Eaton is closing its clutch-assembly operation in Charlotte, N.C., at the end of next year, but that doesn't reflect any slowdown in its clutch business, according to the company.
Eaton will shift production to Eaton plants in Indiana and Mexico. This will mean 84 layoffs, the first wave of which will happen Oct. 15. The facility, which has been in operation since 2007, will remain open with 27 employees until the end of 2015 as existing orders are completed.
Eaton says it is working closely with customers and suppliers so there is no impact on their business operations.
In an interview with HDT, Eaton spokesman Jim Michels explained that the move has nothing to do with demand for clutches.
"We constantly do studies of our facilities to make sure we're looking at our manufacturing footprint and operating at or near capacity as much as possible," Michels says. In doing so, he said, the company determined it had extra capacity it could use in its plants in Auburn, Ind., and San Luis Potosi, Mexico.
"We have moved some other things out of those facilities into other facilities," he explained, creating the extra capacity. "We're constantly moving our manufacturing footprint so we're optimized."
In another example, he said, last year Eaton shifted some gear machining business out of Kearney, Nebraska, to its plant in Hastings, Nebraska, opening extra capacity in Kearney for engine valve production to meet demand from OEM customers.
"Our clutch business is doing very, very well," he said, and in fact the company is excited about a new product it will be announcing in early September.
We asked how the increasing popularity of automated transmissions is affecting the clutch business.
"Automateds require a different form of clutch than a manual, and it is leading to some new products from us to be able to supply clutches for automated and automatics," Michels says.
"Out clutch business is doing very well, and we've got some new products coming. And in general our commercial vehicle business is doing extremely well, both in transmissions and clutches, in North America."
While the clutches being produced in the closing Charlotte plant are primarily for the original equipment market, we also asked about Eaton's aftermarket business. Michels said the company is seeing "nice growth in aftermarket.
"We have some really exciting plans on some new products for the aftermarket in Europe and other regions," Michels said. He also pointed to expansion of the company's authorize rebuilder program. "Our aftermarket business is doing well and we expect it to really take off here in the next year and beyond."