Doepker Cuts Production Cost by Adding Efficiency to Manufacturing

Oct. 1, 2001
IN AN EVENT that resembled a rally of Saskatchewan political and business leaders, the August dedication of Doepker Industries' newly acquired 37,500-square-foot

IN AN EVENT that resembled a rally of Saskatchewan political and business leaders, the August dedication of Doepker Industries' newly acquired 37,500-square-foot facility in Humboldt represented something much greater than the opening of a manufacturing facility. Doepker was celebrating the company's 30th year of trailer manufacturing. This event signified a family, a company, and a community commitment to bolstering the economic growth of Saskatchewan and Canadian industry.

Officials also announced a major reorganization of the company's total manufacturing operations including the two additional facilities located in Moose Jaw and Annaheim, as well as unveiling one of the newest product that Doepker's president, Dave Doepker, says will carry the company into the future — the 2002 model Open-End Super ‘B’ Bulker.

As a manufacturer of highway trailers, Doepker understood the decision to expand in Saskatchewan would be a significant event.

“We looked at several possible locations, including some in the United States,” says Doepker. “We used several different models to determine where we could locate our newest facility and enhance our overall manufacturing process. After many hours of long and careful thought, we decided to locate in Humboldt.”

Humboldt offered a logistics value that is particularly important to Doepker. Humboldt is located between the Moose Jaw facility to the south, and the Annaheim facility to the north.

Newest Facility

Although not the largest, the Humboldt facility is the newest addition to the facilities in the Doepker manufacturing family. The Humboldt plant is divided into approximately 28,800 square feet of production area and with 8,600 square feet of office space.

The building was purchased in February 2001. “We've been working as fast as we can to get this facility up and running,” says Doepker. “Much of our work is aimed at laying the groundwork needed for increasing production and making the manufacturing process more efficient.”

Although actual manufacturing equipment hasn't been placed in the Humboldt facility, the new production space will be outfitted with everything Doepker will need to increase the efficiency of the trailer manufacturing process. Doepker expects the outfitting of the Humboldt facility to be completed in the last quarter of this year.

Doepker is adding items such as bridge cranes, reworking air supply lines, and customizing the electrical supply system to provide convenient outlets for the welding and other production equipment.

Doepker says, “Much of this new technology will be part of our continued commitment to the world-class Quality Assurance Program.”

Doepker Industries received the ISO 9002 certification in 1992. Company president David Doepker believes that Doepker Industries was the first Canadian trailer manufacturer to receive this certification.

“Our upcoming goal is to receive the 9001 certification this year. We are well on the way to accomplishing that goal.”

The largest Doepker facility is in Annaheim, Saskatchewan. That facility has more than 75,000 square feet of production and office space area. Annaheim was the original facility for Doepker.

“All of the buildings in Annaheim are named after the founding Doepker brothers,” says John Cross, physical planning manager for Doepker Industries.

Annaheim specializes in the production of agricultural trailers. However, the manufacturing processes at Annaheim are in transition because some of the equipment is currently being transferred to Moose Jaw.

Some of the more interesting pieces of equipment include several homemade presses that the Doepker brothers made for the trailer manufacturing operation. “These presses really say a lot about the ingenuity of the founding brothers,” says Cross. “The presses perform as well today as they did when they were originally built.”

Cross says that although the company will now be moving towards CNC-controlled presses and shears, the original homemade equipment will retain a very needed role in the company.

Canada is known for its environmentally friendly manufacturing practices. Doepker Industries voluntarily enhances any mandatory environmentally compliant practices whenever possible including the paint application and finish area.

The system that Doepker has installed in the sand blasting area is comprised of five augers running lengthways down the enclosure. The evenly spaced augers feed the blasting material back into a particle cleaning system that separates material into reusable grit and non-usable waste. Additionally, a dust collection system keeps floating particulate out of the remainder of the plant.

All of the finish solvents are reclaimed after use. “The solvents come into the factory in drums. After their use, anything that is left is reclaimed and sent to a processing center that recycles the product for further use.

“We also use a system that helps to cut down on wasted paint and the problems associated with used paint canisters,” says Cross. “All of the paint comes into the facility in totes that are moved into place using a forklift. These hold 250 gallons of material. All of our primer and activator is dispersed by using this system. All of the totes are hooked up directly to paint gun pumps.”

Once the trailer has left the primer and finish painting area, the unit is moved to a cure oven and then into a prep area using an air-lifted dolly system. “This cuts down on several possible problems that can occur when a forklift or other machinery is used to move the trailers,” Cross says. “You don't get any accidental touch marks on the product, and you don't accumulate the fumes that can come from operating a forklift inside the facility.

“In the area where we wash the trailers, we've placed special lighting. As you look around, you'll notice that this overhead lighting doesn't create shadows. This is really helpful for the technicians that are washing or inspecting the trailers.” The lights are manufactured in British Columbia according to the specific measurements of their location in the plant ceiling, and they are manufactured with a shade that has a square design.

Moose Jaw's role in the Doepker manufacturing plan has always been one of manufacturing the flat-bed trailers. “We have been manufacturing the flat-bed trailers,” says Marcel Doepker, Moose Jaw's branch manager. “Anything that's steel and has some length to it, such as steel flatbeds, loggers, drop-deck equipment carriers, and some of the Super B models.”

The Moose Jaw facility has a manufacturing area in excess of 25,000 square feet, accompanied by 1,800 square feet of administrative and engineering space.

“We are looking forward to taking on this new mission,” Doepker says. “Our mission will be to manufacture and supply both Annaheim and Humboldt plants with parts and other completed trailer subassemblies that we will build at Moose Jaw.”

The Moose Jaw facility is taking a leading role in the reorganization of Doepker Industries with the plant changing its mission from one of manufacturing completed trailers to one of feeding manufactured parts to the other facilities. Technicians work on bins and larger containers that will be used for transporting smaller parts to either the Annaheim or Humboldt locations.

Parts will be placed in the bins or containers and then shipped in a daily run to whichever facility needs the material. Additionally, the complete subassemblies such as lower grain hopper chutes will be shipped to other facilities for further use in the manufacturing process.

“For our trailers, we used some parts assemblies that were manufactured in Annaheim,” Doepker says. “Technicians will be manufacturing the parts for Humboldt to use in trailer manufacturing. We understand how critical it is to do the job correctly and manufacture the parts in a way that guarantees a proper fit.

“The last several weeks have been very busy for us while we were moving in several pieces of manufacturing equipment, including a new robotic welding cell and a CNC plasma cutter to Moose Jaw,” Doepker says.

The Moose Jaw facility has an AccuPress 175-ton programmable press brake. “The AccuPress has a bed size in excess of ten feet. Part of the same manufacturing tool family is the AccuShear. Moose Jaw's shear will accept a 1/4" plate with a maximum width of ten feet.

“We've also relocated some of the ancillary machinery down here,” Doepker says. “That would include the Hyd-Mech S-20 band saw and the PeddingHaus ironworking machine. For the type of manufacturing we are going to be doing, these tools will be nessesary.”

Doepker explains that Moose Jaw will also be losing a few pieces of equipment. “We have been building the frame rails for all of the steel trailers. We will be moving that machine to Humboldt as it will take over the manufacturing of those products.”

That equipment is a massive jig table that takes two flanges and hydraulically positions them against a steel flat strap, creating an I-beam that will be used as a frame rail.

Doepker explains the frame rail manufacturing process. “The process of completing the I-beam is interesting to watch. First, the flat strap, usually in a 40-foot length, is placed on the jig table. The side flange material is placed against the flat strap. The depth on both sides of the strap is kept within tight parameters. The flange material is then held in place using hydraulic locking pressure mechanisms to ensure a proper position and welding depth. In the areas where the flat strap has been cut down to provide a contour, a scissor press is used to help mold the flange material to the desired contour.”

Marcel Doepker believes that the addition of the Humboldt facility will greatly enhance the overall efficiency of the Doepker operation.

Doepker Industries has begun a massive reorganization plan that will lower manufacturing cost and improve space-usage efficiency to the physical facilities.

“Instead of viewing the savings per manufactured unit, we are looking at the increased productivity that we are gaining,” says Doepker. “Our desire is to gain long term cost efficiencies that will allow the company to increase our profit margin without increasing our price in the marketplace. In a way, we are using the space as a tool to lower our cost per production unit. Real estate can be another tool in your financial tool bag.

“Holding the labor force numbers steady, the same shift time, and all of the other elements as before, we will gain between 20% and 25% in terms of our trailer production.

“We are in the process of expanding and improving the manufacturing equipment of Moose Jaw to feed parts to our new Humboldt and our Annaheim facilities, all of which are located in Saskatchewan,” says Doepker.

“Most of our agricultural models will be made in our Annaheim manufacturing facility. Humboldt will be dedicated to the steel logging, platform and drop-deck equipment, and other specialized trailers that we will manufacture. Moose Jaw will manufacture all of the parts to supply both places.”

Doepker's new Super B Grain Trailer be manufactured in the Annaheim facility. According to Dave Doepker, the trailer's design will lead the way for grain trailer manufacturers in the future. He believes that this is the lightest steel trailer in the industry, with a tare weight of approximately 19,858 pounds.

The trailer has 2,990 cubic feet of capacity with a 79-inch sidewall height. Canadian-styled open-end design includes sloping end-walls made of aluminum. Along with this design enhancement, the trailer has a specially applied corrosion resistant coating. Aluminum roof arches help fight the corrosive nature of hauling fertilizers.

The trailers will have double chute cranks for operator safety and cleanliness. The inside and outside of the trailer will be equipped with lights to help operators during night loading activities. Doepker also redesigned the ladder system of the trailer, placing safer and more ergonomically designed ladders on the trailer to help increase operator safety.

Company History

“The essence of the company started in 1948 in a building located near the current Annaheim complex,” says Cross. “At that time, the family had a small repair shop that serviced the needs of local farmers in the area. From that beginning, the company grew into what you see here today.”

The Doepker family remained in the farm implement business until a fateful event in 1972.

“A local grain hauler asked the Doepkers to build a better grain trailer,” Cross says. “They did, and their design was very successful. That started an entirely new business enterprise for the family. But the family has never lost the feeling of commitment to the farming community of northern Saskatchewan.”

Action Saskatchewan

The Importance of Value-Added Businesses

The field of dignitaries and media attending the Doepker activities emphasized the significance of the decision to open a new facility in Saskatchewan. The underlying theme of the day — Saskatchewan needs businesses that add value through the manufacturing process — was echoed by several speakers during the event. Doepker Industries meets that criterion.

The process of adding value relates to increasing the overall worth of a product as it proceeds through the various stages of its manufacture and distribution. By utilizing raw and improved materials, adding further-stage manufacturing and distributing of the finished product, value has been created to the original materials.

Speakers at the event included Dennis Korte, the Mayor of Humboldt, Paul Martin, a nationally recognized Canadian reporter and commentator, the National Television Service of Canada (CTV), and reporters from several regional radio stations and Canadian newspapers.

In addition to the guest speakers and media, many of the attendees represented several of Canada's largest suppliers to the transportation industry of Canada and the United States. Richard Spitzke, president of Fort Garry, one of Canada's largest transportation-parts related distributors and trailer dealerships, also acknowledged the contribution and commitment that Doepker is making to Canada.

Also in attendance was Paul Robb, vice president of sales for Holland Hitch, Canada; W Baine Adams, Hendrickson's vice president of North American Sales; and A E Sandiland of Goodyear Canada.

Paul Martin explained why Doepker's decision to locate in Humboldt was important for Canada and the province of Saskatchewan.

Martin said that the action taken by Doepker Industries exemplifies the results that the Action Saskatchewan plan is attaining in both Saskatchewan and Canadian businesses. A main objective of the plan is to increase Saskatchewan's sales of value-added business products.

“In Saskatchewan, we are about production. Forty-eight percent of Canada's farmland is located in Saskatchewan. Production is the word that farmers use to describe their business activities.

“However, we have to add value to our production. That's what companies like Doepker are doing by expanding their operations in Saskatchewan. And that is a benefit for the province and for Canada.”

In an interview with Dave Doepker, president of Doepker Industries, confirmation was provided concerning the extent of Doepker's contribution to the province. “This year our payroll will add more than $6 million to the area economy.”

Doepker said that his company manufactures a value-added product. Canada in general, and the province of Saskatchewan in particular, are striving to attain companies that will manufacture products that are at the end of the value-added line, thereby reaping the benefits of the manufacturing process.

Doepker sees his company as a leader in that pursuit. “Not only do we have the new manufacturing plant in Humboldt, but because of the expansion, we are able to bring more of our own products into play that we have manufactured in-house.”

About the Author

John Nahas