a chance to meet a few of the Paragould team members who make the Monroe and Rancho products available at JC Whitney. In our first stop we met Donny, who has been at Paragould for over 44 years. Today he was running one of the lower-mount base cup assembly machines. Each piece is visually inspected and measured against the design specifications on an hourly basis to catch any machine or material changes. Many Paragould team members are cross-trained to run multiple machines so that knowledge and experience are shared to benefit the entire organization.
Next we moved to the shock rod department, where 20-foot-long steel raw stock from St. Louis is fed into the process and begins its trip through heat treating, quenching, grinding and threading to yield a hardened shock rod that meets Tenneco and OE quality standards.
John took us over to the powder metal department where Tenneco blends, stamps and heat-treats shock and strut control valves. The process is extensive, as Tenneco specifies the raw material and blends its own formula of micro-ingredients to yield a finished part up to their specifications. Shannon, who has been at Paragould for 24 years, is now a manufacturing leader in the powder metal production area, having worked his way up through multiple positions in the section. Now he oversees the production process that has tolerances of .0001th of a millimeter! Shannon, who is a multigenerational Tenneco employee (his brother is a co-worker, and his Mom just retired from Paragould), told us that the powder metal section will do as many as four different product changeovers per day with each setup process taking between six to eight hours each. We also had a chance to see the dies and measuring devices used to verify that in-spec parts are being produced continuously. Over 150 different parts are created in the powder metal section,whereup to 120 tons of pressure are exerted to form the part. After the press, parts are loaded into a sinter furnace for three hours to heat-treat the part to the desired hardness.
As the various shock and strut parts converge into finished goods, we had a chance to walk down the production lines and see all of the different processes under roof at Paragould including painting, which is applied via a water-based, low-VOC process, to the nuts and bolts of workers assembling shocks and struts with all of the various parts we saw being produced earlier in the day. From here, the finished shocks and struts are sent through packaging and prepared to ship to customers all over the U.S.
Paragould is also the home of a “modular” assembly process that takes the finished Monroe struts and adds more value and convenience to professional technicians and DIY users by assembling a new spring, strut-bearing mount and related components into an easy-to-install part called the Quick-Strut® assembly. Monroe introduced the complete strut assembly concept in 2003, and the line has become extremely popular, with over 12,000 units produced each day. Monroe plans to continue expanding this line throughout 2018.
As we concluded our tour, we came away very impressed with not just the sheer scale of the operation in Paragould,but also the attention to detail in every small component manufactured by the dedicated team of Tenneco employees at the plant. Every person we talked to was obsessed with product quality and producing the very best aftermarket shocks and struts available in North America.
To learn more about Monroe shocks and struts, please visit: http://www.monroe.com/en-US/
To shop Monroe shocks and struts on JC Whitney, please visit: http://www.jcwhitney.com/monroe/b50486j1s9.jcwx