Nationwide manufacturing

CONVENTIONAL WISDOM has it that truck body manufacturers can be competitive within 500 miles of the plant. Beyond that, freight costs begin to become a factor, swinging the advantage to someone located closer to the customer.

If conventional wisdom is wise, Supreme Corporation has become quite competitive throughout almost all of North America. That's because the company now has plants on the corners — and points in between.

The truck body manufacturer is off to a fast start in its Woodburn, Oregon, plant — completing a major order for Budget Truck Rental May 30.

The plant serves the last major area in the continental United States where Supreme did not have a van body plant — the Northwest. With it, the company can now supply every corner of the country with at least one truck body plant:

  • Northeast: Jonestown, Pennsylvania

  • Southeast: Griffin, Georgia

  • Southwest: Moreno Valley, California.

Additional plants in Cleburne, Texas, and the headquarters plant in Goshen, Indiana, solidify the company's ability to serve the central portion of the country.

Supreme's newest plant produces aluminum and FRP dry-freight van bodies, curtainside vans, aluminum and FRP Spartan and Iner-City vans (van bodies mounted on cutaway chassis), platforms, and stake bodies.

“We are not running reefers or dumps here yet,” says Tom Beard. “Those products are still coming out of our Moreno Valley plant. But we will begin to produce them here as we gain more experience.”

It was the first time since 1995 that Supreme has added a new plant to its manufacturing network.

Fast start

The plant expansion is the culmination of an intensive campaign to expand sales in the Pacific Northwest, particularly in the areas of Portland, Seattle, and Vancouver. Formerly serviced by Supreme's Moreno Valley, California, manufacturing plant, these areas will now be served by the Woodburn plant, reducing freight costs.

The plant sits on 13 acres of land and features more than 108,000 square feet of manufacturing space. It employs approximately 120 people.

Those working at the Woodburn plant in suburban Portland have gained experience quickly during the first full year in operation. Only months after the facility opened, it began producing more than 1,300 of the 4,700 truck bodies Supreme recently completed for Budget Truck Rental.

The order was completed in phases. The first phase involved production and installation of 234 van bodies. The plant began producing these 24-ft vans November 5 and finished January 7.

The heart of the order was for 900 vehicles equipped with 16-ft van bodies. The Woodburn plant began producing these bodies January 10 and finished at the end of May.

The last month of the order, the plant produced 10-ft vans in addition to the 16-ft bodies. The order called for 200 trucks equipped with the 10-ft bodies. All were made of fiberglass-reinforced plastic plywood panels that Supreme makes in a dedicated plant in Ligonier, Indiana.

The order involved chassis produced by Ford, GM, and International.

“At Budget, we stress cost-efficiencies and quality,” says Jerry Riordan, president of Budget Truck Rental. “Supreme came to us with the same commitments, and they've demonstrated their manufacturing process achieves these goals. We are growing our fleet over the next several years, and we anticipate the Supreme vehicles will play a large role in this expansion into the marketplace.”

Part of the family

To get the plant running quickly, the Moreno Valley plant provided personnel who set up the plant and train personnel.

Perhaps the most prominent among those who came from Moreno Valley is Jason Demery, Woodburn's plant manager. Demery was instrumental in setting up the platform body line, the main assembly line, and the fabrication department.

“This is the basic Supreme assembly plant,” Demery says. “We don't do anything here that isn't done at other Supreme locations.”

The building Supreme selected for its Northwest plant lent itself to truck body manufacturing. Formerly a modular home plant, the facility had much of the needed infrastructure already in place, including air and crane systems.

Also speeding up the ramp-up was a ready-made supply line from other Supreme plants, particularly Moreno Valley and Goshen. That network, however, is changing as the new plant becomes more self sufficient.

“We are sourcing more of our components regionally,” Beard says. “That will continue as existing contracts expire and we are free to sign new ones with companies closer to us.”

Supreme believes the plant will be able to produce almost 4,000 trucks per year.

“Our production capacity is for about 3,900 trucks per year,” says Mike Oium, general manager and vice-president of Supreme's western region. “If our sales continue their upward trend, we hope to be able to run at capacity.”

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