Vanguard National finishes in Indiana what CIMC starts at a trailer plant in China

Building a refrigerated trailer on the Vanguard National assembly line is like building a dry freight van. It's a matter of putting the pieces together.

Reefers and dry freights share an assembly line at the Vanguard plant in Monon, Indiana. And there really isn't much difference between the two, at least not until the end.

Under the Vanguard system, completed sidewalls, floor, noose and rear frame all come together at a single fixture where they are assembled into a box. The assembled van then moves down a production line to be finished out.

Reefers and dry-freight vans can be comingled. The only real difference comes when the running gear are installed on the assembled reefers. At that point, the reefers leave the end of the production line and move to a new CKD (complete knock-down) center where finishing touches are applied.

“This system uses the best that CIMC and the rest of the world have to offer,” says Charlie Mudd, president of Vanguard National. “Where there is labor to be saved, we can do that. But we also customize. Not every reefer is the same, so we can provide the custom specification at the CKD center using kits produced in China.”

The CKD center is still a work in progress. In late November, the company was still setting up the production equipment that will enable the company to build the reefers on a production basis.

Two major components of that process are coming on stream — one for foaming, the other for welding. The foaming equipment will apply the final insulation touches to the joints where the panels come together.

The welding fixture will provide the longitudinal seam that is required to seal the reefer floor. The base of the sidewalls includes full-length flanges that overlap the extruded aluminum floor. An automated weld positioner travels the length of the trailer, laying down the weld bead that seals the floor.

When volume is sufficient, Vanguard will replicate the assembly fixtures that the company currently uses to assemble dry-freight vans.

“We could be led to do that because of an increase in demand for refrigerated vans, or it could be because we need to produce move dry-freight vans,” Mudd says. “Either way, when our production is impacted by mixing reefers and dry-freight vans on the same line, we will put in one or two assembly stations at the CKD center. Right now the one thing that is for sure is that we won't let production — reefer or dry freight — be hindered.”

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