THE SIGN above an employee entrance at Lufkin Trailers reads, PEOPLE WHO WALK UNDER THIS SIGN BUILD THE BEST TRAILER ON THE ROAD.
At Lufkin, they're always looking for a better way to make a trailer. Doing so involves scrutinizing each facet — large or small — of the manufacturing process.
Lufkin Trailers manufactures vans, flatbeds, floats, drop-frames, dumps, and specialty trailers — a product line that requires extensive welding.
The company recently was part of a field trial of welding equipment involving multiple suppliers. The system consisted of a Miller 75 Series wire feed system, which incorporates an Accu-Mate gun connection, PD (Precision Drive) wire drive assembly, Bernard Q400 MIG gun, and Centerfire consumables.
The trial proved successful, particularly in terms of the wire feed and the ability to change wire quickly. During the trial period, the wire flowed smoothly through the system, even though the drive system only has one set of rollers.
“Our plant manager (Rickie Gilley) said, ‘There's no way you can push wire through a 15- or 20-foot lead with a single set of rollers,’” says Ray Brown. “But we had no feeding problems. We had no bird's nest problems with the wire.”
The system also provided quick change-out of welding wire.
“We include stainless on our van trailers and have some mixed materials coming down the line at the same time,” Brown says. “We can quickly change out our guns.
“You see more and more people on van-type products going with a stainless-steel frame on the rear,” Brown says. “It lasts forever and paint is not a problem. The customer doesn't have to worry about painting maintenance.
“On the front, we have a cross member that customers are asking for in stainless. Customers are looking for longevity. If they buy a trailer and spend that much money, they want it to stay on the road as long as possible. And stainless gives that.”
Lufkin can run both steel flux-cored wire and aluminum solid wire off of the 75 Series feeder, with minimal time for MIG gun changeover. Previously the company had steel and aluminum wire set up on different machines.
“With push-pulls, you have to designate them to one particular project,” Brown says. “You can't switch back and forth. You can't run steel through it because it contaminates the aluminum.
“Now that we have the 75 Series feeder, we can use the same machine and swap back and forth. When you're running six or seven trailers a day down this line, and you're trying to schedule trailers of likeness together so that you don't have a lot of back and forth, it just makes it a lot simpler. When that trailer gets down there, you don't have to do a lot of change-out.”
Brown worked the 75 Series prototype nonstop until the manufacturer launched the 75 Series in January of this year. He bought four of them when they became available and has since bought five more.
Lufkin fabricator Greg Lucas likes the way the tension of the system can be controlled.
“For a lot of the people out in the field, tension control was a guessing game — and they would put too much tension on it,” he says. “Now we have a chart on the top: flux-cored, steel, aluminum. And it actually has a numbering system. So say you're doing .045 flux-cored. You set it on that number and your tension is set.”
Lufkin Trailers is a division of Lufkin Industries Inc, which was founded in 1902 and is a vertically integrated company that designs, engineers, manufactures, sells, installs, and services oil-field equipment and power-transmission products across the globe and highway trailers in the south-central United States and Mexico.
In 1939, Lufkin got into trailers when it purchased Martin Wagon and Trailer Company.
The trailer division thrived during World War II in the form of gasoline transport semi-trailers, ordnance trailers, and mobile laundry units for the Army.
In the early 1960s, the all-aluminum dry freight van was introduced, and high-tensile floats and refrigerated vans were being built. Lufkin's lowboy-type trailers were on the drawing board. In 1969, the trailer division moved into a 345,000 square-foot manufacturing facility that it still uses today.
Lufkin, using 260 of the company's 2,744 employees, manufactures vans, flatbeds, floats, drop frames, dumps, doubles, conventional and spread axles, and specialty trailers.
Brown says Lufkin produces six vans and flatbeds, two dumps, and one drop-deck a day. A complete van takes about 90 man-hours, the ULD end dump takes about 70 man-hours, the tandem bottom dump takes about 100 man-hours, and a flatbed takes about 80 man-hours.
Brown says Lufkin's emphasis on custom work is what sets it apart.
“When you go into other plants, they may offer you two or three options,” he says. “Just walking down our line, you may see 10 different options of trailers. We build to order. Whatever the customer wants we try to build. We build a very limited amount of stock trailers.
“On our flatbed line, we do a composite — part aluminum, part steel — called FLXL. The trailer will have steel beams and can have aluminum crossmembers with aluminum side frame and aluminum floor. It cuts down on weight. Or, depending on what the customer is hauling, if he needs a little bit more weight, we'll go with steel crossmembers with aluminum side frame and aluminum floor. Or you could go with aluminum crossmembers, aluminum side frame, with a wood floor. It just really depends on what they're hauling and what their gross weight is.”
He says he has noticed a trend toward shorter trailers.
“When I came out of high school as a welder for Lufkin, a lot of trailers were 45 feet,” he says. “After that, they went up to 59 feet. Now we're going back to shorter trailers. They're carrying loads into urban areas more now. You can't maneuver 59-foot trailers in those areas.”