When Craftsman announced a state-of-the-art manufacturing plant in Texas, the company said it would ‘revitalize’ and ‘bring back their American manufacturing heritage’.
The $90 million plant in Forth Worth will employ 500 full-time workers as well as an army of state-of-the-art machines to churn out American-made equipment made of domestic steel.
It was even claimed that the use of high-tech robots for most manufacturing would bring down manufacturing costs to a level more commonly seen in China.
But the whole process became nothing more than a headache for the craftsmen owned by Stanley Black & Decker when the company failed after the automation system and the number of tools decreased.
The factory churns out so few tools that they’ve become a collector’s item on eBay.
In March this year, just three-and-a-half years after breaking ground on the 45,000-square-foot factory, the company announced it was shutting down the factory.
It was a high-profile example of a drive among US manufacturers to bring offshore plants back to American soil and use American steel, fueled by government incentives.
The Stanley Black & Decker plant in Fort Worth, pictured here, covers 45,000 and costs $90 million.
Factory-made Craftsman tools are so few in number that they have now become collector’s items
Originally, the idea behind the factory was to manufacture the brand’s iconic wrenches, ratchets and sockets from American steel to satisfy consumer desire for US-made tools.
A major attraction of the plant was what the company described as ‘the most advanced manufacturing technology available’.
The use of robotic machines will reduce human involvement and increase productivity, but workers say the plant is doomed from the start.
Tom Felty worked at the factory as an electroplating engineer and moved from North Carolina to Texas to be a part of the move.
He told the Wall Street Journal: ‘It was supposed to be different. The artisan brand was supposed to be brought back. It was all this new technology.
‘That’s why I moved from North Carolina to Texas to be a part of it, and it was an absolute disaster. They spent millions of dollars making those machines work.’
A YouTube video uploaded by a Belarusian company that supplied some of the machinery shows a bar of steel, called a billet, being cut by a guillotine.
Tom Felty, pictured here, worked at the factory as an electroplating engineer and moved from North Carolina to Texas to be a part of the move.
A machine then bends the bright red billet into shape and a robot places it in a press.
The video then shows more machines moving it through stations until it is formed into a fully formed ratchet.
Jeremy Schaefer told the WSJ that sockets sometimes come without metal that isn’t properly finished, or without the maker’s name stamped on them.
Tooling designer Greg Helton said workers make thousands of sockets, but without a ratchet and wrench, retailers don’t want them.
He told the outlet: ‘When the customer says, ‘I want everything I ordered’ and we can’t deliver it, there’s not much that can be done.’
Stanley predicted the factory would make 60 million pieces of equipment annually, but former employees said in the weeks after the shutdown that they weren’t sure if it was built to save shelves.
Shortly after the closure, domestically produced artisan socket sets began appearing at retailers.
Tooling designer Greg Helton, pictured here, says workers make thousands of sockets, but without a ratchet and wrench, retailers don’t want them.
With eBay listings now double the original retail value of tool sets, sellers will never again be made to base their prices on tools.
Since then, the tools have taken on a cult status because of how rare they are, with some eBay sellers demanding nearly $200 for sets that retail for $89.98.
A listing states: ‘The Texas plant closed after a limited run, thus there is a limited quantity of these US sets.
‘They will no longer be made and will be unavailable in the future.’
Jeffrey Ansell, the company’s president of global tools and storage, left the role in 2020 when the factory was announced and has since been succeeded by four other executives.
Last month, the US Securities and Exchange Commission settled charges against Stanley Black & Decker and Ansell for failing to disclose perquisites.
The company failed to disclose at least $1.3 million worth of perquisites and personal benefits paid to four of its executive officers and one director.
Perquisites mainly consist of expenses associated with executives’ use of corporate aircraft.
Ansell received undisclosed compensation that included $280,000 in personal expenses that he charged to the company.
He agreed with the commission to settle allegations that he violated company books and records provisions, paying a $75,000 civil penalty.
The company’s former VP of tools and storage, Jeffrey Ansel, pictured here, was in charge when the plant was announced but has since left the company.
The company, which is the world’s largest tool company, is headquartered in Connecticut, pictured here
Craftsman was previously owned by Sears, which moved manufacturing of appliances to China a few years ago to cut costs.
Stanley Black & Decker bought the company for $900 million in 2017, with then-chief-executive James Lowry saying they hoped to ‘re-Americanize’ the brand.
The Fort Worth property is now up for sale after the decision to close it earlier this year.
Stanley merged with Black & Decker in 2010 and then bought Newell Brands’ tool unit in 2017, making them a giant company.
Last year, revenue rose to $17 billion from $3.7 billion in 2009.
A company spokesperson told the Wall Street Journal: ‘We’ve tried to create artisanal mechanics tools in a new, innovative way.
‘The events of Covid and supply chain challenges combined with technology not meeting our expectations, resulted in the closure of operations.’
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