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A quality partnership

Member Co-ops offer a full line of quality Co-op-branded batteries thanks to Tennessee Farmers Cooperative’s partnership with industry leading East Pe
Story by Sarah Geyer Photos provided by East Penn Manufacturing Co. 1/6/2020


East Penn Manufacturing Co., best known for its Deka brand, produces a full line of top-quality Co-op batteries for truck, tractor, ag, lawn and garden, power sports, and marine. Employees at East Penn’s 520-acre complex, located 65 miles north of Philadelphia, produce more than 450 battery designs for cars, trucks, boats, farm equipment, and industrial uses. They also make specialty batteries for applications such as cell phone transmitters, wheelchairs, backup power for solar and other renewable energy generators, floor machines, and alarm systems.
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Pick your partners carefully. It’s an adage mothers have used for centuries in the matters of marriage and bridge games, and one Tennessee Farmers Cooperative used a few decades back in regards to quality Co-op branded batteries.

That’s when TFC partnered with East Penn Manufacturing, Co., a family-owned business headquartered in Lyons Station, Pa. Since that time, member Co-ops and their customers have enjoyed the benefits of TFC’s wise partner pick, which is widely recognized today as one of the industry’s leading manufacturers of lead batteries.

“I think [East Penn’s Co-op-branded batteries] are the best value that TFC has ever had in my time,” says Ben Porterfield, manager of Marshall Farmers Cooperative’s Car Care Center and a 34-year employee. “I’m very pleased with [East Penn] and [their employees] are the best people I’ve every worked with.”

Founders DeLight E. Breidegam, Jr., and his father, DeLight, Sr., started East Penn in a one-room shop in 1946. Over the next several decades, they built their business on two key principles: keeping customers and employees as the top priority and never overlooking opportunities for improvement. Today, in the same county where the company started, East Penn owns and operates one of the largest, most technologically advanced, single-site, lead battery manufacturing facilities in the world.

The complex — with more than 3 million square feet of building space built on nearly 520 acres — includes four automotive battery plants, an industrial battery plant, a specialty battery plant, two state-of-the-art oxide facilities, two injection molding plants, four technical support centers, a fleet repair and maintenance garage, a rail stop, an EPA-permitted lead smelter and refinery with two water purification plants, and a fully equipped machine plant with a tooling shop, electrical shop, sheet metal shop, carpenter shop, and a full-time construction crew.

The company’s wire, cable, and battery accessory plant and a multiple-facility distribution center are a few miles from the Lyons Station campus. The company also owns more than 90 warehouses, distribution centers, and subsidiaries in the United States and Canada and has joint ventures in Austria, Brazil, India, and Mexico.

East Penn employs more than 10,000 people — 8,000 at Lyons Station — and has appeared on Fortune’s “100 Best Companies to Work For” and most recently was listed as one of “America’s Best Large Employers for 2019” by Forbes and Statista.

“I’m most impressed with East Penn’s integrity and long-term vision,” says Ed Robbins, product manager for TFC’s Tires, Batteries and Accessories Department. “As a family-owned company, they do what is right for customers and employees instead of trying to please stockholders. They are environmentally conscious and good stewards in every aspect of the battery production process and are always forward-looking to what is next.”

A glimpse into battery production at East Penn

The first step is grid casting, which begins with machinery specially designed to make lead strips for East Penn’s exclusive compu-press, grid-making process. Lead is rolled and compressed within one hundredth of a millimeter, and the large lead strip coils are then placed on equipment that presses the strip 250 to 300 times a minute to form the shape of the grids.  This equipment reshapes the grip wires using patented grid reforming and texturing technology to enhance lead paste adhesion.

Lead oxide and pasting process starts in East Penn’s modern oxide facility with the production of a very fine lead oxide powder. This active material is then mixed into an exacting formula-specific paste using specialty equipment engineered and custom built onsite. Full-framed grids are then pasted into positive and negative plates under rigid specifications. Both sides of the plate are pasted for added durability and severe service performance. Plates are then stacked for ease and efficiency, while lugs and frames are also cleaned and brushed as they move toward the end of the line. The most advanced robotic technology in the industry is used to carefully move the plates from the line onto racks.

Those racks are then moved into East Penn’s modern curing chambers built to optimize the controlled environment of the curing process. From the forklift’s onboard computer, material handlers can check each oven’s status, curing process data, and even open and close the doors.

Plate grouping and assembling are some of East Penn’s most modern processes.     

     Cured plates are inserted into oxidation-resistant, deep-pocket envelope separators which completely surround the plates to prevent shorts. Positive and negative plate lugs are brushed, fluxed, and automatically fused into a two-volt element.

Battery assembly is the next step. First, a short-testing device probes each cell in every battery. In the rare case a short is detected, the battery is immediately rejected. Then, each battery element is electronically precision welded for the lowest resistance and highest cranking power possible. Next, the cover is thermal welded onto the container. The plastic welding process results in an airtight, leak-proof unit. A highly advanced process is used to build East Penn’s posts. By adding molten lead and precision heat, the result is strong, solid terminal posts and forged bushings, preventing porosity, black post, terminal leakage, and corrosion. The battery is then automatically pressure-tested to verify the quality of case-to-cover seal. When the batteries are ready for pallets, advanced robotic arms use a vacuum system to carefully hold the batteries until they are gently placed on the skid.

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