Briggs & Stratton Factory Tour
Our visit to Briggs & Stratton®
Recently, Josh and I were invited to visit the Briggs & Stratton plant in Wauwatosa, WI, just outside Milwaukee. The plant has an amazing history. We visited with a bunch of smart folks making a bunch of great products—yes they actually make products in the United States, and always have. Here are just some of the highlights.
No more pull start
What we see mostly these days is battery power versus (VS). plug-in, or battery VS. engine power. But Chad Gartzke, Briggs & Stratton Lead Engineer, showed us a brilliant example of battery AND engine. InStart® technology allows the operator to take advantage of the power and runtime of a gas engine along with the convenience of a simple push-button battery start. This is a perfect solution for someone like my mother-in-law who still likes to mow her lawn but has a bum shoulder and has a harder time pulling the engine over. I suppose this is also an attractive feature to many Millennials to whom the idea of dials, pulls and levers are almost foreign concepts. In the U.S., InStart is available on Mowox mowers (currently on Amazon), Briggs & Stratton pressure washers and will soon be available on snow blowers and generators as well.
More water further away
Long range, or “Second Story” pressure washer nozzles have been available for years. These tips allow the water to flow out the wand without atomizing it, which causes the water to travel further distances. These tips do work, but the amount of water being delivered is still restricted by narrow channels inside the pump.
Briggs & Stratton has addressed this issue with POWERflow+Technology™. It’s an ingenious system that consists of a simple valve. When the valve senses that a long-range tip is being used, it will open up to divert some of the water supply right to the wand, bypassing the pump altogether. It greatly increases the volume of water that reaches the surface, which also increases the force, or cleaning power. The POWERflow+Technology is available on select Briggs & Stratton-manufactured electric and gas-powered pressure washer models sold under Briggs & Stratton and Craftsman brands. This technology really does increase the usefulness of a pressure washer.
Past, present and future
We got a chance to sit down and have a great conversation with Rick Carpenter, Vice President of Corporate Marketing. Many of you might not know that Briggs & Stratton is more than just an engine manufacturer. Here are some of the other brands in the family.
Rick told us that the plan moving forward is to transform Briggs & Stratton from being thought of as an air-cooled engine manufacturer to being recognized as a complete power solutions company. Large and small batteries, and liquid cooled and diesel engines are all part of the plan. They already have a full line of 82-volt battery powered outdoor equipment as well as working on launching many more innovative battery products in the coming year.
We talked InfoHub with Director of Marketing, Carissa Gingras. InfoHub is an advanced fleet management system geared toward the commercial landscaper/lawn maintenance contractors. The hardware is a simple-to-install harness that can be attached to any brand of mower or any other gas-powered turf equipment.
It basically tracks two pieces of information: whether or not a piece of equipment is running, and where it is at any given time. But with that basic information it can track maintenance schedules, analyze crew efficiency, keep a record of proof of service, help bidding, schedule crew routing and track crew locations. That’s a whole lot of helpful information. The cost of the InfoHub harness is $229 and the monthly fee is around $20 a month, depending upon fleet size.
Marketing Manager, Tiffany Zamora gave us a demonstration on how Briggs & Stratton is making it easier to perform tune-ups with new features like toolless air filter changes and the interactive Oil Finder, which is an online tool that makes it super easy to track down the type and amount of oil your engine requires. And of course, we are huge fans of the oil extractor, the handy pump that sucks out the old oil with no mess.
We spoke a long time with Brett Birschbach (that’s not him in the photo), the Briggs & Stratton Sound Engineer. We met him in his state-of-the art sound room where they test all the Briggs & Stratton engines and equipment. Brett bombarded our brains with many of the interesting ways his teams employs to manufacture quieter equipment.
One interesting fact we learned was that it’s not just decibels that offend the human ear; tone also has a lot to do with it. This was really evident when we compared the Craftsman® mower equipped with the Quiet Power Technology (QPT) against another standard mower. The QPT engine sounded much less noisy. In addition to creating less decibels the QPT mower also produces a much lower tone than other mowers making it sound much more pleasant to the ear. Mowers equipped with QPT engines are available on select Craftsman and Husqvarna walk mowers. From left to right: Dummy, Josh
Mike Fritz explained the new CO Guard™ (CO as in Carbon Monoxide) that will be rolling out on all new Briggs & Stratton generators manufactured for the United States over the next 18 months. Unfortunately, people are injured or die every year of carbon monoxide poisoning caused by improper operation of portable generators. The new CO Guard is a sensor that will shut down the engine if it detects high levels of Carbon Monoxide. It uses the same technology as most household CO detectors.
For those of you living in hurricane prone areas, you may be interested to know that Briggs & Stratton has a line of Fortress standby generators. These large units (12kW and 20kW) can supply electricity to a whole house during a power outage. They’re installed by a licensed electrician and are rated to withstand 175-mph hurricane force winds.
They also gave us a demonstration of their Symphony® II Power Management System. The premise of Symphony® II is based on this question, “Is it really necessary to run every single appliance in your house at the same time during a power outage?” For many folks the answer is, “No.” So the Symphony® II allows a homeowner to say, “Hey generator, when I’m cooking and the AC is on, I want you to shut down the dryer.” So when the cooking is done, the dryer (or whichever other appliance was deemed less important) can be started back up. This makes it possible for a homeowner to buy a smaller, less expensive setup, often times saving them thousands of dollars.
Sure, we loved checking out all the great new products, but Josh and I really geeked out when we get to tour the actual factory floor itself, and the Briggs & Stratton factory did not disappoint. We saw mowers, pressure washers and even some Simplicity sub-compact tractors being assembled. The majority of the workers were actual people, but they do employ the occasional robot, mostly to perform the most dangerous jobs or those jobs where there would be exposure to high temperatures or nasty chemicals. Vince Clark, the Plant Manager was a gracious host and allowed neither Josh nor myself to be run over by any of the dozens of forklifts zooming around the plant floor. While the Milwaukee plant does not build engines, 85% of the Briggs & Stratton engines are made in the U.S.A. In all, there are eight total U.S. manufacturing facilities.