PALMETTO -- An aircraft power systems company that moved more of its operations to Manatee County two years ago with the intention of growing its workforce is now becoming a leaner operation aiming to have its products under the same brand worldwide.
GSE Holdings, which brought Hobart Ground Power to its Trilectron Industries and ITW Military GSE factory on U.S. 41 in Palmetto in 2012, is unifying its brand under the new ITW GSE Americas banner. The move comes as the company's parent, Illinois Tool Works based in Glenville, Ill., introduces measures to reduce redundancy in its aircraft power business. About 119 people work in the Palmetto facility.
The change eliminated an aircraft air-conditioning production operation from the 113,000-square foot facility. It also saw ITW GSE redesigning its power systems assembly lines this week. New signage went up on the building's exterior last week.
"We should increase productivity and see an increase in quality," said Dave Spiggle, ITW's local plant manager.
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ITW GSE's business dates back to Hobart's founding in 1946. Hobart, formerly an Ohio company, built power generation and conversion equipment specifically designed to power aircraft electrical systems while they sat on runways. In the decades since, the company has marketed successive generations of that equipment and other products under the Hobart, AXA Power, Houchin, J&B Aviation and ITW Mili
Trilectron first began production in Palmetto in 1987. It was purchased by Illinois Tool Works in 2001. The addition of Hobart was expected to bring 42 more jobs to the plant, something encouraged by $210,000 in promised incentive money from the state and $42,000 from Manatee County. GSE Holdings terminated the incentive agreement with the state when it changed its business plan in Palmetto, according to a spokeswoman with the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity.
The publicly traded company's customers include FedEx, UPS, major airlines and U.S. and foreign militaries. Total revenues for Illinois Tool Works in 2013 were $14.1 billion, according to its annual shareholder report. ITW GSE Americas equipment range in price from a few thousand dollars to more than $400,000 for a high-end military power unit.
Simon Fraser, the business unit manager for ITW GSE Americas, said the brand unification ties the company's domestic and foreign products together. Products similar to those assembled in Palmetto are also built at ITW GSE factories in the United Kingdom and Denmark. Individual brand names such as Hobart and AXA will be maintained under the ITW GSE banner because they are recognizable to customers, she said.
"It's about linking those brands under one umbrella," Fraser said.
The company's exit from the air-conditioning sector eliminated five ITW GSE Americas jobs. Fraser said the change was made to increase growth and productivity among the company's other product lines. The Palmetto manufacturing plant will be reconfigured over the coming months to give more production space to some product lines and to make others more efficient. The workforce staffing those lines build various sizes and types of generators and converters that produce their own electricity or convert utility produced power for use in aircraft on the runway.
Fixtures on the tarmac at airports around the world, the equipment allows pilots to shut their engines off while still running lights, ventilation and other functions in cockpits and cabins.
Fraser declined to estimate how much production will increase with the changes.
The factory configuration is expected to be finished in December.
Matt M. Johnson, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7027, or on Twitter @MattAtBradenton.