Flint & Walling: Longevity, quality, family

April 8th, 2019

By Steve Garbacz | KPC Media: The News Sun

What hasn’t Flint & Walling, Kendallville’s oldest manufacturer, accomplished at this point?

The company, which specializes in manufacturing water-moving pumps of all kinds, is proving that even after 153 years in business, there’s plenty more to do.

The company still maintains deep roots in Kendallville. It still provides good jobs to the community. And it still has a lot of opportunity to keep growing.

As this year’s Kendallville Area Chamber of Commerce’s Industry of the Year — the second time the company has won the award — Flint & Walling keeps its focus on the families that work for it and the quality and breadth of products it builds at its main Oak Street campus and its newer facility on West Mitchell Street.

In today’s modern manufacturer economy, some plants run 24/7, truck in parts and run fast-paced assembly churning out thousands and thousands of units.

Touring the main building with Plant Manager Nathaniel Wisel, it’s quickly apparent Flint & Walling takes a different approach.

The manufacturing operation is highly vertically integrated, meaning that most of the supply line, the parts that it takes to build every type of pump, is produced right there in-house. There are some things Flint & Walling doesn’t make — small components like wire connectors, for example — but a lot of the components of the pump from the housing to the motor to the impellers and other moving parts are being made somewhere in the building.

Made here. Supplied here. Assembled here.

Even the parts that aren’t being made in Kendallville are kept close by, typically within driving distance so that if Flint & Walling has any issues, company officials can hop in a car and pay a personal visit to the supplier.

Because Flint & Walling does so much of its own part production, it allows the company to provide a wide range of models that can be customized for clients based on their needs, Wisel said. Instead of producing thousands of just one type of pump, the plant instead typically works in small batches, filling orders as needed.

Because of that tight supply chain, workers can shift production fairly easily and put together different models on different days with little disruption on the floor.

Over the last century and a half, Flint & Walling has obviously updated its product lines, but more generally speaking the products the company produces fall into the same field. Basically, if you need to move water somewhere, whether for irrigation or ponds or drainage, above ground of submersible, Flint & Walling makes a pump for the job.

“We manufacture a wide range. Anything that moves water in household and consumer needs,” Flint & Walling President Eric Rimmel said. “We’re very proud of the fact we do all our own machining, assembly, development of motor manufacturing.”

Flint & Walling also prides itself on being a quality product, moreso than being a quantity manufacturer, Wisel said. The parts being produced and assembled on the floor go through numerous rounds of quality testing throughout the process.

A motor will be electrically tested to make sure it functions. Pumps will have water put through them to make sure they pump right. Submersible pumps get put underwater and run to make sure they not only pump correctly but also stay watertight.

With some of the newer products, Flint & Walling is also able to log those tests individually and provide inspection records to customers. That way, if a product is returned with an issue, the team can look up that item’s specific records and dissect the problem.

“From the machine shop, through sub-assemblies and final finish packaging, there are probably between certification, measurements, audit, releases and sub-assembly testing ... any one assembly will go through anywhere from five to 10 quality tiers of inspection,” Rimmel said.

The quality of the product is important, but another point of pride for Flint & Walling is the quality of the job for its employees.

Flint & Walling runs a first shift and a limited third shift. For the more than 160 employees, the job sticks to a 40-hour per week model, because the company wants its workers to have that life outside of work.

“Our culture is very family based, very representative of the local Kendallville community,” Rimmel said. “We work hard, we enjoy each other’s company. Our workforce traditionally makes a career here at Flint & Walling.”

Flint & Walling has benefited from longevity in its staff, with many employees who have been with the company for decades. It’s only more recently, Rimmel, said, that’s there’s a changing of the guard as veterans retire and the company hires in some new young blood.

It doesn’t take long for new people to get a feel for the culture, Wisel said, and word-of-mouth from its current employees has helped the company attract new workers. While some firms struggle to find and hire new labor, that hasn’t been so much of an issue at Flint & Walling, he said.

“We’re kind of excited about the influx of new operators,” Rimmel said. “It gives us a little life. but all in all the work staff, they very much are in tune with the culture and values of this community.”

For a company in business in the community for 153 years, Flint & Walling isn’t showing signs of slowing down. The firm continues to grow and expand, adding new equipment and capabilities.

While you can still see some pieces of equipment that were in use during World War II on the factory floor, you’ll also find new computerized machines added within the last year or two, Wisel said.

Flint & Walling also has recently rehabbed the former Superior Essex building on West Mitchell Street and opened a Zoeller Motor Works production line, with more than 50 employees working at that facility.

As the company advances toward the 175-year mark, Kendallville can expect to see growth in the product line and, again, more of the process brought in-house.

“There’s a lot of new markets and projects we’re working on. We’re looking in both the agricultural, more controls and electronics,” Rimmel said. “A lot of our growth in our manufacturing has been with the expansion of our machine shop.”

Flint & Walling was last recognized as Industry of the Year in 2007, but its recent spate of growth and continued investment in the community made the company worthy of the award again, Kendallville Chamber Executive Director Lynnette Leamon said.

“Flint & Walling is recognized again because of their long history of investing in Kendallville and providing great benefits and wages for their employees,” Leamon said. “Last year they purchased an empty building on Mitchell Street and moved their motor production line from Mexico to Kendallville which added about 40 new employees.”

Flint & Walling maintains its roots, and while the company evolves and innovates, one thing remains constant — Flint & Walling is committed to Kendallville.

“Kendallville has been a great supporter of Flint & Walling’s projects,” Rimmel said. “The local community has been our workforce. The people that work at Flint & Walling work very hard, we’re a family-operated business. ... It means a lot to us.”

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