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Viracon restarts production
Glass fabricator opens renovated plant in Statesboro
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Viracon employee Hermell Law is reflected in panes of laminated glass coming off the production line of the plant. - photo by SCOTT BRYANT/staff

      When employees returned to work at Viracon last week, they were met with obvious upgrades to the manufacturing plant, including new carpet, new paint and skylights installed throughout the manufacturing plant.
      What was less apparent to the untrained eye, but quickly noticed by those coming back, were the upgrades to the manufacturing equipment on the factory floor.
      Tyrone Williams is a robot operator and has been with the company for five years. He immediately took note of the changes to the machinery he operates.
      "I love the updated equipment, and it has made my job much easier," he said. "It allows for better production, and eliminates down time. I really like my job, and the people that I work with. I am so glad to be back."
      Plant manager Rick Farmer said the upgrades and enhancements to the equipment were extensive.
      "We have five key manufacturing processes, and every piece of equipment was refurbished including software and mechanical upgrades," he said. "Our expectations are improved run rates, less down time, improved quality control, and reduced operating costs."
      In addition to equipment modifications, Farmer said a new roof of 80mil Firestone Thermoplastic was installed as well as 86 sun wave skylights. The heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning system received updates to yield a more controlled environment, resulting in a cleaner facility.
      "The combination of improved lighting and better insulation offers significant electrical savings," he said. "Many of the upgrades also improve the safety of our workforce."
      Minnesota-based Viracon is America's leading single-source architectural glass fabricator. The company initially invested $27 million to build its Statesboro plant in the Gateway Industrial Park in 1999. These latest renovations cost $6.1 million.
      "The economy really dictated the timing of this major upgrade," Farmer said. "We knew that we wanted to be ready to meet the increased demand when the market comes back. We were able to offload this plant's workload to our Utah plant during the time we were idled without impacting our clients."
      Farmer said he is both pleased and grateful that 85 percent of the 360 employees that were furloughed when the plant shut down returned to work.
      "Everyone was given the opportunity to come back, and those that chose to do so marry up nicely to our productivity and capacity improvements," he said. "By the end of September we will be fully staffed, running two, 36-hour rotating shifts."
      Roselend Cone said she really did not want to start over with a new company when she was furloughed in January.
      "I have been here six years, and I just wanted to wait and see what changes were being made," she said. "I really enjoy my job. I have moved up, and now work as a 'floater' which means I am placed into different positions based on the need. It is so bright, clean and spacious now. I know I made the right decision to wait and come back."
      Farmer said those coming back are treated as new hires.
      "All of our returning employees are being taken through orientation with a strong emphasis on safety," he said. "Productivity is important, but following safe practices is equally as important."
      An opening ceremony will be held in October to kick off the plant's reopening. Viracon's headquarters are in Owatonna, Minn.

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