Buying Into Efficiencies from Ox Bodies' Perspective

Jan. 1, 2001
NASHVILLE, Arkansas, isn't the recording capital of the country but if it were, the Ox manufacturing facility in Nashville could house all of the recording

NASHVILLE, Arkansas, isn't the recording capital of the country but if it were, the Ox manufacturing facility in Nashville could house all of the recording studios that they wanted. That's because when Ox Bodies decided to build a new manufacturing facility, management started with a clean sheet of paper, a decision to make the manufacturing process as efficient as possible, and the ability to purchase enough land to build a regional shopping mall. That was the plan executed at the Nashville, Arkansas, manufacturing facility.

The process for building the plant in Nashville, Arkansas, began long before the opening day on May 8, 2000. "We learned quite a bit from building the Bennettsville, South Carolina, plant about four years ago," says Lehman Pendley, president and owner of Ox Bodies. "Building the most modern facility that is possible at the time is the best way to gain the highest efficiencies and lower the overall cost per unit of production."

Different Product Models Unlike manufacturers that produce one model of product on a set assembly line, dump manufacturers must be able to build several different models, with each model having several different variants, down the same production line. Pendley explains that it's important to reach the balance of providing the manufacturing machinery that will attain cost reductions in the manufacturing of the product but not be so constrictive on the workforce that it costs extra production time to build a variant of a product that a customer wants.

"When we designed and built the Nashville, Arkansas, plant, that was a main focal point for us to look at," says Pendley. "That's why we started out with a fresh piece of land and purchased all new equipment to go into the plant."

The plant is situated on more than 50 acres in the southwest corner of Arkansas. Bordered by farms and gently rolling hills, the plant is easily accessible by several major interstates and state highways.

Nashville was chosen as the location for several reasons, explains Larry McKinnon, general manager of the Nashville plant. One was the excellent access to the markets that Ox serves. "If you drew a huge circle around Nashville, that's where we are sending a lot of product," says McKinnon. "We have strong dealers in Oklahoma, Louisiana, and all the way down into South Texas. We've even done some deliveries up to Kansas and also the Carolinas expressly for the Stampede elliptical dump body when we first started to build that model."

Central Location Having the plant centrally located for the dealer base that Nashville serves helps to facilitate the dealers in a timely manner, says McKinnon. Truck dealers have the opportunity to use a drop-ship code provided by most OEMs for the Nashville facility.

Nevertheless, serving the customer base from a centralized and easily accessible location is only part of the successful manufacturing equation. The ability to have raw materials delivered to the manufacturing facility is another part of that same equation.

"You'd never know it by simply looking at the map, but we are about as centrally located to our material vendors as we can be - and in many cases, the plant is supplied by vendors that are within a 150-mile radius of Nashville," says McKinnon.

Three of Ox's key vendors are located within a short drive from the main gates of the Nashville plant. Jan-Eze, a supplier of chrome piston plating, is located in the Nashville area. Watson and Chalin, a supplier of lift axles, is located in nearby McKinney, Texas. Much of the sheet steel used in the manufacturing of Ox bodies is supplied from a plant in Blyville, Arkansas.

Lehman Pendley points to another reason for the initial excitement over Nashville. "Why Nashville, Arkansas?" Pendley asks rhetorically. "We hear that question a lot. The answer is good labor, both in terms of the quantity of people who would like to work and in the quality of people that we are employing."

Pendley says that his organization looked at several states that are neighbors to Arkansas. "All the states we looked at were pretty much in the running until we narrowed the field down by conducting a labor survey. That's when Nashville, Arkansas, really pulled ahead of the competition. We couldn't have been happier with the results from the labor survey, and we're happy to report that those results have proven themselves to be accurate."

Civic Support Pendley said he was totally sold on the benefits of building a new facility in Nashville after he met with civic leadership. "The city, county, and state governments worked very closely with us as we moved closer in our decision to locate in Nashville," says Pendley. "They provided assistance in finding the amount of land that we needed. They also provided incentives enabling Ox to train the people that we were interested in hiring."

The civic authorities made it possible for Ox to take 19 recently hired employees to the corporate headquarters and flagship manufacturing facility located in Fayette, Alabama. They were taught the basic and advanced practices of Ox's manufacturing style and its specialized product mix.

"We were able to house and feed the students and provide them with a first-class opportunity to learn about the company, what we do, and how we do it," says Pendley. "In addition to that, Cassatot Technical College in Nashville worked with the State of Arkansas to set up a six-week training program for many of the manufacturing technicians that were new to the dump-body manufacturing business.

"The civic leadership of Nashville was so responsive to our needs. Our company really hit the ground running," says Pendley. For example, state and local authorities helped Ox to find an interim facility. "We found an abandoned railroad maintenance facility in town, and we set it up as a location where we were able to make our set-up tables and welding jigs."

"The jigs that we made at the railroad shop were about the only things we brought into the new facility," says McKinnon. "Just about everything else was purchased and delivered by truck."

McKinnon says that one of the main equipment purveyors was Hart Machine Tool Inc in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. "Our Fayette, Alabama, general manager, Todd Tucker, worked with Hart to purchase all of the heavy fabricating machinery that we needed."

Tucker equipped the Nashville plant with many of the same fabricating and metal working tools that were in the other Ox plants. But there were some changes that he incorporated into the new facility.

According to McKinnon, Tucker purchased forming tools with a little larger capacity than those at the other two Ox facilities. "At this plant, we can build a seamless 20-ft dump body or container," McKinnon says. "Our ability to form and work with large pieces of sheet steel and other materials places Ox ahead of the game in many cases. Having the forming tools with extra capacity benefits both our company and our customers."

During the plant walk-through, McKinnon points to the new body that Ox is building at Nashville. "That's our Stampede Body. Barry Stough and his team at the Fayette, Alabama, location designed the body," says McKinnon.

The Stampede Body is an elliptical design that utilizes AR-400 steel as the body cavity. "The Fayette, Alabama, facility is equipped to roll the AR-400 steel," says McKinnon. "Then the rolled steel is shipped to our facility for building the dump bodies for our customers in this area."

McKinnon sees the need for having a machine that can roll AR-400 steel and do it in the size needed for the 20-ft Stampede bed. "The rolled steel sheet is purchased from a mill in Birmingham, then in the past - shipped to another plant to be rolled, and then shipped to our Fayette, Alabama, plant, ultimately to end up at a plant for build-out," McKinnon says. "By Fayette investing in a machine that can handle the forming need, we save in excess of $700 for the customer since we don't have to pay for the sheet transportation to the rolling facility, and then transport the rolled sheet to whichever plant is going to ultimately build the bed."

McKinnon believes that the demand for a bed of this design is active and will continue to grow. "The first Stampede body was manufactured on July 14, and it went to Tarheel Ford in North Carolina," McKinnon says. "It was in a regional truck show and sold right away."

Measure Twice, Cut Once After raw material comes into the plant, one of the first manufacturing steps is to cut and assemble all of the pieces that will be used in completing almost any type of body.

Ox uses two machines extensively for the cutting of steel that will be used later to assemble upline-manufacturing assemblies. For cutting repetitive forms in sheet steel, the Messer MG Titan 200-amp plasma-cutting machine is used. Another machine that is used to cut repetitive pieces is the Hyd-Mech M-16A band saw. It cuts rectangular, round, and channel material bundles to precise lengths.

The Messer MG Titan 200-amp plasma-cutter is a PC-based CNC controlled machine. Using a proprietary graphic interface known as the Navigator, the machine offers the operator real-time color graphic display during cutting, a part-cutting data storage area, and a capability to adopt ISO 230-2 standards.

"Everything that comes off the table has a very high degree of accuracy to the cut," says McKinnon. "Repeatability of quality is an important issue for the manufacturer. With the investment made into the programmable equipment, we can find that type of consistent quality." The Titan 200 has an X-axis and Y-axis motion accuracy of .018" in 72" of travel.

Speed is also an issue for a manufacturer. One of the ways that the Titan 200 is able to produce more cuts per hour is by using an advanced oxygen-fuel technology that cuts 20% faster than previous technologies. "By investing in a little newer technology, we can have more parts cut per man-hour of labor than before," says McKinnon.

McKinnon says the improved efficiencies of the plasma cutter are repeated with the Hyd-Mech M-16A hydraulic band saw. "When band saws first entered the manufacturing world, you would put a technician on one and they would cut one piece of twenty-foot pipe to the lengths that you wanted. Today, the machine can move and measure the work, and store the information for the next job."

The M-16A is capable of cutting through a 16" x 25" bundle of material. The machine with its PLC 500 length control computer operates in the way that a CNC control center functions. The operator can program the saw to cut specific lengths of material, while taking out the human error factor of applying too much downward pressure while the blade is cutting.

"There can be a lot of waste of both blades and material if the feed force or the feed rate is too great during the cutting operation," says McKinnon. "The automated functions of the machine help us to insure quality control, cutting accuracy, and maximizing of the blade life.

"We also have two W F Wells model L-10 bandsaws that we use for some of our regular cutting operations," says McKinnon. "They have good adjustability for handling the specific jobs that we place on them. This is where the skill of the operator has to be in-place so that there isn't damage to the blade or a misadjusted guide post that leaves an angled cut."

McKinnon says that the structural fitters also use a DAKE model 350 cold-saw for jobs where contamination or heat buildup might be an issue. "It's just another example of how manufacturing technology has moved away from the practice of cutting a work piece with a torch.

Taking the Brake Out of Shearing "Our press brake and shear are also new and some of the most modern equipment of that type that can be purchased," McKinnon says. "Almost everything we do consists of using sheet steel that is cut with the edges dressed cleanly and precise. We can't afford to have a product that would have a section where the brake or shear didn't make a full clean cut."

Having the ability to run all the lines at once was a concern for the management of the company. To obtain that capacity, Ox utilizes two press brake stations. "We wanted to have the capacity to move product through the line as we scheduled it. Management also wanted to build the twenty-foot dump model without any unnecessary cat or weld joints. We accomplished our goals in two ways."

The first was the purchase of the Pacific K-series 300. With a 16-ft press-blade platens width, the 300-ton downstroke capacity brake handles the majority of cutting, punching, or die work that needs to be accomplished on the manufacturing floor.

Nevertheless, Ox needed a greater width capacity from the brake operation. That was solved by the purchase of the K-series 500 with a 20-ft platens width and a 500-ton downstroke capacity.

"Both these machines add a great amount of depth to our ability to build dump and roll-off containers," says McKinnon. "We can work with the AR-400 material or just about any steel that comes our way."

One benefit to the Pacific brake system is an adjustable tonnage control setting. Tonnage can be adjusted to compensate for the surface qualities of the material being formed. The operator can adjust holddown pressure for softer steels that do not require the full tonnage of force being exerted on the holddown or cut before surface marring or a disfiguring cut can take place.

The Pacific brake is also equipped with a controlled power release that provides for the decompression of the oil in the main power cylinders before the ram starts its return stroke. This helps reduce high-velocity, uncontrolled return shock when working on materials that have a large build-up of stored energy. This is a situation that can be typical when working with high-strength steels that have a considerable amount of spring back.

Versatile Shear Along with the Pacific brake tools, Ox opted for the Pacific G-series of hydraulic shears. Ox management purchased two of the G-series 300 units in a 16-ft and a 20-ft. "We can shear up to 3/8" on both of the tables," says McKinnon. "Plus the versatility of this shear allows us to set blade angles, adjust the rake angle, and the operator can rapidly adjust the knife clearance level if necessary."

These adjustment options allow for the work to be executed in a fashion that reduces metal twist or bowing. The G-series also has adjustable holddown control, which helps minimize facing-damage to material from excessive pressure being applied to it.

But the fabrication area isn't the only place that Ox management has installed a shearing tool. In the structural parts assembly area where the saw units are located, there is a four-post FMI (Franklin Manufacturing Inc) model 4150 shear. Fayette's general manager Todd Tucker explains, "We want as many of the sub-parts cut and ready for production as we can. Other than the dump body sides, we try to do those things in the area where we cut the smaller parts. For that, we use a smaller shear, such as the FMI 4150."

Throughout the manufacturing facility, there are various iron working tools and stationary drill presses. McKinnon is impressed with the Uni-Hydro model 95-24 Ironworker.

"This is one of the most versatile tools that we have at this facility," says McKinnon. "It can punch holes, make square or "V" shaped notches, and be used as a shear for round, square, or channel material."

The model 95-24 has a 95-ton action capacity. The machine is operated by fully electronic controls. Punches and dies can be lined up for location measurement without the machine being powered up. Sever-styled cutting blades and holders offer the operator shearing capabilities without producing waste material.

"There are always times when you need to place a hole in a piece," McKinnon says. "For that we use an Ibarmia B-50 drill press." The B-50 has a much larger table and can accommodate a large piece without the need for several technicians to hold the piece while it's being worked on.

"Welding materials together has taken several giant steps as far as what we used to see," McKinnon says. Long gone are the days when bodies would be assembled using stick welding. Smoke and fumes permeated the air of most welding shops, and a welder was judged to be very capable if he could bend the first two inches of a 7018-rod and place a bead around a corner fitting.

"We use 20 of the ESAB model 452 welding machines throughout the assembly and body installation area," McKinnon says. The ESAB 452 is a 450-volt, 40-amp constant current, silicon controlled rectifier model. "These machines are good for stick welding, although we almost exclusively use them for MIG and flux-cored wire welding."

All of the electrical outlets are run directly to output junctions that were designed into the workstations. The effort, according to McKinnon, was to put the outlet as close to the machine that they are going to power.

Air is used as another power medium throughout the facility. The piping design was integrated into the architectural plan of the plant layout. Two Ingersoll-Rand model EP-75 air compressors were selected for this operation. "The compressors were fitted with air dryers because of the weather conditions and the fact that we use this air in our paint application process," says McKinnon.

Part of that air supply drives the Kremlin AirMix recirculating sprayer. This coating application sprayer was selected specifically for the type of finished product that Ox manufactures. McKinnon says that Dallas, Texas, based Spray Booth Systems Inc built the booths. He feels that the downdraft system, coupled with the Kremlin sprayers, produces a highly finished-out product.

"Everything has to be right when you apply a finish to the product," says McKinnon. "You have to have an air system that's monitored correctly, mixing equipment that can create the correct color of final paint, spray equipment that lays the finish correctly on the product surface, and a booth that allows the finish applicator/operator the right environment to complete the job."

Although Mobile was picked as Ox's standard primer and paint formula supplier, Ox has consulted with PPG concerning the application of specialized finishes. "PPG has worked with use on all of our specialized OEM and nonfactory paint finishes," says McKinnon. "By using the PPG supplied paint matching-meter called Profit, we can match any color the customer wants. This machine is extremely valuable in situations where the customer wants us to match a cab color that is on a truck, after the vehicle has been in service for a few years.

Moving It All Together "The materials have been cut, the assembly has begun, while in other parts of the plant, paint and finish processes are taking place - that's the normal state of progress as long as the overhead cranes are operating," McKinnon says. "Without the cranes, things can come to a complete stop."

Ox management opted to install 20 Deshazo five-ton, overhead bridge cranes with R&M hoist to help move product through the manufacturing maze. "We have a large number of bridge cranes around the facility," says McKinnon.

"We also have Deshazo jib cranes around each work station and in the body installation facility. This is a convenience to the technicians as well as insuring that product doesn't get man-handled between the workstations.

"All-in-all, that's the goal of our manufacturing facility. We want to build exactly what the customer wants, and do it in as seamless a manufacturing environment as possible." McKinnon believes that the Nashville facility has the most modern and time saving equipment available to help him accomplish that task.

About the Author

John Nahas