WASHINGTONVILLE — The Washingtonville area U.S. Gypsum Co. (USG) plant plans to invest millions in automation equipment this year and next year, plant manager Nicholas Latkovic said.

He said the company expects to spend $8 million this year and the same amount and possibly more next year. He spoke during a tour Wednesday arranged by DRIVE, during Pennsylvania Manufacturing Week. DRIVE, which stands for Driving Real Innovation for a Vibrant Economy, is an economic development council of governments serving Montour and Columbia counties.

The investments will include 20 automated guided vehicles and automated board handling equipment to speed up the process by 20 percent, Latkovic said of the plant which produces wallboard from synthetic gypsum.

No more than four or five people would be added to the workforce of 125 as a result of the multi-million investment, he said.

“No one will lose their job through automation,” he said.

Inside the plant, he showed an area where some of their many robots are used. Twenty-seven people now don’t have bad backs, wrists or knees because of robotics,” Latkovic said.

The plant operates six days a week and he said it will probably begin operating seven days a week with one day devoted to maintenance.

“Business is good,” he said of USG, which has 42 plants in the U.S. and 35 overseas.

USG gets synthetic gypsum from the nearby coal-fired electric plant. There are plans to convert the power plant to natural gas, which clouds the gypsum plant’s future, Latkovic said, but USG also receives synthetic gypsum from the Pittsburgh area. The gypsum is a synthetic from the process of scrubbing coal-fired power plant combustion emissions with limestone.

“We feed two 80-car trains a couple of times a week,” he said of the plant covering 621 acres, which began operations in 2008.

The factory produces about 116 truckloads a day, he said. Each truck holds about the amount of wallboard for three three-bedroom homes. “For a skyscraper, it’s about a half-day of production here,” he said. “We do about 3.1 million square feet a day in materials,” he said.

Wallboard is shipped by trucks and by rail to Boston and the Washington, D.C., areas. USG products are being used at 28 sites in New York City, including the World Trade Center, Hudson Center and the Domino Sugar project, he said.

About 500 trucks are in and out of the plant each day, Latkovic said.

Plant manager for four years, Latkovic said safety is the plant’s No. 1 concern. He said workers are paid $22 per hour plus benefits, which include a pension, a 401K plan and, next year, pet insurance will be added.

After working nearly 40 years for USG, he said the Washingtonville location has the best infrastructure he has seen. Latkovic has worked at 13 other plants, including ones in Mississippi and Cleveland.

Among those on the tour was Neil Weaver, executive deputy secretary for the state Department of Community and Economic Development.

“USG is a great example of the amazing manufacturing in Pennsylvania,” he said.

Other tour participants included Jill Collier, of the governor’s action team, and Montour County Commissioners Chairman Ken Holdren and Commissioner Trevor Finn.

“We’re super excited they plan on expanding their capabilities and business,” DRIVE executive director Jennifer Wakeman said.

She said the plant is a great example of “quality-made Pennsylvania products. USG is always on the cutting edge of high-quality products,” she said. Montour County and the region are incredibly proud to have USG here, she said.

The Washingtonville area plant is installing a new entrance, costing around $2 million, to make it more efficient for trucks, Latkovic said.

USG has a research center in Chicago that works to make wallboard lighter, cheaper and better, he said.

After the plant receives the gypsum, it is grinded, baked, and accelerators are added to give it strength and make it fire resistant, Latkovic said. They then add water to turn the mixture into a semisolid mixture, like cement, it is moved on a conveyor belt, cut into lengths and dried in a kiln.

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