DANZER Industries' foray into trailer manufacturing at its Hagerstown, Maryland, facility has been even more of a success than the company imagined.
“Even though it's such a different product line than our normal line of business, integrating trailers wasn't as bumpy as I thought it would be,” says Kirby McLaughlin, vice president of engineering.
“We have a lot of guys in the shop who have a lot of experience with fabrication, assembly, and welding. It has worked out well, because they could draw on that talent they've had. And we have a really good staff of engineering people who have pulled together to get it done, and in a timely fashion.”
For the past 30 years, Danzer has been in the truck body business, building private label truck bodies for aerial bucket companies who in turn sold them to the various cable and media companies in the US and Canada.
In 1993, Danzer purchased the Morrison Truck Body from a New York-based holding company and one year later began marketing the truck body under the name of Danzer-Morrison while still producing private-label bodies for use in the utilities industry.
In the spring of 2002, Danzer was asked by the corporation owner, Obsidian Enterprises, to build private-label cargo trailers for one of its subsidiaries, United Trailers in Bristol, Indiana. So in August 2002, Danzer rearranged its 75,000-sq-ft truck body facility in Hagerstown to build enclosed cargo trailers.
By early 2003, United Trailers had completed a new 30,000-sq-ft facility in Bristol, Indiana, and no longer required the support of Danzer. Since Danzer had invested a considerable amount of money in plant rearrangement — installing necessary services, fixtures and tooling, along with recruiting, hiring, and training new employees — it decided to continue building enclosed cargo trailers and marketing them under the Danzer-Morrison brand name.
It began selling Danzer-Morrison trailers in mid April, and has been able to sell all the trailers it can build while maintaining a consistent backlog of new orders from which to work. The company is now building an average of six trailers a day.
“The assistance we received from our sister company, United Trailers, has really helped,” McLaughlin says. “United gave us purchasing assistance, vendor assistance, and overall design and assembly assistance.”
The Danzer-Morrison trailer is similar to the United trailer, with only a few cosmetic changes. Danzer currently is building trailers ranging in size from single-axle 5' wide by 8' long taglong trailers to tandem-axle 24' long by 8½' wide cargo and enclosed beaver tail car haulers. All are available in a wide variety of colors and options. With a staff of engineers experienced in three-dimensional CAD drawings that demonstrate the functionality of any moving component such as a door or window, Danzer can also build custom trailers.
Close to 30,000 of the available 75,000 sq ft is being dedicated to trailer manufacturing. Previously, that space was utilized for truck bodies, but McLaughlin says that with “the truck equipment industry being down the past few years in terms of volume, we're now using less for truck bodies.”
McLaughlin says the company is using entirely union employees paid on a union scale. He says they inspect each other's work, catching flaws early.
The trailers are built using a cell system of two to six employees each. The axles are assembled to the subframes in cell one, then turned over to cell two for painting and lining the trailers with plywood. In cell three, the electrical system is installed and aluminum sheeting is put on the outside. Cell four is for finishing, including installing doors, body molding, options and final inspection.
“We want our customers to visit our plant and see our attention to detail,” McLaughlin says. “We always ask our customers who come here for pickup to do a tour.”
Will the company soon reach the point where the current facility is too cramped?
“I think we have the capacity to get to where we want to be,” he says. “If in the future we decide to add on capacity, we'll probably look for another facility instead of adding on to the existing one.”
Truck body focus
Danzer Industries was founded in 1886 as a sheet metal works facility and is the oldest manufacturer in Hagerstown. Over the years, Danzer manufactured a variety of products before its singular focus became truck bodies and accessories in 1997.
The current product line produced in its factory includes standard service, high roof, cab over, crane, aerial lift and platform bodies, as well as pickup utility toppers, back packs, and tool boxes. The facility is equipped with state-of-the-art metal forming and fabricating equipment.
Danzer has introduced a new landscape body that McLaughlin says is ideal for the East Coast market because of its configuration and rugged construction. He says landscapers on the East Coast also look for more versatility in a body, since they may need to use it in ways a western or southern landscaper would not.
For example, in winter, landscapers in upstate New York might be plowing snow off of parking lots and driveways and would want to install a salt spreader. In summer, they might be hauling gravel, stone, and dirt. With that in mind Danzer-Morrison's landscape body features 14-gauge corrugated solid sides, 12-gauge hat posts, and a heavy-duty top rail to handle a tarp.
“This body can be bolted to a standard Danzer-Morrison platform out in the field,” McLaughlin says. “We can send a customer a kit so they can turn their existing flatbed or stake body into a landscape body.”
Other features of the body: a 57" side-access door, useful for loading materials on skids from the side of the truck so the driver doesn't have to back in and load from the rear; all of the doors — the side door and the two rear doors — have two latches, one on the inside and another on the outside, allowing a worker to open the doors in any sequence and secure the open door to the body.
The new landscape body is available in three lengths: 12', 14', and 16'. McLaughlin says Danzer-Morrison has a dealer stocking program and can supply a customer with a custom-designed body for specific applications.