Jim Hardee Equipment Adds Plant Capacity To Meet Market Demand

Jim Hardee Equipment is taking advantage of a growing Florida truck body market by increasing its manufacturing and ability to service a growing market share. Serving the central Florida market, Jim Hardee, president of Jim Hardee Equipment, has built the business by providing custom manufactured dump bodies, being a body and parts distributor, and providing specialized installation and repair services for the refuse and heavy construction industries.

"The market demand for our manufactured and distributed products continues to grow," says Hardee. "For the company to take advantage of this growth, we moved into a facility that allowed us to manufacture more product, and it provides us with enough room for the installation of our distributor products and refuse collection bodies."

Along with manufacturing dump bodies, Jim Hardee Equipment is a truck body and component distributor for such companies as Crysteel Manufacturing, Galbreath, Heil Environmental Industries, Kann Manufacturing, Knapheide Manufacturing, Watson and Chalin Lift Axles, and several others.

"We consider ourselves as a manufacturer of 5- to 20- yard dump bodies," says Hardee. "However, greater than 60% of our business currently comes from the sales and installation of distributed product."

But Hardee is working on changing the ratio between manufactured and distributed product sales. He believes that by increasing the dump body manufacturing capacity, the company will gain more market share by being able to meet anticipated demand in a timely manner.

The Main Facility When Jim Hardee saw the opportunity to acquire the former Kidron Manufacturing facility in Lakeland, Florida, he took it. "The facility was perfect for our operation and what we want to do as a company," says Hardee. That appears to be an accurate assessment.

The plant, purchased and occupied in May 1998, has many of the items for the type of manufacturing and installations that Jim Hardee knew the company would need. "We were able to move in the facility relatively quickly because we didn't have to perform a lot of build-out to make it suitable for our operation," says Hardee.

Hardee's new manufacturing facility sits on approximately nine acres facing a main road that serves many of the industrial parks located in Lakeland. Two buildings are situated on the property. The main plant and fabricating facility includes offices and an interior parts counter. A separate paint facility is located to the side of the main building.

The main building contains a 2,000-sq-ft footprint for its interior office space. With a second story, this provides 4,000 square feet for offices. The space houses administrative, accounting, and sales activities. Also included are a reception area and inside parts counter. "The second floor provides some quiet space for the accounting and management personnel, while the first floor provides a spacious area for our salespeople," Hardee says.

The building is 30' tall above the bay doors, cresting to a 40' inside height. The construction is aluminum commercial grade siding over steel skeletal framing. The roof is similarly constructed and has an outer reflective coating to limit heat buildup in the shop areas.

But the real benefits of the facility can be seen when touring the manufacturing and body installation area. "We really have two separate operations going on under one roof," says David Cribbs, production manager for the company. "One part of the facility is strictly used for the manufacturing of our dump bodies, while the other part of the facility is used as a body installation area."

Having two operations under one roof works well for Hardee. "As production manager, I don't have to spread my time between several shops," says Cribbs. "When I enter the shop floor, I can see both the manufacturing and installation operations without walking all over the place."

The 120' wide x 425' long structure lends itself well for dual use as a manufacturing and body installation area. The building provides 42,500 square feet under one roof, excluding the office space.

Looking lengthwise down the plant, several cordoned areas are laid out for specific plant operations, mostly separating the facility down the middle.

The east line of the facility, where bodies are mounted, is equipped with eight mounting bays with 14' x 24' automatic roll-up doors. The west line of the facility is not equipped with roll-up doors. However, this complements the building perfectly for the manufacturing operations, which are performed down the westward side of the plant facility.

Midway down the east line of the plant is a recessed jog where the width of the plant shrinks from 120' to 40'. However, the concrete slab continues for the full 120' original width creating a spacious concrete pad outside the building. "This works out well for us as it provides some outside concreted space for the storage of dump bodies on the way to the paint facility," says Cribbs. "Plus that recessed wall provides a good place for us to designate an exterior office facility for our materials buyers, designers, and engineering personnel.

"All of our manufacturing processes take place in the last half of the plant," says Cribbs. "On the west line of the back half, we manufacture our dump beds. On the east line of the back half, we manufacture our specialty flatbed units."

A 100' span-bridge crane that has two independent bridges also serves the manufacturing side of the plant. A two-ton crane unit is outfitted on each bridge. Two one-ton capacity jib cranes are located at the shear and brake machines.

Manufacturing Dump Bodies The manufacturing side of the business is usually straightforward. However, the company has learned a few things that help smooth out the manufacturing process.

"Every time you don't have to use a forklift, you save time," says Cribbs. "All of the plate that goes into the shear or the press brake is loaded using the jib cranes.

"The first part of the operation cuts and forms all of the pieces that are needed to produce the body," says Cribbs.

Hardee uses a shear that can perform a 16' cut. This provides Hardee with the ability to build up to a 16' dump body utilizing one-piece wall and floor construction. Cribbs credits this as a prime reason why Jim Hardee Equipment is seen as building a quality product in the dump body market.

Once the shear has cut the floor, side, front bulkhead, hoist housing, and tailgate plates, the pieces are moved to jig tables that are set up to finish out the piece. "We have a jig table that we can quickly configure for each piece's length," says Cribbs. "That's the key to manufacturing effectively. We set one jig table proportionally to the size of body we are going to make, and we have our welders working on those pieces while other fabricators are operating the shear and brake."

Welders add the side reinforcements to the side walls of the dump body. Hardee handles all of the brake operations in-house. Cribbs says that it is easier to inspect for quality control issues at the time the brake work is done. He prefers this to an outside vendor delivering a pallet of multiple parts sent in where quality issues aren't discovered until the fitter attempts to use the piece.

At this point in the manufacturing process, tailgates are fitted with pin and lock sets. "This is an area where quality control really comes into effect," says Cribbs. "The tailgate has to fit and form a basic seal working with the dump body's sides." Cribbs emphasizes that the unit can't leave with any improperly fitted rear door, because the high frequency of opening and high stress fatigue levels are too great and will immediately cause problems for a customer.

The front bulkhead has to have the cylinder hoist housing incorporated into the piece, Cribbs explains while pointing to a cut out section of a front bulkhead. "Basically we create a cavity for the hoist cylinder to fit into when it's in its collapsed position," says Cribbs. "However, this is a hinge point and one that gets a lot of stress. We really want to inspect the weld and alignment of the finished product."

All of the pieces are then placed together starting with the floor of the dump unit. Then sides, front bulkhead, tailgate, and finishing hardware are added to complete the full manufacturing process, with the exception of painting the unit.

"Eight overhead doors provide all our needs for mounting bays," says Cribbs. "But what has really been helpful is the interior height of the facility." Mounting dump bodies, hook lifts, and roll-off hoists can require a facility that has enough operations room for the system to be tried at full extension.

"Not every installer has that capability inside their shop," explains Cribbs. "You can do the job without that capability, but it's a great convenience to be able to fully operate the system inside the shop.

"Another great convenience is the overhead crane service," says Cribbs. An eight-ton overhead bridge crane serves the eight bays. The bridge crane is actually comprised of a five-ton and a three-ton. The bridge spans a depth of 60' from the roll-up door openings to effectively half of the building width. "Again, some might not consider it an absolutely necessary item; however, it certainly helps in the installation of dump bodies, heavy duty hoist, and refuse packers."

Shop technicians are usually busy installing dump bodies in the first set of bays behind the office area. "We dedicate those two bays for dump body installations," says Cribbs. "As a manufacturer of dump bodies, we have a constant work flow on these units that we try to keep moving as rapidly as possible."

Once a truck enters the bay for a dump body, several technicians proceed with the work. Although the truck stays in one location, three distinctive stages of work are carried out on the unit by three different technicians.

Stage one is the wiring and PTO installation. This will include setting up the transmission for PTO installation for vehicles with automatic transmissions and factory engine/transmission settings. Hydraulic pumps are installed at this time. The in-cab wiring is installed along with the actual controls and any PTO control-tower assembly.

Stage two includes the addition of any necessary hardware and lift axles. "Most of our dumps are used in central Florida," says Cribbs. "This usually requires the addition of a pusher axle to the unit on the Class 8 trucks." In Florida, dumps are allowed to gross 70,000 pounds using a triaxle configuration.

Hardee does add some pushers or tag axles for medium duty trucks that are used for special applications. "We are really focused when we add a lift axle to a truck," says Cribbs. "Unless it's done carefully and correctly, there will be tracking problems that won't go away.

"During stage two, we also install all of the hardware for the truck," says Cribbs. "This includes all of the hydraulic tanks and the cylinder hinge assembly."

Stage three is the installation of the dump body subframe, hoist gear, and dump cavity. Quality workmanship is the key to a successful installation, Cribbs says. "Our name is on every unit we turn out. It is going to be a perfect fit when it leaves our plant."

The other six bays are used for the installation of other manufacturers' products. "We do a lot of installations for companies involved in the refuse collection business," says Cribbs. "As an example, we are Galbreath's largest installer of roll-off units."

Central Florida has been experiencing a population growth that has added significantly to Hardee's growth level. Currently, about 75% of the body installations outside of its own manufactured product are for the refuse business.

Refuse Bodies "It used to be that installing a refuse packer was similar to putting on a dump body," says Cribbs. "Today, the refuse bodies have taken on a greater depth of complicated subsystems." Cribbs explains that there are more electronically operated controls than would ever be imagined ten years ago for the operation of a refuse packer.

"Just look at the many different ways that the packers load," says Cribbs. "Many of the front, side, top, and rear loading packers have an intake loading system combined with another style of discharge system."

Installing a refuse packer on a truck chassis that has a mis-spec'd set of electronic engine parameters can really be a time eater, says Cribbs. "We are fortunate to have technicians that really understand the electronics and can reset or correct them if necessary." Along with Galbreath, Hardee also installs refuse and other types of bodies for Heil, K-Pack, and Knapheide, and other major body manufacturers. "I feel that we have built a solid reputation as an installer because of the quality of work that we do," says Cribbs. The shop helps the technicians to perform at their efficient level because of the space and not having to constantly move a truck from bay to bay, Cribbs says. "Nothing in the installation process is dropped between the cracks."

"We used to use a small paint booth, but now we have a paint building," says Cribbs. It is a standalone 3,600-square-foot building that contains two, 40' bays serviced with overhead doors at all ends. The facility also has a separate office area for administrative use.

"This building helps us to really maintain a strong production level," says Cribbs. The cemented pad area in front of the paint building provides an area where completed units can be stored until they receive the final coatings. It keeps the manufacturing facility uncluttered and eliminates the need to move units during the manufacturing process.

Jim Hardee realizes the impact of the new facility on the company. "We are able to increase our production of manufactured product, perform more complicated types of body installations, and store more finished product and customers truck chassis than at any other time in our history," says Hardee. "The plant was already relatively built out to meet our needs, so there wasn't a great cost that we had to expense out." That's the key to using money to gain manufacturing and production advantages. o

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