ONE of the largest platform trailer plants in the industry is back in action.
The 300,000-sq-ft Scott County, Tennessee, facility — built initially by Fruehauf and expanded by Wabash National a decade later — had been sitting idle until Great Dane Trailers acquired it from Wabash in 2004. After some extensive renovation, the plant once again is doing what it was designed to do — build platform trailers.
By taking over the sprawling plant, Great Dane has strengthened its ability to serve the needs of flatbed fleets. Before acquiring the facility, Great Dane built platforms in a plant in Memphis, Tennessee. Compared with the Memphis plant that Great Dane has since closed, the company's newest plant is larger, better equipped, and offers the company the ability to meet increased demand as the market grows.
“The Huntsville plant is well-positioned to follow in the tradition of our Memphis flatbed facility,” says Sam Gupta, senior vice president of manufacturing. “We are in the middle of a boom in the flatbed market, and Huntsville is ready to meet high demands in this industry segment, which is likely to remain aggressive for the foreseeable future.”
Great Dane acquired the plant from Wabash in 2004 and spent the first half of 2005 getting it ready for production.
“We pretty much started from scratch,” says Dale McGough, plant manager. “We kept a few of the fixtures, but most of them are our own design.”
Fixtures such as the main assembly jig have been in the plant since the facility opened. But the plant now builds platforms Great Dane's way, with fixtures such as those that ensure the sides of the platforms are square and straight.
The company began production in July. As of early December, two assembly lines were in operation — one for steel platforms, the other for composites that combine aluminum and steel. But by the end of the year, a third line was expected to be producing specialty trailers such as drop frames and other low-volume models.
The result: the plant is producing approximately 14 trailers per day with a one-shift operation.
“We have plenty of capacity here,” McGough says, “and the ability to add more. It's a matter of how many trailers the market wants us to build.”
Great Dane currently is using about two-thirds of the plant's available floor space. This corresponds to the original 200,000 square feet that Fruehauf originally built. The remaining 100,000 square feet is the area that Wabash added to house what was considered at the time to be the largest e-coat system in the world.
The e-coat system, including tanks large enough to permit entire dump trailers and platforms to be immersed, remains in place at one end of the plant. However, the economics of e-coat systems have made management doubt that such systems will ever be practical for use with platform trailers, and the system remains in mothballs.
Recreating a workforce
Great Dane also had to restaff the plant. A limited number of supervisors made the move from Memphis, and some of the production workers who had previously produced trailers in the Scott County plant are now part of the 160-member Great Dane workforce.
“We had the support of a lot of experienced trailer people to train the folks we hired,” McGough says. “We conducted training classes throughout the spring last year to prepare everyone for the start of production in July. And we got some great support from our vendors.”
Reopening the plant was good news for the residents of Scott County and the town of Huntsville in particular. The plant immediately became a major employer for Huntsville (population of just under 1,000 people).
The entire population of Scott County is less than 20,000 people. However, the area has a strong manufacturing base for its size. Of the 6,500 people who were employed during the most recent survey period, more than 40% worked in manufacturing.
“We've made a considerable investment not only in plant capacity but also in the Huntsville community,” McGough says.
What they produce
Great Dane is using the plant to produce its Freedom line of platform trailers, along with steel drop decks and extendable trailers.
The most recently introduced product to be produced at the Scott County plant is the Freedom line of flatbeds — trailers specifically designed for an “in stock” program. The combination steel/aluminum platform trailers offer competitive weight and price without sacrificing strength and durability. Freedom flatbeds are designed to be easily modified at the branch or dealer with add-ons such as tool boxes, tire carriers, bulkheads, winches, and straps. They feature an integral winch track, and modular construction makes them easy to repair.
At 102 inches wide, Freedom flatbeds are available in two popular specs: 12-inch crossmember spacing for extra strength in forklift operations and 16-inch crossmember spacing for heavy-load hauling where trailer weight must be kept at a minimum. The Freedom drop deck is standard with a deck height of 40 inches.
Latest in a series
The acquisition of the Scott County is the latest in a series of high-capacity trailer plants that Great Dane has brought into the fold in recent years. The company started 2002 by announcing the acquisition of Strick Trailer Corporation's eastern van manufacturing facilities — plants located in Danville, Pennsylvania, and Abbeville, South Carolina. Great Dane then moved westward, acquiring Trailmobile's van plants in Charleston, Illinois, and Jonesboro, Arkansas, that same year.
Those acquisitions have given Great Dane a substantial increase in its van trailer capacity. And with the addition of the Scott County plant, the company has done the same thing for platform production.