As Babcock & Wilcox Enterprises prepares to move out of its long-established campus in Barberton, the company is making sure it keeps the lights on.

Not just locally but around the world.

B&W will bring much more than hundreds of employees with it when the company moves late this year to nearby Akron.

Those employees will, of course, get contemporary workspaces, up-to-date technology infrastructure and other modern accouterments at their new corporate headquarters.

B&W also will be taking significant parts of its coal-fired, steam boiler-making history, with iconic pieces to be displayed in its upper level East End offices on the redeveloped Goodyear campus off East Market Street in the city’s Middlebury neighborhood.

And more. Much more. That’s where keeping the lights on everywhere comes in.

Keep in mind that for a company that has been around for 152 years and designs, makes and services electric power plant coal-fired boilers, anti-pollution equipment and related technology, there’s an overwhelming amount of B&W stuff, including reference materials, in desks, file cabinets, closets, storage rooms and myriad nooks and crannies.

That stuff includes 12,000 or so legal-size file boxes of documents and, at last count, some 35,000 rolls of microfilm.

A lot of paper records have been, and are being, digitized. The no-longer needed paperwork is being shredded and recycled. Offsite storage will hold things that are not regularly accessed.

Then there are the records that employees must keep, at least for now, in their original form, including literally hundreds of thousands of design documents — some dating back to the early 20th century — that are necessary so the global electrical grid remains powered.

The records are that important.

Planning for a possible corporate move started more than two years ago, said Tad Leach, B&W’s director of global facilities. (That’s about a year before the public announcement came in late September 2018). Leach is one of several B&W employees who talked about the logistics involved in the upcoming relocation.

Since Leach joined the company last November from Diebold Nixdorf in Green, he’s been coordinating how B&W will go from five buildings at its 1950s-era South Van Buren Avenue campus to putting everyone under one roof in Akron. That includes discussions with the architects and contractors for the East End offices that are owned by and being redeveloped by Industrial Realty Group and partner Industrial Commercial Properties — IRG is doing all of the renovations. And it means deciding such things as where some 700 employees will sit.

B&W is downsizing from about 400,000 square feet to 175,000 square feet of leased space on the sixth and seventh floors in the former Goodyear headquarters.

“Quite a reduction,” Leach said.

That means a lot of stuff has to go — while the company still needs to hang on to huge amounts of valuable customer, grid and industry, and in some cases historical, documents. There are also keepsakes, including signed pieces and photos of luminaries that include Thomas Edison, an early user of B&W boilers to generate electricity.

Evolving technology is a key factor in what stays, what goes and how employees will work in their new spaces.

“Things are different than 10 or 20 years ago,” Leach said. For example, employees now use laptops, not desktop computers with bulky two-feet-deep CRT monitors, he said.

And because of the reduced tech footprint and also in part because of the ongoing digitizing of records, B&W employees will have smaller work areas in Akron than they have now in Barberton, going from an average of 8-by-8 workspaces to 8-by-6.

The company wants its people to do more things electronically so they don’t generate as much paper, Leach said.

“You don’t need as many file drawers, file cabinets,” he said. “B&W historically is a very paper intensive company. … A lot of engineering work, a lot of drawings, a lot of paper-based work.”

And big paper, too. Many B&W blueprints made over the decades are large enough to cover an individual workspace. The East End offices will have “collaboration spaces” where engineers can get together to look over the large drawings. Small libraries also will be placed near departments to allow employees quick access to reference materials.

B&W made a concerted effort several years ago to scan its catalog of about 4 million drawings, said Renee O’Neal, B&W manager for reprographics and records management.

Vendors are used for much of the scanning work, while in-house resources can scan documents that employees and customers need quickly, she said.

In Barberton, “we have enjoyed an abundance of space,” O’Neal said. That luxury is largely behind them, she said.

Still, even as B&W uses technology that allows employees to design and collaborate online, employees still need to work with hard copy, said Pat Becker, pressure vessel engineer and B&W's unofficial historian.

“The challenges come where we have existing [boiler] units that were built in the ‘60s, ‘70s, that we don’t have electronic prints for, that we’re still using basically the drawings that we have on file,” she said. “We scan them as we come across them.”

“It’s not unusual to get a call on a Friday afternoon” regarding a still-functioning B&W boiler built in the 1950s or even decades earlier, Becker said. She knows of one major piece of B&W-made-equipment from 1914 that is still being used.

Without readily available records to help power plant customers quickly repair, buy, fabricate or upgrade replacement parts, electric plants around the world that use B&W equipment would be in danger of shutting down, Becker and others said.

B&W also stores historical industry safety codes dating back to 1914, including complete meeting minutes and related extensive notes that show how and why codes and rules were drafted and changed, Becker said.

Meanwhile, B&W is restoring something that makes that working 1914 boiler look modern.

B&W unearthed pieces of its iconic Centennial Boiler — built in 1876 — that launched the company to prominence. The full-size cast iron boiler was made specially for the international exhibition in Philadelphia to help commemorate the American Centennial. According to B&W history, the public was enamored with the boiler, with orders coming in from the company’s first major customers, sugar refiners.

Those pieces have been sandblasted at Apache Industrial Service in Canton, and then repainted, with missing parts being fabricated.

When finished, the Centennial Boiler will be prominently shown off in the East End offices.

B&W expects it will relocate by the end of 2019. And expect the lights to stay on once the move is complete.

 

Jimm Mackinnon covers business. He can be reached at 330-996-3544 or jmackinnon@thebeaconjournal.com. Follow him @JimMackinnonABJ on Twitter or www.facebook.com/JimMackinnonABJ