Walker Manufacturing is an independent, family-owned manufacturing company. We build commercial riding lawn mowers at our 216,000 square foot factory just outside of Fort Collins, Colorado. We do level manufacturing, providing year round work for approximately 200 employees and prefer to insource rather than outsource as much of the manufacturing as possible as we build the Walker Mower. High quality materials and components, along with a blend of skilled craftsmen and automation are used throughout our manufacturing process. A high percentage of the materials and components used to make the Walker Mower are of USA origin. Our factory workers have a strong work ethic, friendly attitude, and are proud of the product we produce.
The Fabrication Department converts raw steel into more than 1,700 unique parts for tractor and deck production. Our technicians use 26 pieces of equipment to saw, shear, bend, drill, trim, punch, roll and flatten metal into those parts. The parts fabricated in this department, like deck cap strips and catcher box door frames, are unique to our product. Close to four million pounds of steel are processed by the 14 member fabrication team each year.
The CNC (Computer Numeric Control) Machining Department makes many of the more precise parts like bearing pivot housings for caster wheels, bearing housing for the GHS blower, and drive-shafts. The six horizontal lathes and two vertical mills are used to machine dimensions to within .0005”- roughly one tenth the size of the average human hair. Equipped with bar feeders, some of the lathes can run continuously during both manned and unmanned (night time) operations.
Three 4,000 watt lasers precision cut sheet metal parts for deck assemblies and tractor parts. Approximately 2,000 parts designs are stored on a computer to provide cutting instructions to the laser. Parts are “nested” by computer programming into the optimum configuration on a sheet of steel for efficient use of the material. A storage tower holds blank metal sheets, and coupled with an auto loader, the sheets move in and out of the lasers which allows them to run unmanned overnight. Parts on each finished sheet of metal are picked by hand, inspected, and then are staged for upcoming fabrication, bend, weld, or paint operations.
Machine bending takes the newly laser-cut flat parts and bends them to various angles and shapes. Five high precision “Press Brakes” using up to 130 tons, force the metal into a “V” shaped die to form the desired angle with tolerances as small as ½ degree. To maintain that tight tolerance, two of our machines can automatically measure the bend angle as the part is being bent and stop when the part is exactly right. One of our press brakes has an automated tool change (ATC) feature that greatly reduces the tooling set-up time required and increases productivity significantly on smaller batch sizes.
Each weld on a Walker Mower is placed by one of our 25 welder craftsman using a manual wire-feed MIG welding machine, or one of six robotic welders. We have added a robot welder every year for the past several years to increase our capacity and efficiency of the welding department. Our welding team has an average of seven years of experience working on Walker product, with several recently celebrating 25 years with the company.
In the Grinding Department, welded and fabricated parts are de-burred and smoothed, and weld spatter is removed. Rotary grinders and buffers, as well as manual and air chippers, are used to provide parts with the clean edges required for component to component fit and a smooth, finished surface. The grinding team uses around 80 grinding and buffing discs each day.
This is where we keep a planned supply of all the varied purchased parts such as engines, seats, and tires that are needed for the assembly of our final products. We work hard to carry the right balance of inventory to meet our needs without holding too much extra product, taking up costly floor-space or running the risk of damage, obsolescence or engineering changes that render the extra inventory useless. There are over 2,000 active parts here that are meticulously maintained and organized by a single employee.
Plastic components for 7.0 and 10.0 bushel catcher boxes, as well as deck chute components and parts for our internal Powerfil assembly, are assembled in the Plastics Department. On average, 22 catcher boxes are assembled each day by our six person team. Upon completion, the catcher assemblies are transferred to the end of the tractor assembly lines to be installed on GHS machines.
All incoming parts that will be kept in Inventory until needed for production are received here. Receiving handles an average of 8-10 trucks and an average of 25 UPS or FedEx packages each day, delivering a wide array of products from engines, seats, tires, electronics, plated products, and even labels and decals. All parts are verified in quanity and condition and inspected. New parts receive a combination of visual inspection, dimensional measurement, and even some material testing to ensure received product is correct before moving into inventory.
The Service Parts department fills distributor parts orders, including overnight, second day, ground, LTL (less than truck load) and large stocking orders. Out of the more than 10,000 different parts in the factory, approximately 7,000 are sellable parts managed and shipped by the Service Parts Department. In 2015 a new mezzanine was installed to add 1,000 additional parts bins to meet the growing demand for Service Parts, which represent 18-20% of our overall sales each year.
The powder coat finish process starts with a 5-stage wash system and drying oven that prepares parts for powder. The electrostatic charged powder is applied to all parts hanging on the 910 foot conveyor system moving around 5ft per minute. After the powder coat is applied to each part, curing occurs in an oven that raises the temperature of the part to 400 degrees Fahrenheit for 20 minutes to melt the powder into a liquid coating, giving the product a durable and attractive finish. The Powder Coat booths have full reclaim capability so that no powder is wasted.
Between 30-40 decks are assembled and boxed each day in the Deck Department. We sell approximately 15% more of our interchangeable decks than tractors each year. In the Sub-Assembly area, kits and small assemblies are hand built and packaged as service parts or sent to the assembly lines. About 80% of kit production is used in-house for the assembly of the Walker Mower, with the remainder being sent out to distributors for service parts.
The A Line produces 18-20 units a day. Eleven team members work at nine different stations to build Model T, D, and C tractors. It takes approximately three man-hours to build an entire machine, with one tractor coming off the line every 25 minutes. Bob Walker likes to say: “We build a machine every 25 minutes, so someone, somewhere in the world needs to sell one every 25 minutes, or we are going too fast!”
Tractor Models B, H and S are assembled on the B Line. At a rate of 8-10 units a day, this line features an updated assembly process which includes seven stations and a variable number of technicians. It is exciting to track the process down an assembly line as an empty gray chassis becomes a fully functional lawn mower in three hours time.
Our multi-level mezzanine was installed in 2008 to help facilitate storage of finished goods. At full capacity this inventory area can store up to 1,000 tractors. In recent years, inventory levels have been as high as 800-900 tractors just prior to our North American spring season. Decks, attachments, and implements are also stored in this area as they await shipment. The Finished Goods Inventory storage area facilitates year round manufacturing operations.
Approximately 200 truck and container loads of Walker Mowers leave our dock each year. These shipments go to 47 distributors in the US, Canada, Australasia, Europe and other world areas. Our shipping team takes finished tractors from both assembly lines, completes a final test drive and safety system check, and then places them in inventory. Tractors are either crated and placed in containers, or driven directly onto trucks along with decks, other finished goods, and service part orders. A typical truck load holds 30 Walker Mowers.
In the Short Run area we assemble a variety of tractor “add-ons” or attachments that can take the place of the deck. Here roughly 1,000 dethatchers are assembled each year, as well as two versions of our snow cab, two different size dozer blades, and a couple different implement hitches. At the north end of the department, Hi-Dump® sub-assemblies are put together and either installed on tractors or boxed for shipment. We build approximately 400 Hi-Dumps® each year. This area is staffed with two full-time production assemblers year-round.
Walker Ware is a clothing and collectible company owned by Walker Manufacturing. The company offers a variety of items to end-customers and the sales channel to help promote Walker Mowers. Custom imprint work is also available on many items at Walker Ware. The on-site store is a great stop for many locals and visitors from around the world who stop in for an overview of the line and shopping. Make sure to get to know more about the Walker Ware line at walkerware.com.