IN the mid-1980s, a small furniture manufacturer in Tijuana produced a single part for Maxon Lift Corp. Little did the company know at the time that this single part would prompt the company to build a 325,000-sq-ft maquiladora plant designed strictly for manufacturing liftgates.
What had been an order for one type of part soon became orders for multiple parts. Eventually the company was manufacturing liftgates in Mexico. Similarly, the number of plants went from one to two before Maxon opened its “dream plant” in 2008.
While the plant has been in operation for two years, Maxon has two decades of experience manufacturing south of the border. Management has learned a thing or two during that time.
“Maquiladora plants are known for their turnover,” says Brent Stafford, who with his wife Maxine and brother-in-law Casey head up the California-based company. “It's our goal to make our employees here feel like they belong to the Maxon family.”
Management does that in a number of ways:
- Skill charts
It helps when employees can see a clear path to future job growth. Maxon uses these charts prominently. The charts have jobs listed along one axis and names of employees along the other and they show, as Stafford says, “how they can move from floor sweeper to supervisor.”
Management routinely provides classes on welding, mathematics, and English.
- Medical care
A doctor is on staff. In addition to providing care at the plant, he makes house calls.
The company serves its employees two meals a day. The buffet is free, and menu items are available at a small charge.
- Locker room
Employees can change and get a hot shower. “Many here in Tijuana live in houses with no indoor plumbing,” Stafford says. “This is something they appreciate.”
No HVAC required
Maxon designed the plant to keep energy consumption low.
Fortunately the climate in Tijuana, located just across the border from San Diego, is relatively mild all year long. The plant can remain comfortable without heat or air conditioning. Instead, the top 10 feet of the plant walls are open, allowing airflow to keep air fresh and temperatures mild. Along with the open walls, 13,800 linear feet of skylights reduce the need for electrical lighting.
“We tried to make the building as green as possible,” Stafford says.
The plant may be green, but it's also a vertically integrated facility. A third of the plant is a machine shop that produces what the company needs to build its products.
“We get deliveries of steel daily,” Stafford says. “What we can't produce ourselves we source from the U S. Steel and paint comes from the U S. We add the labor here in Mexico. It's the classic definition of a maquiladora operation.”
Trends in liftgates
Like the rest of the truck equipment industry, the liftgate business is changing. Here are some of the ways, according to Stafford and Anton Griessner, vice-president of marketing and business development:
- Corrosion control
With the increased use of deicing chemicals, the environment in which liftgates operate is more hostile than ever. The Tijuana plant houses a new painting process designed to improve coating durability and corrosion resistance.
- Reduced installation times
More of the tasks formerly required to be performed at the local level are now being done at the factory.
- More sophisticated features, bigger platforms
“It's not uncommon now for liftgates to cost more than the body,” Stafford says. “Customers are wanting large platforms, especially on tuck-away gates. Leasing companies want the largest ‘dance floor’ they can get on a liftgate to make it as flexible as possible. They want to be able to rent the truck to more users.”