MAX-ATLAS EQUIPMENT International Inc in St-Jean-Sur-Richelieu, Quebec, Canada, transformed itself from a manufacturer of mining equipment to an up-and-coming competitor in the platform trailer and container chassis business.
The company is currently building about 600 trailers and container chassis a year, says Tibor Varga, president and co-owner of the company, which is based near Montreal. On average, Max-Atlas builds 44 to 50 trailers a month.
In 1999, Max-Atlas plans to increase production to 1,000 trailers and chassis a year, Varga says. He hopes the sales of 1,000 trailers and chassis will be split evenly between the US and Canada.
"When we are comfortable building 1,000, we will increase production up to 2,000 trailers and container chassis a year," Varga says.
In 1969, Varga's father started Metro Trucking in Montreal, which became the first business owned by the family. The carrier hauled dry freight, and frozen and fresh food. Metro Trucking changed its name to Max-Atlas in 1994.
Even though it was started as a trucking company, Metro Trucking soon began building mining equipment, including mammoth dump bodies for trucks used in strip mines, Varga says. The 20-ft-wide bodies were so large that a 4-1/2-ft-deep pit was dug in the plant floor to provide enough room to turn the bodies on their sides so welds could be made on a flat surface.
Variety of Manufacturing Experience "Caterpillar built no standard size bodies for the large mining trucks," he says. "Then they decided to build their own truck bodies, and our business dropped off to nothing."
From 1988 to 1993, the company's primary product was an intermodal train locomotive and the rail bogies that connected the semitrailers making up the train, Varga says. Production of the intermodal train was abandoned in 1993 after a partnership collapsed with another company involved in the project.
Since 1994, Max-Atlas has focused manufacturing only on platform trailers and container chassis, says Andrew Morena, secretary-treasurer and a co-owner of Max-Atlas. Products built recently include 53-ft drop-deck platform trailers, 48-ft extendable platform trailers that open to 68 feet, and super B-train container chassis that can haul 62,500 kg (138,000 lb). The B-trains have a combined length of 64 feet without a tractor.
Max-Atlas will soon build two 53-ft extendable platform trailers that open to 86 feet, Morena says. The 48-ft platform that extends to 68 feet has a deck height of only 32 inches. The trailer was built for a customer in Edmonton, Alberta, that moves houses from their original building site to another location.
Increasing Trailer Production The company's production in 1998 was affected by a massive ice storm in Quebec that shut down all businesses and led to a state of national emergency in the province, Morena says. The worst damage from the storm was in St-Jean-Sur-Richelieu and forced Max-Atlas to close almost completely for about one month.
"Ice was six inches thick on electrical poles and snapped them like toothpicks," Morena says. "We had four snowblowers on our roof for two weeks blowing snow. We are still trying to repair water leaks in the roof caused by the storm."
Power was completely restored to the plant on February 2, 1998, Morena says. As soon as power was restored, Max-Atlas went into full production and quickly began filling orders to restock customers and dealers with trailers and container chassis.
Max-Atlas has six dealers in Canada and one in the US, Varga says. The company is counting on US sales to increase its production to 2,000 units annually. During a good year, the demand for semitrailers in the US has been over 250,000 units.
In Canada, however, annual sales for the entire trailer market amount to approximately 16,000 units. Up to 12,000 of these trailer and container chassis are built by two major Canadian manufacturers.
"Max-Atlas and other smaller trailer manufacturers in Canada are left looking to the US if they want to increase volume," Varga says.
United States Distribution The company is building platform trailers with an 80,000-lb GVW designed for use in the United States, he says. Max-Atlas is counting on its US distributor, Interglobal Capital in Clearwater, Florida, to supply the plant with container chassis orders.
Interglobal Capital is owned by Donald Pratt whose family manufactures container chassis and trailers, Varga says. The container chassis sold by Interglobal Capital will be marketed under the brand name of Chassis King.
Besides platform trailers and container chassis, Max-Atlas sells Strick van trailers and Chaparral aluminum platform trailers, he says. Max-Atlas took on the additional lines to offer customers the widest variety of trailers.
Max-Atlas' 105,000-sq-ft plant has one assembly line for container chassis and another on the opposite side of the plant for platform trailers.
On each assembly line, trailer frames and container chassis are always positioned by overhead cranes so welds can be made in the flat position, he says. This provides for better weld penetration and helps create a more uniform weld bead.
Assembly Line Production In between the container chassis line and trailer line is an area for welding subassemblies. Next to the subassembly station is an area where air and electrical components are preassembled.
Air tanks, air lines, and electrical components are wired or plumbed for faster installation when the trailer or container reaches the final assembly stations, Varga says. Wood flooring is installed on platform trailers near the preassembly area.
Fabrication equipment is located near the subassembly stations and includes a CNC burning table, ironworker, and a 300-ton pressbrake that can bend a 20 foot piece of T-1 steel plate 1/2-inch thick. The pressbrake was purchased by Max-Atlas when it fabricated parts for mining equipment.
The 300-ton pressbrake will be replaced with a 200-ton CNC pressbrake, which is better suited for the products now built by Max-Atlas. A smaller CNC pressbrake requires less setup time and works faster because of smaller hydraulic cylinders than on the 300-ton pressbrake.
"We are improving our equipment and facilities," Varga says. "Max-Atlas is doing things the right way by moving at a slow pace."
To help the company become more of a large-scale manufacturer of trailers, Max-Atlas recently made some personnel changes, he says. One of the changes was hiring Yves Forten as shop supervisor.
Forten worked at Manac, one of the largest trailer manufacturers in North America, for 17 years, Varga says. Forten was service manager at Manac's Boucherville plant. He also worked for eight years at Trailmobile in Montreal.
"All of the manufacturers I've worked for build good, quality trailers," Forten says. "The big difference at Max-Atlas is they work hard to establish a more personal relationship with the customer."