The grant is dedicated to advancing the production capabilities behind process design and manufacturing of storage batteries at the company’s Fort Smith facility. The project will improve battery systems for U.S. Navy nuclear submarines.
“We need to maintain a strong national defense with the most advanced technologies and cutting edge tools,” U.S. Sen. John Boozman said in an Exide news release issued Tuesday. “Exide plays an important role in supporting our military and I am pleased that the Fort Smith facility is expanding to continue providing critical equipment to the U.S. Navy.”
The Exide Fort Smith facility produces flooded and valve-regulated lead-acid (VRLA) batteries that serve a wide range of commercial applications including battery systems used as the main storage emergency AC/DC backup power deployed on U.S. Navy nuclear submarines.
The project, known as Project Neptune, will begin this month and is expected to be complete by August 2021. Implementation of process enhancement initiatives will create jobs at the 224,000-SF Fort Smith plant, which celebrated its 40th year of operation in 2015.
The DPA grant, which became effective Jan. 25, is a five-year, cost-sharing agreement between the U.S. government and Exide. The government share is $18.7 million; the Exide recipient share is $12 million.
Funding will automate and improve the battery production process at Fort Smith, including enhancements to quality control, automated data collection systems, new equipment and improved process flow, creating a state-of-the-art battery manufacturing facility.
“Arkansas is proud that Exide has recognized that our state’s workforce is second-to-none when it comes to manufacturing products of this magnitude,” Mike Preston, executive director of the Arkansas Economic Development Commission, said in the release. “We have all of the pieces of the puzzle to compete with the best and the brightest around the world, and Exide’s decision to produce these batteries here is a testament to Arkansas’ innovation.”
Fort Smith Facility: A Closer Look
In addition to producing batteries for submarines, the Fort Smith facility manufactures a range of advanced battery products, including those that provide backup power for vast networks of wireless telecommunications systems; uninterruptible power systems that support nuclear, fossil fuel and hydroelectric power plants and railroad signaling systems; and motive power batteries for the material handling industry.
The Fort Smith manufacturing facility began operation in 1975, producing network power backup batteries for AT&T and Bell Telephone systems.
“The Fort Smith team takes great pride in providing energy storage solutions to our military personnel who rely on our Company for their toughest operational situations,” said Fort Smith plant manager. “Project Neptune will enable the Fort Smith site to further optimize our capabilities to support the U.S. Navy’s future energy storage needs, as well as improve the capabilities of our other VRLA energy storage solutions.”
The facility, which employs 153 hourly and 37 salaried people in manufacturing and distribution, operates two shifts per day, five days per week. Some parts of the manufacturing process operate 24/7.
“The DPA grant is exciting news for both Exide Technologies and Fort Smith,” said Tim Allen, president and CEO of the Fort Smith Regional Chamber of Commerce. “We are proud to have a technological leader like Exide in our community. This grant speaks to both the high quality of the Company’s premium performance batteries and the cutting edge talent and resources of the Fort Smith community.”