Voith Group is celebrating 145 years in York County with an outlook for more innovative ways of doing business thanks, in part, to the pandemic.
Stanley Kocon, president and CEO of Voith North America, said, like many companies, they had to shift overnight from in person customer service to virtual communication.
However, the shift to online communications has proven to be a good thing.
“It was a quick transition for us and we adopted in a remote manner,” he said. “We developed video support so our customers could show us what their issues were and that propelled the business and industry forward.”
Voith North America is comprised of Voith Hydro, Voith Paper and Voith Turbo, within its Corporate Center/Global Business Services. All but Voith Paper, which is in Wisconsin, are headquartered in York County.
While the company does business throughout the country and globally, some of its customers are in Southcentral Pennsylvania. Before the pandemic, technicians would personally visit customers to troubleshoot. Very quickly, the company was able to speed up digitalization and troubleshoot via video.
Now that travel restrictions have been lifted, the company uses both methods, but Kocon said some prefer the video method because it is immediate.
“We are a culture of immediate satisfaction,” he said. “Never in history have we had such rapid information and now I see it being put to the best use.”
Voith is a family-owned company that originated in Germany. Over the years, it set up a highly regional focus in strategic locations around the world. In the United States, hydropower, manufacturing and engineering became its footprint because of the high demand, Kocon said.
So how did they land in York?
Voith Hydro dates back to 1877 when it was known as S. Morgan Smith. S. Morgan Smith became Allis Chalmers which was acquired by Voith Hydro in 1986 after collaborating with the company for many years, Kocon said.
Today, the York location is one of the world’s largest dedicated hydropower manufacturing facilities and the only one in the U.S. with a hydraulic test laboratory, he said.
“Our 215,000-square-foot production area has some of the largest machine tools in North America. Hydropower is a clean, renewable, sustainable energy source and can support less stable renewables like wind and solar,” he added. “In some places it also helps with recreation – swimming, fishing, etc. We produce products that result in more efficient and environmentally safe hydropower and provide state-of-the-art digital solutions that improve efficiency of hydropower plants.”
In 2014, the company completed the expansion of the Holtwood Hydroelectric facility on the Susquehanna. Voith supplied the turbines, generators and automation components for the project, which more than doubled the century-old plant’s electricity generating capacity.
The company also built the world’s largest turbine – at the time in 1903 – for Niagra Falls, he added.
Voith Turbo has been in York since 1987. “Our facility has more than 69,000 square feet. We specialize in high-performance drive-line equipment for Industry and Mobility applications. Voith Turbo’s mobility solutions (including electric drivelines) help make transportation more efficient and sustainable whether it’s on roads, railways or waterways,” he said.
In fact, the company’s Schneider Propeller runs New York’s Staten Island Ferry.
The company also developed the first automated transmission for transit buses and the first hydrodynamic coupling, he said.
Voith Turbo’s industrial solutions focus on maximizing safety and resources while increasing productivity for customers in energy, oil & gas, power and mining & metals applications around the world. Voith Turbo is even developing and producing gearboxes and generators for wind turbines to further support renewable energy.
“What all of our group divisions have in common is that we are focused on sustainable, innovative solutions that help industries, people and communities. In fact, our DNA/mission is ‘Sustainable Technologies for Generations’.”
To that end, as of this year, all Voith plants operate climate net neutral and since 2016, the company has reduced its CO2 emissions by 31%.
The company operates in 60 countries with 16 primary sites in the U.S. It employs about 20,000 globally, 1,950 in the U.S., with just under 800 in York.
The company touts $5.1 billion in sales globally and $654 million in the U.S.
Looking to the future, Kocon is excited about the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022. If passed, it will invest in domestic energy production and manufacturing and reduce carbon emissions by roughly 40% by 2030.
“It has to get to (President Joe) Biden, but to have the recognition that we have to deal with climate change is important to us,” he said. “We are positioned to deal with clean energy in high performing industries. Our products are made in the U.S., in fact, right here in York and we are the only company with a hydraulic test laboratory.”
COVID made it clear that companies need to rely on parts made in the United States, he said. While he doesn’t discount global economics, “It was a revelation to many that we need to make things here – we need to support industries with a local supply chain.”
Both Voith Hydro and Voith Turbo are service and retrofit operations. “We do rapid high-tech work to put companies back in service quickly and we’re strong in that by virtue of our presence in York,” he said.
Voith is a net zero company and manufacturer for clients. “It takes investment from our employees and our investors,” he said. “Being local creates ownership between our employees and the industries we serve.”
He said the employees know they need to be there for their customers and because of that they know what they are working for. It makes for a dedicated workforce, he said.