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Automobile passion drives Gallagher

The foundation of Tom Gallagher’s affection for automobiles was laid by his father, a lover and collector of cars who exposed his son to cars and car culture starting in his earliest years.

Fast-forward to 1989. That’s when Gallagher graduated from Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind., with a bachelor’s degree in management and finance from the Krannert School of Management.

It’s also when Gallagher combined his passions, starting him down the path of a long and successful career with General Motors that had the 53-year-old Indianapolis native grow through finance to the shop floor to plant manager and ultimately brought him to Lordstown, where he’s taken on a new role as plant director for Ultium Cells LLC.

“My early career started in finance, so I was doing accounting and finance roles in the company in their Allison transmission business, and then that evolved into opportunities for me to enter the manufacturing operation space so I could get firsthand experience in leading a production team and doing work in manufacturing, engineering and project leadership,” Gallagher said.

Construction of the $2.3 billion electric vehicle battery-cell manufacturing facility is on time to meet GM’s revolutionary plans to electrify multiple models over the next few years. Many of those vehicles will be propelled by cells made at the plant.

CAREER AT GM

Gallagher, who lives in Fort Wayne, Ind., is no stranger to plant building and new product launches with GM.

He was key in the construction of the now closed Baltimore Transmission Plant near White Marsh, Md., in the 2000s and the launch of GM’s first six-speed transmission and later the automaker’s first hybrid transmission.

Gallagher has lived and worked during his 33-year career with GM in Ohio, Maryland, Michigan and Indiana. In the late 2010s, he was plant manager for nearly three years at GM’s Defiance Castings Operations in Defiance in northwest Ohio before heading to Detroit for three more years, during which he led engine and transmission plans as shop director in North America. After that, he managed GM’s Marion Metal Center stamping plant in Marion, Ind.

His career at the automaker began as an intern.

ULTIUM CELLS LLC

GM and LG Chem equally are sharing the investment in Lordstown that’s on pace to start production in early 2022. Cells mass produced there will be used in several GM models, including the GMC Hummer, Cadillac Lyriq and Cruise Origin, GM’s electric driverless vehicle.

“LG Chem has proprietary technology, intellectual property on battery cells that no one else in the world has, so by establishing a partnership, we bring together shared responsibility, leverage our strengths and fundamentally are able to share in the benefits and risks of this business,” Gallagher said.

“This is a first of its kind joint venture relationship between a battery-cell manufacturer and an automobile OEM (original equipment manufacturer) in the world,” Gallagher said. “It’s unique and strategic, and we believe it’s a strategic advantage for both GM and LG Chem. We think it makes a great deal of sense.”

The limited liability corporation will be governed by a board of directors staffed by GM and LG Chem. The operating team is accountable to the board.

The company is led by Kee Eun, president, who’s been with LG Chem for 20 years in various leadership positions. Eun successfully established the LG Chem Michigan Inc. battery plant in Holland, Mich.

“I’ve kind of been the face on the ground relative to Ultium to building partnerships and relationships and it’s a manufacturing operation, so fundamentally, all things manufacturing, I’m in the middle of. He (Kee Eun) has the relationship with GM in the battery space from the onset of our program, so he’s been in an important role working with GM on the commercial side for the supplier / customer relationship we had previously and now the joint venture partnership.”

THE PLANT

The massive plant is large enough to contain 30 football fields. The site is 158 acres on Tod Avenue NW, immediately to the east of GM’s former assembly plant that it closed in March 2019.

It will be a next-generation, high-tech facility with a clean room and temperature-controlled environment. Employees will be required to wear full-zip body suits to ensure no contamination is brought to the manufacturing space.

The first phase of battery-cell making deals with raw materials, said Gallagher, who said that part of the facility looks more like a chemical plant.

“It’s really a matter of taking steps to mix the materials, do quality checks, monitor process equipment … and ensure the steps are being followed to meet the recipe for the product,” Gallagher said.

Where the cells are assembled will look like a high-tech electronics factory. Employees, Gallagher said, will work in teams and will be responsible to start up, maintain and operate the equipment.

A cell is roughly 18 inches long, a little more than 5 inches tall and weighs about 1 pound. It takes about 30 days to fully manufacture a cell, largely due to the speed of the chemical reactions and quality checks.

Battery packs will be assembled at Factory ZERO, what GM’s Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly Center now is called as its being reconfigured to an all-electric vehicle assembly plant.

TRAINING AND ADVANCING TECH

Gallagher said Ultium Cells is cultivating relationships with Youngstown State University and Eastern Gateway Community College. They are, he said, “very willing partners willing to develop specific strategies” for training and technology advancement.

YSU, he said, would have multiple roles, from helping to re-skill the workforce on the technical end to build battery cells and maintain the equipment, to workforce skills and behaviors screening to develop a workforce profile.

“It’s really a unique partnership. We’re looking at doing things that in the past manufacturing has typically gone to commercial businesses to accomplish, and we’re looking at how that can be leveraged in a public / private partnership relationship between YSU and Ultium Cells,” Gallagher said. “It’s a different mode than we considered in the past and really, we’re trying to see how this might work for both entities.”

Profiling the workforce, he said, gives the company a picture of the available workforce, “so we can, rather than anticipate our training needs, we can target it based on what we know to be the skill opportunities.”

EGCC would play a key role in re-skilling and training the employees.

Ultium Cells also plans to take advantage of LG Chem’s plant in Michigan to train incoming workers.

“So typically in a manufacturing environment, you would do upfront skills and technical training and then you would get hands-on experience,” he said. “Well, we don’t have that opportunity because the building is being built, the equipment doesn’t exist, so we are looking to leverage the existing plant operation in Holland, Mich., that LG Chem operates where our employees would have a chance to get some hands-on experience ahead of the state of production.”

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