Republican File PhotoA panorama of the U.S. Tsubaki plant in Chicopee
CHICOPEE – Earthquake devastation in Japan has shifted production to the U.S. Tsubaki Automotive plant in Chicopee.
The plant in the Chicopee Industrial Park has added two production workers to its staff of 240 in order to keep up with demand from automotive factories in China and Thailand, said President Mark J. Miller. The company makes timing chains for auto engines.
“Toyota is our largest customer, but we make for all the original equipment manufacturers,” Miller said Tuesday. “We do a lot for Chrysler and Ford.”
Tsubaki also has a roller chain plant in Holyoke that has not been impacted, said Charles Monty, the general manager at the Holyoke plant.
Industrial production in Japan slowed to a crawl after the March 11 earthquake, subsequent tsunami and ensuing damage to Japanese nuclear power reactors. Miller said all the Japanese staff members at Tsubaki here in Western Massachusetts have been in touch with their families and those people are safe.
Tsubaki’s Japanese plant is in Hanno City, West of Tokyo and removed from the devastation, Miller said. But with reactors down, the plant is subject to rolling blackouts that prevent workers there from heat-treating parts needed to make the chains.
“They have been told that the blackouts will continue at least through April,” Miller said.
Miller said the Japanese auto industry is largely shut down at the moment. But some customers are asking the Chicopee plant for daily production updates.
“The Japanese will do everything they have to do to get things back up and running,” Miller said.
According to The Associated Press, experts believe that Japanese auto industry will ramp up production this week.
The Chicopee plant also relies on parts made in Japan. But Miller said there are ample parts in the supply chain. It takes three weeks for the parts to get here which means the parts that are arriving now left before the earthquake.
“I’m more concerned about four to six weeks from now,” he said.
Miller said the new staff at U.S. Tsubaki will likely be permanent. He’d been expecting more work in the fall even before the earthquake and the new employees will stay on board to handle it.