Sakai America Inc. is marking 20 years of assembling asphalt and soil compactors in Adairsville’s Georgia North Industrial Park this month.
The company was founded in Japan 103 years ago and expanded its product line into the U.S. market in 1976. Faced with a growing demand in the 1990s, largely from the highway construction industry, the company decided to construct its first U.S. manufacturing facility.
Sakai America VP Kevin McClain, who came on board in 2000, was part of the team that chose the site off International Parkway in Bartow County.
There were several reasons that Sakai opened in Adairsville, including the success of other Japanese manufacturers in the area. McClain specifically mentioned Kobelco in Calhoun and Advanced Steel Technology in Rome.
“They talk to each other, so when other Japanese companies think about moving to the U.S. they seek out other people who have had success,” McClain said.
“We were looking for good access to transportation avenues and certainly I-75 and U.S. 41, the Atlanta international airport and Savannah port for ocean freight all played an important role,” he added.
McClain said Sakai leadership really liked the site in the Georgia North Industrial Park, adjacent to a large lake. The 44 acres also provided the company with ample room to expand.
Sakai chose Fox & Brindle in Calhoun as its general contractor for the construction project and used local subcontractors as well.
The Adairsville plant currently employs 50 people. At one time there were as many as 75. The COVID-19 pandemic cut some of those folks, however, Human Resources Manager Tony Cochran said the company is planning to add back another six workers by July 1.
The plant has a 175-foot-long assembly line and more than 97,000 square feet of office and warehouse space.
Sakai makes a wide range of high-force vibratory compactors designed for compacting asphalt pavement and for road and building-site ground preparation. Its inventory includes oscillatory asphalt rollers in several size classes and an exclusive vibratory pneumatic tire roller.
The company has been a global leader in oscillatory roller technology, which provides compaction force without the up-and-down impact of vibratory drum apparatus.
McClain said other manufacturers have tried to emulate the technology but the Sakai system of gear-driven machinery holds up much better than belt-driven machinery.
“If you’re out in the construction world and you use the name Sakai, most contractors and end-users will immediately come back and say, ‘Oh my gosh, those are great machines,’” said Wes Shepherd, buyer production official with Sakai. “The reliability is there. The Japanese are so great at engineering these machines, actually keeping them very simple.”
Virtually every piece of equipment sitting on the back lot at the plant is sold and ready to be shipped. Shepherd said the goal this year is to produce close to 230 of the massive rollers.
A recent major project involved resurfacing the 880-acre Barber Motorsports Park near Birmingham, Alabama, in 2019. The park, which opened in 2003, has a 17-turn, 2.38-mile, road course which features a tight layout and several grade changes. The California-based contractor chose the Sakai equipment to make the surface as smooth as possible.
Sakai currently has a 5% market share in the U.S. and is hoping to bump that up to as much as 15%.
“We currently assemble four of our best-selling machines here in Adairsville, and this summer, we will be bringing our SW774 series in-house as well,” McClain said. “That machine is currently made in Japan by our parent company, but we’re excited to have another model to assemble here in the U.S.”
Employees at the plant were busy this week examining every aspect of the 774 series compactor in advance of the actual assembly of the larger machines.
If you make a visit to many manufacturing plants in the Coosa Valley, you’ll seeing a growing dependence on robotics but that’s not the case at the Sakai plant in Adairsville. There’s not a robot in the building — just a very simple long assembly line with employees at various stations along the way.
“Simplicity is what makes them so wonderful,” Shepherd said.
The Biden Administration’s American Jobs Plan is being touted as a way to create millions of good jobs while rebuilding the country’s infrastructure, including the network of highways that cross-cross the nation. Shepherd said he doesn’t think there is a question of the program being funded by Congress, but a question of when.
“It will certainly make a big difference in the market,” Shepherd said. “We’ll start seeing contractors, end-users, dealers feel a lot more comfortable spending their money getting new machines in the fleet.”
McClain said 2020 was a difficult year because of the COVID-19 pandemic but he anticipates that business is really starting to turn around.
“We’re expecting close to 25% growth this year and another 25% next year for our business,” McClain said.
He said that if the American Jobs Plan becomes law, the infrastructure construction sector is in for 5 to 7 years of nice growth and expansion.
Two years ago Sakai added a new paint booth to its plant, which required the construction of a warehouse to relocate some of its parts inventory. The warehouse was built with an eye on expansion.
“As this business grows, we have the room and capacity to grow, and we would love to hire more people,” McClain said.
“Sakai America has experienced exceptional growth over the past 20 years in the United States,” said Yasunori Azumi, president of Sakai America, in a press release. “We have proudly assembled over 3,500 machines here in our Adairsville, Georgia, facility, and look forward to being part of this community for many years to come.”