FRANK D'Achille is standing in the middle of a 12,000-sq-ft warehouse in Pottstown, Pennsylvania, surrounded by over $2 million in inventory - hydraulic and mechanical components, everything from Gresen to Parker to Chelsea, along with central hydraulic systems.
He is trying to explain the essence of FORCE America, a three-year-old company that resulted from the merger of two 30-year-old companies, Mid-America Power Drives Manufacturing & Distributing Inc and Pederson-Sells Equipment Co.
"Although not everyone knows exactly what we do, their lives are affected by what we do," says D'Achille, the sales territory manager. "If your trash didn't get picked up every day, you would notice. No doubt about that. If your car breaks down on the highway and you have to get it towed, you don't know how it gets towed. It just gets towed. But we're the people who make the trucks keep working."
The Pottstown service center is a key link in FORCE America's chain, covering the population-dense northeast corridor of the United States. As he speaks, FORCE America general manager Jim Collins is putting the finishing touches on the company's 11th service center - this one in Springfield, Ohio, on the Interstate 70 corridor that connects Pennsylvania with Illinois and the company's Chicago center.
With the NTEA Convention heading to the East Coast to Baltimore, 120 miles southwest of Pottstown, FORCE America is making a big push to put its name in the forefront and to expand its operations.
"We want people on the East Coast to know that FORCE America is here," he says. "In our industry, there are not too many who do what we do. We're basically a one-stop shop for auxiliary power. That's what our little niche is.
"Mid-America had some products and Pederson had some products. Mid-America focused on the mobile OEM, truck equipment, and municipal markets. Pederson-Sells focused on the OEM, ag dealer, and user markets. When the two of them merged, it became a one-call source for all of these products and services. The missing link was put together. Any person who had a truck - whether it was an owner-operator, farmer, municipality, city agency, state agency or contractor - could make one phone call and have what he needed. The FORCE America multi-divisional approach allows customers to handle all of their auxiliary power needs with one company. This maintains continuity over the life of the vehicle, and better efficiency."
Serving Varied Markets D'Achille says FORCE America will be serving the municipal markets, OEMs, truck equipment dealers, and contractors.
"Maybe there's a contractor out there who has a piece of equipment that is not what he wants and he thinks he can do something different," he says. "We would use our engineers to design a system and apply the proper components to do the job right."
FORCE America is a distributor for a variety of components made by Gresen, Char-Lynn, Parker, Commercial Intertech, Prince Hydraulics, Zinga Industries, Chelsea, Fenner Fluid Power, Williams Controls, Spicer Dana, Tulsa, and Thermal Dynamics.
FORCE America's value is the ability to bring the components together into a well-designed, efficient system.
Eleven Service Centers The 11 service centers are supported by three manufacturing divisions. The Valve Manufacturing Division designs and manufactures cartridge valve elements and integrated hydraulic circuits. The Electrical Manufacturing Division designs and manufactures electronic circuits, electrical assemblies, and turn-key control systems, and is known for its market-leading control systems produced for the municipal market since 1985. The Fabrication Division produces weldments, reservoirs, enclosures, and custom-fabricated assemblies for a variety of applications.
FORCE America also has two wholly owned subsidiaries: ThomTech Design Inc, which provides Automatic Vehicle Location and remote data collection for fleet-management systems, using Global Positioning Systems and wireless communication; and VariTech Industries Inc, which manufactures anti-icing systems, including salt-brine production systems, and storage and liquid-dispensing systems.
"So if you have a fleet in a city with hundreds of snowplow trucks, you can know exactly where all the trucks are and what they're doing as a storm is going on," D'Achille says. "We have road-temperature sensors to aid when using ice-control or de-icing equipment. Road temperature's very critical. If the road temperature goes below a defined temperature, the sensor activates to put down a desired liquid or granular chemical to help the ice melt faster."
Says Pottstown general manager Herb Peden, "Environmental issues play a large part in today's municipal-use vehicles. Municipal managers need to maintain records of where, when, and how much material or chemical was put on a given roadway. With our precision electronic controllers and tracking from ThomTech Design products, they are able to receive and store the correct data for analysis and good decision-making."
One of the company's key products to be displayed at the NTEA Convention is the SSC5100 spreader control, which has been in development for the past 30 months. FORCE America researched the market, analyzed features, interviewed users, and came up with a spreader control that marketing manager Gerard Majeskie says "has every feature you could possibly want.
"The controller uses an Intel processor that spins at 32 megahertz. The micro-processor has so much power that it uses only 15% of its capacity," Majeskie says. "The reason we put such a powerful processor in it is because we're interested in its expandability in the future.
"It also has the capability of hooking up J1708 and RS232 connections to it. So it has the complete proliferation of exterior connections."
The SSC5100 provides a digital readout of pounds per mile of material spread; so a fleet supervisor can hook up a laptop and download that information to create a spreadsheet to analyze the data.
CommandAll Controllers Any of the five spreader control models are available in the CommandAll Controllers, an ergonomically designed driver's seat that allows the operator to be in control of all dump-body, plow and pump functions, which are located on an armrest. It features a single joystick control for all valve functions, integrated auxiliary lighting controls, color-coded wiring, and bulkhead connections for all cables.
The original unit, designed by an engineer who came to FORCE America from the Milwaukee Institute of Art Design, was called a Titan Control, which took all the control features that were segregated and put them into one joystick controller. The idea was to create a joystick providing "tactile feedback" - meaning once you learn the controller, you never have to look at it.
Ten years of research went into the latest CommandAll, which was designed by FORCE America engineers and debuted in 1997.
"We were able to take your preferences as an operator and create duality to your preferences," Majeskie says. "If you're the type who likes to rest your arm on the armpad and not have to grab the joystick, you can operate the spreader. And you can also grab the joystick and operate the spreader. What's important about the design is that in a panic situation, we call it a one-step thought: You can think about moving a control, and by grabbing the one joystick without looking, it's totally automatic."
The company has been designing central hydraulic systems for over 30 years. In the past few years, it believes that there has been a greater need for a pump to develop higher operating pressures for newer hoists, and that fleets have been looking for a more efficient "on-demand" system. To meet both of these demands, FORCE America has adapted the load-sensing piston pump and valve combination - used successfully for years in the agricultural industry - to the central hydraulic system for snow-removal trucks.
A load-sensing system typically incorporates a shaft-driven, variable-volume, pressure-compensated piston pump used in conjunction with a closed-center, directional-control valve. When flow is not required, the piston pump "destrokes" to a no-flow position. The load-sensing directional control valve has a special outlet port to signal the piston pump to "stroke on" and deliver flow. The pump provides only the flow and pressure required, and each valve section can provide independent, simultaneous operation.
Load-Sensing Systems The load-sensing system can be used on any type of hoist, regardless of pressure required, and does not have to be used only on high-pressure systems. In most systems, the pump is mounted on the front of the truck and driven by the crankshaft, but some municipalities have mounted the pump on a constant-mesh PTO directly mounted to a New World automatic transmission. The same reservoir, filter, and accessories are used as with the open center system.
FORCE America believes it has been very successful in providing not only cable or electronic valve controls, but also complete electro-proportional valve controls as well as air for load-sensing systems.
"Not only do we have great products," D'Achille says, "but we have great technical support."
The Pottstown center is a prime example of that, he believes. Peden has been in the hydraulic business for 30 years; D'Achille for 18; operations manager Joe Tornambe for 6; and shop foreman Vince Conboy for 10.
They're building the center into an East Coast power, recognizing that southeastern Pennsylvania generates one-third of the state's income. Gradually, they've expanded the service center to include equipment for the pump, valve, hose, and driveline needs. They are getting a strong walk-in business for hoses and fittings, which is drawing customers to other products and giving them an understanding of FORCE America's capabilities.
"A customer comes in and he says, `Oh, I didn't know you had cylinders,' " D'Achille says. "Or, `I didn't know you had tanks.' They say, `I can come here and get everything.' "