J&J Truck Bodies & Trailers Expands Market, Designs Products to Meet Customer Demands

April 1, 1999
DUMP bodies and trailers can be a competitive regional business, but one regional manufacturer is succeeding in selling nationally and internationally."To

DUMP bodies and trailers can be a competitive regional business, but one regional manufacturer is succeeding in selling nationally and internationally.

"To grow, we need to take more of a national or international approach," says Bill Riggs, president and owner of Somerset Welding and Steel Inc, the parent company of J&J TruckBodies & Trailers Inc.

The primary products manufactured in two 60,000-sq-ft plants in Somerset, Pennsylvania, by J&J Truck Bodies & Trailers are steel and aluminum dump bodies, dump trailers, and refuse trailers. Separate from J&J, Somerset Welding & Steel owns Lincoln Supply & Equipment, a full-line truck equipment distributor in Somerset, and an adjacent Ace Hardware store.

Some examples of Riggs' commitment to product diversity are found in his hardware store. Along with pickup truck toolboxes, hunting apparel, and chainsaws is a freezer stocked with fresh ostrich meat from Riggs' farm in the rural central Pennsylvania community.

In a similar way, Riggs wants to expand J&J's business by offering new products for markets other than the regional dump body and dump trailer market, he says. The company has designed and is building products for national and international markets.

Tri-Lingual Website

J&J's truck bodies and trailers are marketed through direct sales, by distributors, and over the Internet at the company's website (www.jjbodies.com). The website is published in three language versions: English, Spanish, and Chinese.

The manufacturer has a full-time salesman for Latin American countries with an office in Somerset and another salesman for China who works from an office in Beijing. In 1998, J&J shipped 16 dump bodies to China and has 25 on order for 1999.

Since 1995, J&J has employed a salesman in China. The company hired him while he was still in college. After graduation, he attended several weeks of in-plant training at J&J and Ford Motor Company. Basically, he locates end users who need trucks.

Truck bodies built and mounted on chassis by J&J and shipped to China in the past include service body trucks, mechanics trucks, and fuel tank trucks. The tanks are built by J&J for hauling fuel or for lubrication trucks. The tanks have seven to nine compartments with 200 to 400-gallon capacities for oil or grease.

Customers in China pay $10,000 to $12,000 just to transport a truck from the United States to China, he says. The first trucks J&J sold to Chinese customers were built seven years ago. The service trucks with van bodies were shipped with welding machines and generators inside.

Buying American Equipment

"If there's any way they can afford to buy American equipment, they do it because of the reliability of US-built equipment compared to Chinese equipment," Riggs says.

Despite the enormous competitive advantage of superior US workmanship, one reason doing business in a foreign country such as China is difficult is because of language and cultural barriers, he says. Even though a great demand exists for trucks and equipment in China, J&J cannot predict future sales growth.

"No US truck body manufacturer is having success in China," Riggs said. "We are unsure of continued growth in that country. Formidable problems exist for doing business in China."

Better opportunities for growing international sales are in Latin American countries, Riggs says. In 1994 and 1995, J&J built and shipped 100 completed trucks to Latin America. Most of the vehicles went to Colombia.

J&J expects sales to increase in countries with emerging truck body markets such as Chile, Venezuela, Panama, and the Dominican Republic. Since 1995, J&J has been building about 50 truck bodies a year for customers in Latin America.

Some sales are made in countries in Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. But these sales represent a minimal portion of overall sales. Riggs says J&J plans to grow sales in these countries to 15% to 20% of its overall business.

Truck Body Production

In 1998, J&J built 1,100 truck bodies, which was 150 less than it built in 1997. But the company almost doubled its trailer production, building 400 trailers in 1998, which was 150 more than it built in 1997. In 1999, J&J will be at its maximum production capacity for trailers when it builds 450.

In the United States, the manufacturer has about 17 distributors north and east of the Mississippi River. Most of the distributors only sell J&J trailers, butthe company is trying to expand its distributor network for dump bodies.

J&J wants to compete in dump body markets in the West, and in Florida, St Louis, Detroit, and Chicago, Riggs says. Products are being designed and built to compete with manufacturers in these areas.

"We see a western influence moving east in the dump body manufacturing industry," Riggs says. "So we've developed products to meet those demands."

For the western market, J&J builds a dump body with a crossmemberless design. Instead of using vertical stiffners on dump body sidewalls, J&J is using horizontal stiffners or none at all to resemble Western dump body designs.

Other new products are half-round steel and aluminum dump bodies. Less material is required to build half-round bodies, which have a lighter tare weight and a small increase in payload compared to a conventional dump body.

Half-Round Truck Bodies

An aluminum half-round dump body weighs up to 1,500 pounds less than the same 16- to 18-yard capacity conventional-style dump body, he says. A steel half-round can weigh 500 to 1,000 pounds less than the same capacity conventional-style dump body.

"Half-rounds cost less to manufacture, have fewer pieces, and require less material," Riggs says.

Dump bodies and trailers with half-round designs work well for sand, asphalt, and other processed materials, Riggs says. But half-rounds cannot be used to haul all types of materials.

To design J&J's newest dump bodies, the company's five mechanical engineers use Pro Engineer, which is a powerful three-dimensional modeling software.

"We can build any shape of dump body or trailer the market asks for," Riggs says. "Pro E will make this task easier and faster."

J&J optimizes the shape of its truck bodies to attain the lowest production cost and weight while considering an adequate longevity for the product, Riggs says.

Riggs says J&J employs five engineers because the company is especially sensitive to employing staff with an education level comparable to that of truck manufacturers. This could be a problem for smaller manufacturers because employing an engineering staff is expensive.

Engineering, Design Staff

"Our employees can converse on the same technical level as the staff of truck OEMs," Riggs says. "Chassis manufacturers want dump body manufacturers to work with truck dealers for answers to their questions, but sometimes that's a problem."

J&J often asks for information that cannot be supplied by a truck dealer, such as the protocol for a frame rail drilling machine, Riggs says. Paccar is one OEM that supplies this information via email along with vehicle schematics.

Employing a substantial engineering staff enables J&J to accomplish sophisticated tasks, he says. The engineers use Pro E for finite element analysis. Pro E is easier to use for finite element analysis compared to Autocad 14, Riggs says, and provides computer simulation of stress and strain to show where a part might break.

To strengthen dump body sidewalls and reduce weight, manufacturers are switching to high-tensile steel with 140,000- to 190,000-psi yield strengths, Riggs says. This is an industry-wide trend to reduce tare weight and increase payload.

"A 1/8-inch sheet of high-tensile steel does the same job as a 3/16-inch piece of mild steel," Riggs says.

Industry-Wide Trend

Besides new dump body designs, J&J is using the newest materials to build truck bodies for the various markets in which the company competes. In addition to the high-tensile steel, some manufacturers in the US are building dump bodies with super high-strength abrasion-resistant steels imported from Europe.

A major debate exists over US manufacturers importing steel from European mills when the same products are available from domestic steel mills, Riggs says. For example, Lukens produces Wearform 400 steel at its mill in Coatesville, Pennsylvania.

Wearform is similar to Hardox 400, which is imported from Sweden, he says. Even though Wearform is a good product, it is not price competitive with the Swedish import.

"J&J would prefer to buy domestic steel, but the same products aren't available from steel mills in the US at the same price," Riggs says. "This is particularly true in the thinner sheets of high-strength steels such as Domex 690 or Swebor 500 rolled at mills in Sweden."

J&J has positioned itself to supply dump bodies and trailers for the international markets, where it is making inroads. The company recently received ISO 9001 certification that is being required by chassis manufacturers and many second-tier suppliers.

The ISO certification applies to the design and manufacture of live-floor trailers, ejector trailers, dump trailers, dump bodies, and specialty fabrications. J&J applied for and received certification primarily for customers in the export market.

"We wanted to show we are building the highest quality product while ensuring consistency in our manufacturing processes," Riggs says.

About the Author

Mark Nutter