Canadian companies have a rich history of fabricating one-of-a-kind and custom-made products. Lode-King Industries is somewhat a part of that history. Located in one of the fastest-growing retirement communities in Manitoba, Canada, the Winkler-based trailer manufacturer has done anything but rest on its laurels.
General manager Lloyd Elias says, “Due to our size we do not build huge quantities of like trailers, even though it would be more efficient if we did. We manufacture our standard line of products that are in demand; however, we will analyze a customer request and if we feel that we can design and manufacture the product so that it works for the customer, then we will make it.”
Elias says that part of Lode-King's success is derived from the history of the company, which is part of the Triple E Canada family of companies.
“Triple E is very involved in the manufacturing of highway-use products. The motor home division, Triple E Recreational Vehicles, is one of the largest manufacturers in its field.”
Elias recognizes that the two companies build very different products, but adds that there are benefits to being part of a larger organization that is deeply involved in the manufacturing of over-the-road products. “There are commonalities between the two organizations, not the least of which is the labor pool that we both draw from. This is exemplified by our sharing of a common human resources office between the two operations.”
Triple E Recreation Vehicles manufactures self-contained motor homes, fifthwheel, and camping trailers. The skilled craftspeople who work for both organizations have a ground-up understanding of building road-worthy products.
“We also gain from Triple E Canada's business and management experience. This is exemplified by their drive to diversify the parent company's business activities while looking to capture any possible synergistic benefits derived from similar business activities.”
A big step in Lode-King's success as a general trailer manufacturer and an occasional fabricator of specialty trailers is low labor turnover, according to Willie Enns, operations manager for Lode-King.
“Our skilled employees stay with the company for a very long time. They bring the knowledge of working on the past product base that we manufactured. That knowledge can be valuable when we get away from line manufacturing and into fabricating specialized trailers.”
Enns says that the vast majority of Lode-King trailers are platforms, drop-decks, and grain trailers in both steel and aluminum/steel combinations. The company is also a manufacturer of steel container chassis. Nevertheless, Enns says that when the company is called upon to fabricate a special trailer, both the equipment and the craftspeople are available to complete the job.
“We fabricated a special 48-foot, double drop trailer that was used to carry the American Space Shuttle's unique Canada Space Arm. The trailer was used to move the arm from the Canadian manufacturer to the assembly area in Florida. The arm couldn't be disassembled to be transported, so we also fabricated a special aluminum container that held the peculiar shape of the arm. Due to the odd shape of the container, the trailer needed to be designed to accommodate the box laying flat for road transport, and also standing vertically on the trailer for rail transport.
“In the vertical position there was a slight protrusion that needed to be accommodated by building an inset between the main beams. The trailer was also equipped with twist-locks to lock the special container in place in either position and then covered with a tarp.”
Equipment that is commonly seen but that is heavy or awkwardly shaped also requires the fabrication of special trailers. “With Canada being such an agricultural environment, there are always needs that arise in transporting farming equipment.”
Although not special in the Canadian trailer building industry, Lode-King has fabricated several trailers which has required the company to deviate from the normal manufacturing product mix.
For example, the company has fabricated trailers with specialized living quarters, but not the type that might be expected from a company that has an affiliated RV division.
“We built a special Canadian B-train platform trailer that carried a specialized container module with a self-contained ventilation system,” says Enns. “The unit is used to transport live poultry during the Canadian winters and also during the hot summers. The poultry grower requested this system so that stress could be eliminated during poultry shipment.”
The ability to fabricate a specialty trailer in a timely manner depends on the available tooling in the plant, according to Abe Penner, Lode-King's production manager.
“I feel that we have one of the best equipped manufacturing facilities for both the manufacturing of our regular product line and for fabricating specialty trailers. Our machinery is modern, and they have the capabilities to go beyond our typical needs might be.”
Penner isn't exaggerating. Lode-King went on a mission to update many of the metal forming tools in 2000. Not only is the new tooling making the company's manufacturing operations more productive, but along with many of the metal forming tools, new material handling equipment was installed to assist in the rapid handling of bulky parts.
Lode-King started the upgrading mission by looking at the cutting department. “Just about every piece that we use in the manufacturing process starts out in the cutting department,” says Penner. “When we went to upgrade a lot of the equipment, that was the first place we examined.”
Lode-King purchased a 2000 model, Hyd-Mech V-18 APC saw. The saw has a hydraulic bundling capacity that will automatically position the bundle to the predetermined length for cutting. The nesting capacity is 18 inches wide by 20 inches high. The saw has a PLC Mitsubishi controller that can store up to 99 different part-cutting programs. The PLC controller will also tilt the saw head outfitted with a 1¼" blade to the proper angle for the upcoming cut. The blade is powered by a Mitsubishi, 7½" horsepower motor that has a control variable frequency drive.
“The saw has miter cutting capabilities that make the saw indispensable for many of the applications,” says Penner. “This helps in operations such as frame rail construction.”
Penner believes that the Hyd-Mech saws have served the company well, noting that the 13-inch, 1997 model Hyd-Mech has done a splendid job with very little down time.
The press brake department received a new addition to the metal forming arsenal. Lode-King purchased a 2000 model Accurpress 740014 with an Accurpress ETS-3000 control unit. “The control unit has a graphics display capability that provides the operator with detailed descriptions of the work being performed.”
The unit delivers 400 tons of downward force. The brake was purchased with the optional Accurpress hi-speed hydraulic package, which reduces cycle time in excess of 40%.
The 740014 has a 12-inch bed capacity that allows it to accept up to a 12-inch die for heavy-duty metal forming. The throat-depth on the machine is 10 inches. The company opted to have an hour meter installed for accurate maintenance intervals on the machine.
Penner isn't new to using Accurpress products. “We also have a 1983 model and a 1980 model that operate just fine. Both of these machines will handle up to a 12-foot piece of plate, and each can provide about 200 tons of downward force.”
Quite a bit of die work is done on the 1980 model. “We use the 12-foot, 200-ton press to form the side wall panels for our grain trailers. It's about the perfect size for that activity.”
Lode-King reinvests in plant equipment to gain manufacturing efficiencies. One example involves the handling of materials and the speed in which materials can be loaded into the presses. “Although the 740014 Accurpress has a comfortable bed height of 38 inches, we still wanted to assist the operators in loading and unloading of material. By installing pneumatic/hydraulic lifting tables to keep the work at a comfortable height, we gained some speed in the press operations while keeping the operators comfortable.”
For some of the smaller parts that need to be stamped and punched, Lode-King uses a 2000 model, 60-ton Brown Boggs press. “This is a very handy machine that provides a lot of versatility,” says Penner. “We've had the machine for less than a year, and we're finding out that there are some operations that are done more efficiently on a smaller press.”
Lode-King again chose the Accurfamily of metal forming products when the company purchased two late 1980s Accurshears. Both shears can handle up to a 10-foot plate of material, with the ability to cut up to a 1/4-inch of mild steel.
The installation of an anver-vacuum sheet-lifter to assist operators in placing the material on the bed for the shearing operation helped to increase manufacturing efficiencies.
The next step in Lode-King's machinery expansion program was to look at ironworking machinery. “We purchased a 2000 model, Piranha PII-88 that provides us a lot of versatility with the smaller metal forming operations,” says Penner. “The PII-88 can deliver 88 tons of force to the forming, punching, notching, or shear operations. We can add a small-part braking tool to handle quickly needed small jobs. We purchased the optional second foot control that allows two operators to work independently of each other.
“We also have a smaller ironworker that handles some of the overflow work. The FICEP is a 50-ton capacity machine that we use primarily for punching and notching.”
Although not particularly common in the United States, FICEP introduced one of the first universal “ironworking machines” in 1932. The machine tool manufacturer was founded in Gazzada, Italy, has a large following in many areas of Europe, and is a common tool in Canada.
Cutting material is another area that Lode-King targeted for improved efficiency. The company uses an M G Industries plasma cutter purchased in 1995. The gantry is equipped with two torches, a 100-amp high-definition torch for precision work, and a 400-amp for thicker cuts. The material sits on either a 9' × 24' water table, or a 8' × 10' downdraft table. Penner says this plasma system can cut plate up to one-inch thick.
“The M G's high definition torch is perfect for the intricate part work that we need to perform,” says Penner. “We also use the 400-amp and underwater table to cut the web material for the frame rails that we fabricate for the trailers. The high amperage torch cuts down on the smoke and noise. We get a smoother cut.”
To meet additional cutting needs, a 1989 model L-Tec plasma cutter handles the work. The L-Tec gantry is equipped with two torches that can handle a variety of cutting needs.
A 100-amp torch again handles some of the finer part cutting requirements. A large 600-amp torch is available for handling Lode-King's largest needs.
“The 600-amp can go beyond our normal product needs and provide us with the ability to cut some very thick plate if we need to,” Penner says. The 600-amp L-Tec is designed to cut slightly in excess of two inches.
Penner requires that his cutting technicians thoroughly clean the torches on a regularly scheduled basis. “I like to emphasis clean cuts on all the pieces that are turned out from the cutting beds. It speeds the manufacturing process by not requiring the assembly technicians to grind or deal with sloppy cuts. There isn't any fill work or other types of corrections needed when we use the pieces.”
Two bridge cranes, a DEMAG and a CAMCO, assist in the movement of materials. Numerous jib cranes also assist the technicians throughout the plant.
Manufacturers sometimes make their own machinery to fit specific performance requirements but not all of the specialized machinery is designed for one-of-a-kind fabrication activities. Most of the custom tooling is designed to help lower the cost of what's manufactured on a regular basis.
“Obviously manufacturers want to expense any major tooling cost over the greatest number of manufactured products,” Penner says.
Lode-King is no exception to that philosophy. The riveting department required some specialized machinery that would both increase the production rate and cut down on material waste. They decided to design and build their own specialized roll de-coiler and shear.
Aluminum coil had to be taken off of a spool and cut at angles for the sides of grain trailers. Because the sides of most Canadian grain trailers are a combination of rectangular pieces assembled in a way that would look similar to an upside-down pyramid, the ability to shear the uncoiling sheet with an angular cut improves the efficiency of the manufacturing operation.
“When we started the production of our grain trailers some time ago, we realized that we could save on some material cost if we did some revamping to the de-coiler and shear. The new design this particular shearing operation and really improved the overall manufacturing efficiency level of our grain trailer operation.”
The de-coiler is positioned to promote a simple feed into a turntable-mounted shear. Once the sheet is uncoiled and straightened, it moves directly into the shear. The nine-foot shear, which can rotate 180°, is turned to provide the necessary offsetting angle cuts for the manufacturing of the grain trailers. This tooling set-up greatly speeds the assembly of material needed while reducing wasted cuts and labor hours, says Penner.
Lode-King operates five assembly lines — two for grain trailers, two for platform trailers, and one for container chassis.
The manufacturing floor area is housed in a modern, climate-controlled environment that has been designed to handle the Canadian winters. Lode-King's operations manager, Enns, explains the history of the facility.
Enns says that today's facility was built in 1980. “The original facility was 30,000 square feet and was dedicated to the production of grain trailers.”
During the early 1980s, there was a shortage of agricultural rail cars in Canada. Management felt that shortage would continue for some time and that the future long-term need in the marketplace would be for the production of grain trailers to haul product to processing centers.
“The facility was ample for the first work. However, once the company's production levels increased, there was a need to expand the plant.”
The company made a second addition to the facility in 1984 with another plant expansion taking place in 1993.
“With the advent of newer paint and finish technologies, we improved our processes to gain not only a competitive advantage because of faster finish application times, but to insure the finest quality of finish,” says Enns. “This required the 1993 addition the plant to house the equipment necessary to carry out these finishing improvements.”
The expansion included the addition of a shot-blast booth. The booth has a double auger system that collects the steel shot for re-use by moving it to a holding tank. A third auger lifts the shot into the collection tank for the ongoing blasting process.
During this expansion, four paint booths were added to handle the increased finishing needs. The booths utilize an electro-static paint application technique that actively draws paint into cracks and crevasses.
The latest addition to the facility came in 1998 with a major expansion of 45,000 square feet. With additional manufacturing space, along with executive and engineering office space, the addition to the plant now totals 130,000 square feet.
Not only did Lode-King's management bolster the manufacturing space by the construction of new additions, it also reorganized the manufacturing space to gain more efficiency from the total operation.
“We added what we call Plant #2 in 1985,” says Enns. “This originally served as a repair and service facility. After several expansions, it now functions as our make ready facility and installation are for customer specified options, along with its original role as a repair facility.”
The original building provided 7,000 square feet of work environment. The facility was enlarged in 1987 and 1998, bring the total square footage up to almost 23,000 square feet.
All of the outfitting such as running air hoses or electrical lines is performed at this location. Anything additional that a customer might want on the trailer is also added at this time.
Enns says, “One of the advantages of using this facility is that we can dedicate one bay solely for axle alignments, which promotes a consistency in the alignment process.
“Axle alignment is an area of major importance to a trailer manufacturer. This is especially true in Canada where we operate the B-train combinations. Trailers in Canada operate over great road distances. An alignment problem can cause some of the largest headaches for an operator.”
Plant #2 also provides a facility where the technicians can repair customer-owned trailers.
Dedicated space is something that the company has opted to provide for the trailer flooring operations. “Anything that requires wood planking is taken across the street to a third, smaller facility,” Enns says. “We separated this step in the manufacturing process simply because the materials require different handling, the carpentry craftspeople are pursuing a different craft than our assembly or machining technicians, and the tooling requirements are much different. It also requires different manufacturing timing to install wood floor into a platform trailer.”
Lode-King operates efficiently as a manufacturer of trailers that are required throughout all the provinces of Canada. When needed, the company has the tooling and ability to facilitate specialized fabrication request. Much of that success from Lode-King's perspective could be traced to the roots of the local community and the principles of our hard working people, according to Enns. “You can always build with people who have integrity, honesty, and are ingenious.”