“When I give tours at the KOHLER Power Systems manufacturing plant, I’m usually asked about history and innovation,” says David Wilson. “So I’ve developed what might be a pretty good Final Jeopardy question: ‘Delivered portable electricity to American farms in 1920 before Federal rural electrification.’ ”
The answer: What is the KOHLER Automatic Power & Light “electric plant.”
“That pretty much says it all,” say Wilson, Manager of Operations—Engineering, KOHLER Power Systems. “Our first generator furnished an unprecedented 110 volts and automatically turned itself on and off with a flip of a switch. The predecessor of today’s home backup generator was born.”
A power revolution
“We’re in the midst of a quiet revolution,” says Wilson. “Ten or twenty years ago, people thought central air units were a luxury, but every new house built today has AC.
“Today, reliable power isn’t a luxury either. Basements are fully built-out ‘lower levels.’ Home-based businesses are booming. Homes need continuous power for sump pumps, routers and smartphones. A home generator is an insurance policy against a decaying, aging national grid and severe storms. And a KOHLER generator might be the ultimate technical expression of ‘gracious living’ that drives the entire family of KOHLER products.”
A KOHLER is designed and built, not assembled
KOHLER has been manufacturing generators since 1920, but forty years ago they expanded capacity and moved out of the KOHLER Engines manufacturing plant in Kohler, WI, and took over a former toy factory in nearby Mosel, WI.
“From the start, KOHLER Power Systems committed to a very traditional vertical-integration manufacturing model,” says Wilson. “And that means quality. Unlike other generator manufacturers, KOHLER doesn’t outsource very much at all. Instead we design and manufacture almost every component to very strict specifications. For example, we convert our own steel into brackets, doors and enclosures. We design and manufacture our own circuit boards for our generators and some of our sophisticated plumbing products.
“And our proprietary manufacturing processes lead the industry. We can customize individual residential and commercial generators as they come down the line. We can even wrap some models with branded images. Every single generator is tested in-house before shipping. We do that all under one roof. We’re manufacturing quality, not assembling parts from various suppliers.”
A truly skilled workforce
But there’s one other critical factor in play: an exceptionally skilled workforce. “It takes much more rigor from a manufacturing perspective to do what we’re doing here,” says Wilson. “You have to have engineers, associates and operators who are experienced and flexible and who are deeply engaged in their work. Many of our employees at Mosel have been making our generators for more than 20 years. That’s a mature workforce dedicated to building quality into every generator that KOHLER produces. That commitment is another factor that differentiates a KOHLER.”
After nearly 100 years of technical breakthrough after breakthrough and decades of state-of-the-art manufacturing, KOHLER Power Systems innovation continues, uninterrupted.