THE SMELL of TNT and nitroglycerin has long since left the 70,000-sq-ft building that now houses Pace American's manufacturing facility in McGregor, Texas.
Originally used to manufacture bombs and explosive devices during World War II, the building has housed at least one other manufacturing plant. Pace American Inc completely refurbished the facility to meet its quality and production standards.
Pace American of Texas celebrated its grand opening on January 9, 1998, but has been producing trailers since November 1997. Pace claims the highest sales volume of any steel-frame enclosed cargo trailer manufacturer in the country, according to Craig Lamson, Pace corporate marketing manager. The McGregor plant is the fourth Pace plant in the country. Others are in Hurricane, Utah; Fitzgerald, Georgia; and at corporate headquarters in Middlebury, Indiana. The company recently added a fifth location in Eastman, Georgia. The McGregor plant is Pace's smallest and only non-purpose-built location.
"We needed this plant to serve our regional dealer network and to lower transportation costs in the southwestern part of the country," says Lamson. The 12-year-old company currently produces about 20,000 trailers annually that are distributed through more than 400 dealers. Pace dealers include truck accessory shops, light trailer dealers, and repair shops.
Texas Trailers The McGregor plant produces two of Pace's five models. The facility produces about ten trailers daily, but production should increase to 20 trailers per day by the end of the year.
"We will work up one model at a time until we are building every model," says Leonard Estrada, McGregor plant manager. "Our goal is to be building all five models within one to one and one-half years."
The plant began production by building Pace's Cargo Sport and Shadow models. The Cargo Sport is available in five-, six-, seven- and eight-foot widths up to 20 feet long, and the Shadow is 81/2 feet wide and is available in lengths from 16 to 40 feet. The Cargo Sport has a gross vehicle weight rating of 2,990 to 24,000 lb. Shadow models range from 7,000 to 24,000 lb.
"We will move up through the models as employees become familiar with practices and techniques used by Pace," says Estrada.
Keeping in Touch Communication is very important to Estrada. He uses personal radios to maintain efficient communication between himself and the 42 plant employees. Twenty-two plant employees carry radios tuned to the same frequency to put them in immediate contact with management. Shop leaders and supervisors carry radios at all times.
"Communication is a key element with this many people," says Estrada. "The radio allows me to answer immediately any questions that someone in the plant may have about a trailer."
Estrada has an open door policy for communication with employees. "You must be personal with the employees in this business," says Estrada. "Anyone can speak to me at any time."
Pace uses platform and large pickup gooseneck trailers to deliver new trailers to approximately 60 regional dealers. Between three and five trailers are shipped at a time. Trailers also are available for dealer or customer pick-up, but all financial transactions are handled through dealers.
The main building at the McGregor plant previously was used by Starcraft Southwest to perform van conversions, but was entirely retooled by Pace in August 1997. Pace installed infrared and natural gas heaters and new lighting and wiring in the plant. The main building covers 70,000 square feet. Pace installed a new 60' x 15' x 15' downdraft booth in another existing structure outside the main facility to accommodate trailers of different sizes. The main building houses a smaller 20-ft-long automotive-style booth used to paint bar locks, cam locks, and fenders.
Sidewall and door assembly fixtures were built with overhead hanging racks for wire-feed welders. Welding power units are positioned above ground level on a rack on one side of the shop with wires routed through conduit to movable welding stations that slide above the fixtures. The facility also has one three-ton and two two-ton bridge cranes to move trailers and materials.
Pace built a phosphate wash bay outside the main building that can hold up to four trailers at a time depending on size. Phosphate is mixed with water and applied to trailers using a high-pressure wash machine. The phosphate removes oil and impurities in the metal, preparing it for better paint adhesion.
Adjustable scaffolds were built to make the installation of trailer roofs easier for employees. Employees can adjust the scaffolding for any width or height of trailer. Scaffolds adjust for width by rolling on floor tracks and are adjustable to two heights.
Cleanliness is important to a successful business, according to Estrada. He enforces a 20-minute clean-up period at the end of every day. A series of buzzers tell employees when to start and end a shift as well as when to go on a break and eat lunch. Buzzers sound 20 minutes before the end of the shift, signaling employees to start cleaning.
Having a clean shop improves all aspects of running a business smoothly, he says. "We wanted to create an environment employees look forward to coming to everyday."
The paint shop is held to the same cleanliness standard as the rest of the plant. Pace uses a peel-off base that is changed monthly to prevent paint buildup. Floor and lights in the booth are covered with plastic wrap that is changed weekly. The floor in the paint mixing area outside the paint booth is covered with cardboard.
"We want this equipment to last as long as possible," says Estrada.
The McGregor plant still receives some materials from the headquarters plant in Indiana, but soon should begin almost exclusive use of local vendors for materials. Pace will choose local vendors to avoid the problems associated with long distance shipping. "We can get problems solved faster if a vendor isn't hundreds of miles away," says Estrada. "We should be using 95% local vendors soon."
Trailers begin life in the welding shop where I-beam frames are built on one of two frame jigs. Frames are welded upside down and Dexter axles are attached before being flipped over. Trailers use C-channel crossmembers and 16-gauge roof bows. Sidewall hat posts also are 16-gauge and are on 16-inch centers.
Once framework and deburring are complete, trailers are phosphate treated and taken to the paint shop. After painting, trailers are treated with an anti-corrosive agent before being wired. Next, 3/4-inch plywood floors and 3/8-inch sidewall liners are installed.
In the metal-hanging section of the plant, trailers receive .030" prefinished aluminum exteriors. All sheet aluminum is crimped 51/4 on its contact edges for a smooth fit and cleaner look after installation. "Metal lays flatter after it has been crimped," says Estrada.
Pace uses a decoiler to cut sheet aluminum to preset lengths. Plastic covering protects sheet aluminum during hanging. Aluminum extrusions are cut using custom notchers and bent to fit trim areas around doors and windows. Trailer assembly is complete when trailers leave the trim shop.
>From the trim shop, trailers are taken to a final inspection area for a quality assessment checklist performed by Pace's quality inspection crew. Trailers must pass a checklist inspection in five main categories: tongue, exterior, paint, interior, and caulking. Each category has between five and 20 points to be inspected.
In addition to the final inspection, trailers are evaluated at each assembly station from welding to trim as they pass through the plant. "Each trailer is then signed off on a checklist by the leader and supervisor of each area," says Estrada.
Trailers are subjected to 10-minute fog tests to ensure they are weatherproof. "We test the large trailers two times and the small trailers once," says Toni Brown, head of quality inspection at the McGregor plant.
Pace provides a three-year warranty for all trailers. A quality control manager operates from one central location, but makes frequent trips to all the plants for regular inspections. "We place a huge emphasis on quality," says Estrada.