Belfast Telegraph

£5.4m Caterpillar boost as firm targets further deals

By Clare Weir

A NEW £5.4m investment in the Caterpillar plant in Larne will secure 100 jobs and keep Northern Ireland on the manufacturing map.

That's the view of trade body Manufacturing Northern Ireland as it emerged that the American firm is ploughing the money into the production of articulated truck axles, a key component of the famous Cats, used in earthmoving, mining and quarrying all over the world.

One hundred staff – a mix of retrained existing staff and new recruits – will work on the project, while the boss at the firm has pledged that the Northern Ireland operation will continue to target new work against the backdrop of fierce competition from Caterpillar's other global plants.

The news comes just under 18 months after it was announced that almost 800 people would lose their jobs at the engineering firm.

In 2012, Caterpillar – which bought over family-run firm FG Wilson in 1999 – said the jobs would go across the company's four Northern Ireland sites at Larne, Belfast, Springvale and Monkstown.

Caterpillar blamed a slowdown in the global demand for its diesel generator sets for the job cuts.

It is also moving production of approximately 70% of its small generator sets to China, a move to be completed by early 2014.

But now a preliminary production period for the axles, which has been under way for a number of months, has proved successful.

The good news comes just months after a £7m investment in the production of 'wheeled material handlers' – vehicles used in the scrap metal and forestry industries.

And almost a year ago Caterpillar announced plans to expand its shared services centre in Belfast, with 200 new jobs in areas such as finance and human resources, to provide support for the company's European, African and Middle-Eastern operations .

While the axles had been assembled at a temporary base in Monkstown, the bulk of the work will now move to Larne.

Caterpillar's Northern Ireland operations director Robert Kennedy said that the investment recognises the high standard of the facilities, processes, skills and expertise in Northern Ireland.

"It is also testament to the cost competitiveness of manufacturing in Northern Ireland and the advantages the local facilities have in terms of proximity to customers, access to ports and other transportation infrastructure," he added.

"We were approached as the company was looking for a European source for these parts, and we were one of several possible sources. I think the fact that we had a ready-made trained workforce made us the most attractive option. This work is permanent and will continue for the foreseeable future.

"The electric and power part of our operation is still a major core of our business and indeed is seeing some signs recovery.

"We will to continue to target areas where we feel that we have the competitive edge."

Phil Handley , managing director for articulated trucks, added: "Caterpillar NI operations are proven and very capable. The team has been very responsive to our needs and has been working closely with us. It's an excellent source for these key components."

Belfast Telegraph