ArvinMeritor Inc's 300,000-square-foot facility in Plainfield, Indiana, has always been a hotbed of activity, with the company manufacturing transmissions, rear-drive axle carriers, transfer cases, foundation brakes, and brake shoes.
But since July, it has been even busier.
ArvinMeritor, targeting North American intermodal motor carriers, has been remanufacturing trailer axles. The company is producing about 500 a month and expects to ultimately have an annual capacity of 30,000.
“The underlying philosophy was to offer a remanufactured axle with all of the OE engineering and field support and knowledge that ArvinMeritor has in trailer-axle manufacturing and design groups, and apply those to the remanufacturing world,” says Doug Wolma, general manager of ArvinMeritor's remanufacturing business, which includes axle differentials, brake shoes, manual transmissions, wedge brake actuators, wedge brakes cylinders, and transfer cases.
“We knew there was a lot of trailer-axle remanufacturing happening in North America. A lot of it was being done by companies whose specialty was not trailer axles, and we felt we could be a partner with them and provide them with a remanufactured trailer axle for their end product, which is remanufactured chassis in most cases. We could provide them a remanufactured axle that is OE quality and for a competitive price that allows them to avoid working with axles.
“We saw that we had a value-added product to bring to them with our expertise in trailer axles and the fact that we had a remanufacturing facility. So we combined our internal knowledge and our manufacturing and remanufacturing ability, and I think we provide the market with a product that didn't exist prior to that.
“We bring to the party something that was not previously there: We're offering a same-as-new warranty on remanufactured trailer axles because we believe we know enough about trailer-axle manufacturing and engineering that we understand what causes axles to fail. We can inspect cores as they come in and determine if they're on the verge of failure, and throw out the ones that are and keep the ones that are not. Previously, the people who remanufactured axles didn't have the investment in equipment and the inspection criteria we have. We bring a higher-quality axle that will guarantee the second life of trailer to be as good as the first.”
ArvinMeritor invested substantially in equipment, buying a dedicated shot-blast machine and magnaflux equipment that allows the company to test metals for surface and subsurface flaws and cracks.
ArvinMeritor moved an assembly line from its new manufacturing facility in Frankfort, Kentucky, because of its excess capacity, and upgraded it to all of the latest manufacturing techniques. The trailer-axle line is a stand-alone business unit with all dedicated equipment.
Axles come in, go through a disassembly process, then each part is cleaned, shot-blasted, and brought back to original virgin material composition so it can be inspected for cracks.
“We magnaflux the drums, wheels, and beam itself, looking for cracks,” Wolma says. “We make sure these parts are capable of withstanding another full life of a trailer axle. The intent of the process is to remanufacture the axle to OE specifications that allow it to live the same length of time as it would have been expected to live in its first life.”
After cleaning and inspection, the axle goes to an assembly process, where all of the equipment at torque-controlled stations is tied to release requirements. The axle won't release to the next station until all requirements are met. It's ultimately painted and sent to the customer. The total remanufacturing time for each axle is about five hours.
Wolma says the situation is still evolving commercially. He says ArvinMeritor is interested in expanding so that it can offer a remanufactured axle off the shelf for anybody.
He also foresees a situation where the company ultimately will remanufacture chassis for the intermodal industry and also axles for van trailers.
“The intermodal industry has a million chassis in service,” he says. “They are looking, after about 20 years of service, to have the chassis remanufactured. We believe that over the next several years, that's going to equate to in the neighborhood of 40,000 to 50,000 chassis that will get remanufactured annually in 2009 and 2010. We see the business increasing substantially over the next few years.
“We definitely see an opportunity to talk to people who own van trailers. They could invoke the same strategy — remanufacture their van trailers and get a remanufactured axle and get a substantial second life out of a trailer body. The intermodal industry invented remanufactured intermodal chassis. They have perfected it, understand it, and do it very profitably. We just participate in that. But we also see it as opportunity for the van market going forward.
“It would involve substantial-sized fleets whose vans, over the course of time, have suffered wear and tear and structural damage. They could do body work and repair the trailer. But then you have to ask yourself, ‘I've repaired this trailer, but I have an axle that has turned however many thousands of miles. Do I want a completely repaired chassis here? Not only the sheet metal on the body of trailer, but also an axle.’
“And by taking a completely restructured trailer body and putting on a remanufactured trailer axle, you're essentially giving yourself a second life on the trailer. We believe that has value for fleets. It really has to be driven by the fleet side of the business. They have to recognize the ability to get more life out of their investment in a trailer. Once they do that, the axle becomes a significant portion of that. There are some fleets we know who are doing it but this has primarily been an intermodal chassis group initiative and strategy for 20-plus years.”