Share this article

print logo

Cummins engine plant manager making her mark in manufacturing

LAKEWOOD – Inside the offices of Cummins Inc.'s Jamestown engine plant, photos of the 10 previous plant managers line a wall.

Each represents a piece of the plant's history back to its start in the 1970s.

Each of the photos are of men.

But the 11th picture will be of a woman, Anna M. Dibble, who was recently named plant manager.

It is a breakthrough for manufacturing in Western New York, where men historically have run the region's largest factories. But for Dibble, the appointment also represents the next step in a lengthy career at the Cummins plant, which has 1,700 employees.

"It was exciting," said Dibble, 49. "For somebody like me that has a long history here, you look up to that position and the people that have been in it and the opportunities it presents.

"It's also very intimidating," she said. "There's just a lot of responsibility. Even though I've been here a long time, there's a lot to learn."

Dibble's rise to Cummins plant manager comes as manufacturing is striving to diversify its ranks by attracting more women and minorities. The sector wants more young talent as an increasing number of experienced workers near retirement age.

Yet manufacturing remains male dominated. A Deloitte report called women one of U.S. manufacturing's "largest pools of untapped talent," noting that women made up 47 percent of the U.S. workforce in 2016, but only 29 percent of the manufacturing workforce.

Dibble is only one person, leading one plant in Chautauqua County. But her job, overseeing such a large manufacturing operation, can have a wide and lasting impact, said Nadine Hartrich, operations manager for EWI at Buffalo Manufacturing Works.

"I think she's in a position now to be a role model," Hartrich said. And the idea that "you can go from the shop floor to engineering to the (executive) suite no matter what, is exciting," she said.

In one sense, Hartrich wishes Dibble's promotion weren't so noteworthy, since it would mean more women already held high-ranking manufacturing jobs in the region. But Hartrich said Dibble's appointment deserves recognition, recalling the attention Mary Barra generated a few years ago as the first woman named CEO of a Detroit Three automaker, at General Motors.

"In manufacturing, if you're promoted ultimately to the (executive) suite or the plant manager or general manager's spot, you have absolutely earned that," Hartrich said. "No one has given you that position."

While Dibble knew she was the first woman to lead Cummins' Jamestown plant, she was surprised by how much attention that fact has drawn from outside the facility.

"Within the Cummins network, we have a lot of women in many different positions, and I've worked with a lot of really great men that have helped me over my career and have helped mentor me thus far," she said.

The Cummins plant Dibble runs is a one million square foot industrial beehive, nestled in a scenic spot about a 90-minute drive from Buffalo. It's a powerful economic force. The plant is Chautauqua County's largest private employer and the largest contributor to the local United Way.

Workers at Cummins Jamestown engine plant, the largest private employer in the county. (Mark Mulville/Buffalo News)

The Cummins plant makes heavy-duty engines for tractor-trailers, fire trucks, RVs and farm tractors, as well as marine applications. Last year, the site shipped more than 91,000 engines. Its output is seemingly everywhere: Cummins estimates one third of all tractor-trailers on the road run on engines from the Jamestown plant.

And new engines just keep coming. At one end of the sprawling plant, dozens of engines, most painted in Cummins' signature red, await shipment to destinations domestic and abroad. Trucks constantly roll down the driveway to make pickups.

Dibble understands the Cummins plant's importance as well as anyone. Her familiarity with the factory, which is technically in Lakewood, goes back to her childhood.

Indiana-based Cummins expanded into the region in 1974 when the company acquired a former Art Metals facility. Dibble grew up just over the state line in nearby Russell, Pa., and her grandfather was a security guard at the former Art plant. As children, Dibble and her sister rode their tricycles around inside the mostly empty facility.

Fast forward to Dibble's college years, when she went looking for a summer job. Cummins was among the places she applied. The plant hired her for a finance and payroll position.

"Although I liked that experience, I very much was intrigued with everything beyond the front offices: How do we make things, the amount of work, the collaboration, how all the pieces fit together, and how we could produce a product and ship it," she said. When she returned to Penn State University, she switched her major from accounting to operations management.

In 1992, Cummins hired Dibble for a permanent position, as a quality engineer. She began her ascent through a series of positions at the plant. Her husband is a New York State trooper, so she was grateful to build her career at the Jamestown plant with Cummins, which has operations around the globe.

Women have moved into leadership roles at some area plants, including Rupa Shanmugam, the president and chief operating officer at SoPark, a contract manufacturer in Lackawanna. Several years ago, Jean-Marie Tate headed up a DuPont chemical plant in Niagara Falls with more than 200 employees.

But why haven't more women led the region's largest manufacturing operations?

"It's a sector that I very much respect, but it's just historically, truly, fundamentally, through and through, a male-dominated industry," said Hartrich, who has built her own career in manufacturing. "There is definitely a lack of representation.

"If you have five candidates to choose from for plant manager, you probably have four men and one female, or it's not even that many," she said. "So I think it is a bit of a numbers game."

Hartrich said the key to more women taking top roles in manufacturing starts with connecting with girls who are still deciding what career path to take. And Hartrich sees more girls showing interest in occupations known collectively as STEM: science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Buffalo Manufacturing Works' 3-D printing learning lab offers young people a different view of manufacturing. The region also has chapters of Dream It, Do It, a program which gives students a current-day picture of the sector. Ideally, Hartrich said, more young women will develop an interest in manufacturing and stick with it, launching careers that will lead to leadership roles in plants.

Hartrich said manufacturers benefit from having a more diverse workforce, as well.

"As an engineering manager, what I'm always looking for is a variety of voices and perspectives," she said. "I think it adds to more productive, critical thinking through technical problems. So I think it's definitely changing."

Allison Grealis, president of the nonprofit Women in Manufacturing, said since the Ohio-based group began its work about eight years ago, "there's definitely been an improvement in the number of women we see rising to more significant positions in manufacturing. It's becoming less of an anomaly for women to be at the plant management level."

Like Hartrich, Grealis believes promoting STEM careers to young people – girls and boys alike – will cultivate future manufacturing workers. And the nature of today's manufacturing, with robots and other forms of advanced technology, creates a new sort of appeal, Grealis said.

"The roles and responsibilities of current professionals in manufacturing are so hugely different from what they were 20 years ago, and even more so will be in the next 10 years," Grealis said. "And when we talk about these positions of the future, with technology there will be titles and roles and responsibilities you've never heard of."

Companies are also getting "more aggressive" about identifying professional development opportunities for male and female employees, to prepare them for management roles, Grealis said.

Since 2012, Women in Manufacturing has profiled more than 50 women in manufacturing for its "Hear Her Story" series on its website. The women tell their stories in their own words and show a day in the life of the places where they work.

"We've done so because we believe firmly if a young woman isn't able to see a woman aspiring to and/or achieving that certain role, that it's very difficult for them to believe that they can do that, as well," Grealis said.

Back at the Cummins plant, Dibble is preparing for a milestone. This summer, the plant expects to produce its 2 millionth engine. Dibble wouldn't share specifics, but said this year's total engine output is "on pace for this to be our strongest year ever in the history of this plant."

Plant manager Anna Dibble, right, talks with Larry Tutmaher on the Cummins factory floor. (Mark Mulville/Buffalo News)

There is a lot of history to compare to. Cummins began building components at the factory in the mid 1970s, before launching engine production in 1979. The plant celebrated making its 1.5 millionth engine in 2013.

New investment by Cummins has poured in. Last year, Cummins invested $47 million in a new block line, which machines 15-liter engine blocks. The facility also replaced 3,000 fluorescent lights with LEDs, a project that will save an estimated $425,000 a year on energy costs. And a new engine product is set to launch in January.

Employment at the plant has soared, with more than 250 people hired over the past year. But customers' engine-buying habits can fluctuate from one year to the next, a trend Cummins has seen before.

"We always do keep our eye out on the future and know that this level of demand often changes," Dibble said. "We're also very conscientious to not overstaff to make sure we can also be prepared as the cycle does change moving forward." (Unlike the big industrial plants in the Buffalo area run by General Motors, Ford and Sumitomo, Cummins' Jamestown workforce is not unionized.)

Dibble said her main goal for 2018 is to "finish this year strong. These are just really great times, and we want to deliver a really strong year to the company," she said.

And maybe make some history along the way.

Story topics: / / / / /

There are no comments - be the first to comment