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Why the $90 M Stanley Automated Factory Failed to Deliver Black & Decker’s Craftsman Tools

Stanley Black & Decker, the world’s largest tool company, faced significant challenges in manufacturing Craftsman tools efficiently at a $90 million factory in Fort Worth, Texas. The company aimed to re-establish the Made-in-the-USA appeal of the Craftsman brand by using facilities of its automated factory. However, the ambitious plan encountered numerous setbacks, and after 3½ years of trying, Stanley announced the factory’s closure. This high-profile case highlights the difficulties of automating manual tasks and the complexities of reshoring manufacturing operations. The Craftsman factory Stanley Black & Decker acquired the Craftsman brand in 2017 to revitalize it and bring manufacturing back to the United States. The Fort Worth factory, announced in 2019, was meant to take this vision further by forging iconic Craftsman wrenches, ratchets, and sockets from American steel. The company believed that advanced automation would allow the plant to compete cost-effectively with imported products while meeting consumer demand for U.S.-made tools. The Craftsman factory’s automation project aimed to increase labor and material efficiency significantly. The envisioned system, which relied on never-before-used technology, was intended to produce tools with minimal human involvement and maximum productivity. However, implementing such a complex system proved challenging, and the factory faced numerous issues. Technical problems and missed deadlines Former employees revealed that the factory’s automated system experienced critical problems that couldn’t be resolved before the company closed the facility. The pandemic also disrupted the production timeline, preventing proper testing of the new system at scale. Some adjustments required new tooling from overseas suppliers, causing delays of weeks. The factory struggled to achieve its production goals despite spending millions of dollars on making the machines work. Attrition among experienced tool-making experts and turnover within Stanley’s tool division further contributed to the factory’s struggles. The absence of seasoned employees with deep knowledge of the manufacturing process hindered problem-solving efforts. Impact on Craftsman and Stanley Black & Decker The failure of the Craftsman factory marked a significant shift for Stanley Black & Decker, which had previously pursued aggressive growth strategies. The closure was part of the company’s broader cost-reduction plan amid a sudden drop in demand after the pandemic-driven boom. Stanley’s stock price plummeted, and the company aimed to reduce facilities by 30% and the number of products it sells by 40%. As the Fort Worth factory closed its doors, Stanley explored other options, including manufacturing Craftsman tools in Mexico to serve the North American market. Rival companies that make mechanics’ tools in the U.S. revealed that their factory lines are partially automated but still rely heavily on skilled workers. The artistry and expertise that human workers bring to manufacturing remain invaluable and challenging to replicate entirely with machines. Consumers’ disappointment and collectible craze Craftsman’s Texas-made products became highly sought after by enthusiasts, but consumers were disappointed when the factory failed to deliver the expected volume of tools to store shelves. The scarcity of domestically manufactured Craftsman socket sets led to a frenzy among collectors, with some sets being resold at significantly higher prices online. The limited quantity of these tools added to their allure as collectibles. Stanley Black & Decker’s ambitious plan to automate the manufacturing of Craftsman tools in Fort Worth, Texas, faced insurmountable challenges, leading to the eventual closure of the factory. The difficulty of automating manual tasks and replicating the skills of human workers in a fully automated system became evident. While reshoring manufacturing is a growing trend, this case highlights the importance of considering the complexities of transitioning to automated processes. The search for the right balance between automation and human expertise remains a significant challenge for the tool industry and manufacturers across various sectors.

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Daisie Hobson

Daisie Hobson is a Director at the Reshoring Institute and an engineer with many years of experience in manufacturing and project management.

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