Historic Springfield manufacturer to ramp up hiring

July 03, 2018
Workers at The O.S. Kelly Company grind and smooth-out the piano boards after they’ve been cast Monday, July 2, 2018 at the Springifeld company. The O.S. Kelly Company makes the piano boards for Steinway and Sons pianos. They have been in business since 1852. BILL LACKEY/STAFF

O.S. Kelly, a historic Springfield firm that produces piano plates for Steinway and Sons, is ramping up hiring for the first time in years as Steinway looks to shift some work here to free up space at its own facilities.

Since the 1930s, workers at O.S. Kelly have produced cast-iron plates that are a key to the pianos Steinway and Sons produce in Long Island, N.Y. and Hamburg, Germany. The plates, which can weigh up to 350 pounds, tie together the guts of the pianos said Rob Hill, plant manager at Kelly.

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The plates demand a high level of precision, holding together steel wire strings at 40,000 pounds per square inch of pressure. Hill’s previous experience was in the automotive industry, where most of the parts made are never seen by the customer. That’s not the case with the piano plates.

“The piano is designed to open,” Hill said. “We paint it gold and we want it to be the centerpiece of the piano.”

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Steinway wanted to free up space in its German facility and decided to outsource some of its finishing work to Springfield. That means O.S. Kelly will need to boost its hiring by about 30 percent for the first time in years. The company has 30 workers now and will hire about 10 more.

“Steinway & Sons acquired O.S. Kelly in order to ensure the best cast iron plate possible for every piano we build worldwide,” said Anthony Gilroy, senior director of marketing for Steinway and Sons. “Our company’s growth in Asia has definitely played a part in allowing us to increase production at O.S. Kelly, though growth in our Americas and Europe, Middle East and Africa markets have also played a role – in particular growth in sales of our new Steinway Spirio high resolution player piano.”

A sign outside the Springfield factory encourages applicants to stop in and the company has had some success at the recent eighth annual Clark County Career Fair held earlier this spring. The company is looking for workers with experience in metal finishing, a skilled CNC operator, maintenance and other positions.

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Often, people drive by the company’s historic building but have no idea about what’s produced there, Hill said. The company is also looking at boosting its pay and benefits as manufacturing firms increasingly compete for the same workers.

“I’ve been encouraged by the amount of interest especially considering the job market and the current unemployment rate,” he said.

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The company will host a job fair from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday, July 17 at O.S. Kelly’s facility at 318 E. North St.

“This type of work is a little more industrial than your typical assembly line operation,” Hill said. “Our work is a little more manual.”

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Nearly all of the work done at O.S. Kelly is for Steinway products, although the company does produce a very small percentage of its products for other companies, Hill said. O.S. Kelly is a subsidiary of Steinway and Sons. Workers in Springfield know they’re making an unusual product, Hill said. As far as he’s aware, O.S. Kelly is the only piano plate manufacturer in the U.S., Hill said.

According to its website, Steinway and sons was founded in New York in 1853 and is considered the best brand in the world, Hill said.

“Nearly everyone is familiar with the Steinway brand and people can visualize what you’re talking about,” Hill said of O.S. Kelly’s products.