Plant that gave name to NBA’s Pistons closing-WEB ONLY

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A piston factory once owned by one of the founders of the National Basketball Association is closing down this year because of the economic downturn.

It will mean the end of the Fort Wayne plant that as Zollner Piston once employed more than 1,200 people but now has just 38 production workers.

The closure is the “direct effect of what’s happening in the auto industry,” said Mike Windberg, a spokesman for Marinette, Wis.-based Karl Schmidt Unisia Inc. A subsidiary of the German-based Kolbenschmidt Pierburg Group, Unisia bought the former Zollner plant in 1999.

That company was named for Fred Zollner, who helped form the NBA and whose Pistons team played in Fort Wayne from 1949 until moving to Detroit in 1957.

Windberg said the plant’s customer base had shrunk to only General Motors Corp., and its workers were making pistons and piston rings mainly for large-displacement engines. He said production in Fort Wayne would be shifted to the company’s plants in Marinette, Wis., and Mexico.

An engine-testing lab that employs 10 people will remain in Fort Wayne and continue to operate in conjunction with Karl Schmidt’s engineering operation in Auburn Hills, Mich., Windberg said.

The company has not announced when the plant will cease operations. A company statement announcing the closure said it would be negotiating details of the shutdown with the United Auto Workers.

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