Trailmobile Canada gears up plant to supply US branches & distributors

WHEN Trailmobile purchased a majority interest in Mond Industries in 1999, little did they realize that three years later the small plant in Toronto would be Trailmobile's largest plant. In fact, today it is their only plant, supplying Trailmobile branches and dealers in the United States and Canada.

Final papers were signed in July transferring ownership of Trailmobile's Charleston IL and Jonesboro AR manufacturing plants to Great Dane. Trailmobile Trailer LLC was forced to sell the two trailer manufacturing plants out of bankruptcy to the high bidder, Great Dane Limited Partnership.

The Trailmobile manufacturing plant in the Toronto suburb of Mississauga is not owned by Trailmobile Trailer LLC. It is a separate corporation, Trailmobile Canada Ltd, now 99% owned by Trailmobile Corp of Northbrook IL, which is not part of the bankruptcy proceedings. Trailmobile Corp of Northbrook also owns the Trailmobile Parts and Service of Erlanger KY, which owns the Trailmobile branches in the US and Canada.

That leaves Trailmobile Canada Ltd as the sole manufacturing plant supplying Trailmobile's six US factory branches and five Canadian branches. It also supplies Trailmobile's 75 dealers in the US and five independent dealers in Canada.

Dry freight vans only

However, Trailmobile Canada Ltd is a very different company today than it was three years ago as a public stock company. It had four production lines then, building a wider range of equipment including dry freight vans, refrigerated trailers, domestic containers, intermodal chassis, and platform trailers.

Today it has two production lines building dry freight vans only. One line builds standard fleet van trailers. The other line does more specialized van trailers. Within the general van category, Trailmobile Canada builds a full line of dry freight vans from 20 to 57 feet in length, having one to four axles, in B-train configuration as well as A-train doubles, flat-floor as well as drop-frame, with multiple side doors and even a few drive-thru front walls for doubles loading at the dock.

Besides limiting output to dry freight vans, Trailmobile also increased plant capacity from its former 10 to 12 trailers per day up to 28 to 30 vans per day. The company has actually built as many as 28 per day, while the 30 per day is still an “achievable goal.” It did this without increasing the size of the building. Trailmobile still occupies the same very modern structure that was built new in 1996.

“We have one of the most efficient trailer plants in North America,” says Bert Clay, vice-president of sales and marketing. “We can build 28 trailers a day in a building of less than 100,000 square feet on seven acres.”

Empowering employees

After Trailmobile acquired 56% of Mond Industries stock in 1999, it transferred the manager of its Jonesboro high-volume plant to Mississauga. Tom Wiseman reconfigured the plant for two lines — a high-volume line and a slower custom line. In the process, he spent some $4 million on new tooling and equipment.

Besides focusing on dry freight vans only, he sought to change the attitude of the workforce. He did this by empowering the employees, using team building to achieve lean manufacturing and continuous improvement goals. The cultural environment went from authoritarian rule to cooperative teamwork and problem-solving.

Using the Visual Systems approach espoused by Gwendolyn Glasworth in building cells and empowering workers, big improvements became evident. The employee turnover rate was reduced drastically. Absenteeism and tardiness were reduced. Productivity increased 30%. Quality improved noticeably.

The company embarked on its ISO 9000 program in January 2001. It was certified to the new ISO 9001-2000 in October 2001. This new quality assurance program includes continuous improvement and customer satisfaction elements.

Two shifts again

Of course, the recession had started by then. Just like in the States, the slowdown in Canada began in April 2000. Reductions in production started in July 2000, and by August 2001 Trailmobile Canada cut back to a single shift building 10 trailers a day.

After Trailmobile closed its Charleston and Jonesboro plants in November 2001, the Canadian plant started gearing up again to supply Trailmobile's branches and dealers in the US. On June 1, 2002, Trailmobile Canada added the second shift for assembly operations and is now building at the rate of 24 per day.

One of the reasons for the good acceptance in the US of the Canadian-built product is its corrosion resistance. The standard Trailmobile Canada rear frame is hot-dip galvanized after welding. An option is stainless steel using Alloy 304 mill grade. In spite of an additional cost, almost 20% of TM Canada trailers are specified with stainless steel door frames.

Other than undercoating, there is no paint booth in the TM Canada plant, and no finishing work is necessary after assembly. The only coating operation at the Mississauga plant is a “soft coating” or undercoating booth where bogies, upper couplers, and landing gear assemblies are soft coated with Valflex soft coat undercoat after assembly.

An unusual feature of the bogie coating booth is that the bogie is suspended vertically for spraying. Hanging from a winch cable on a bridge crane, the bogie can be turned easily by hand. The operator rides up and down on a scissors lift to spray all parts of the undercarriage. The enclosure can handle long assemblies such as tandem-axle converter dollies and tri-axle bogies with 72" or greater axle spacing.

The growing trend to complete bogies such as the Hendrickson VanTraax, Dana AdVANtage, and Meritor RHP-II is helping to reduce in-plant production time. However, the company's standard air suspension requires welding the axle to the suspension arms. For spring suspensions, the standard is the Hutch tandem. All axles are delivered fully dressed.

Other components are weld assembled in-house. The upper-coupler is welded automatically and manually, then shot-blasted and soft-coated. Landing gear likewise are assembly welded, shot-blasted, and soft-coated. Rear frames are welded then sent out for hot-dip galvanizing overnight. The stack of frames is returned the following morning. Doors are then assembled into the galvanized frame, together with all hinges and locking hardware, ready for mounting to the box assembly.

Perhaps the most unusual feature of the Trailmobile Canada plant is the layout of the assembly lines. Each line makes two shifts in direction without turning the trailers. That is, each line is U-shaped. The two lines together are double U-shaped, or W-shaped. Sidewall assembly and nose assembly for each line takes place inside the U for that line.

Assembly starts at a single floor framing and flooring fixture for both lines, almost in the center of the plant. Crossmembers are supplied with end clips and already soft coated. Hardwood laminated floor boards are likewise supplied with a soft coating on the underside. Assembled floors are gang-drilled at each crossmember, then screwed down with self-feeding screw guns.

The single flooring line moves nose-to-tail, then splits two ways. One line goes to the left for custom trailers. The other line moves right for fleet orders. The two lines move sideways for the installation of the front wall, side walls, and rear frames with doors in place.

After the box is built, the line changes direction again to nose-to-tail to go through the roofing station, traveling on its own bogie. Hooking up wiring and plumbing takes place as the van rolls toward final inspection.

For very special trailers that require more fitting-out time, TM Canada has a four-bay special options completion center across the street. This is for dry freight vans that have a lot of interior work. While Trailmobile Canada is not in the refrigerated trailer market, it does build some insulated trailers for heated operations. Diesel- or propane-powered heaters can be installed by outside contractors. Tailgate lifts are likewise contracted out.

When completed, the van trailers are moved to an off-site lot for customer pick-up.

Mississauga is also home to the Trailmobile Parts & Service Corporation Distribution Center for Canada. It serves five company-owned Trailmobile branches in Canada and 70 distributors, similar to the much larger Trailmobile Parts Distribution Center in Erlanger KY that serves Trailmobile branches and dealers in the United States.

A new 40,000-sq-ft distribution center for the Canadian Parts & Service Corp was officially opened in July. The story on that open house event will be published in Trailer/Body Builders' October Parts issue.

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