Work is progressing nicely on the fourth major expansion in five years at Westmor Industries Inc in Morris, Minnesota. The latest project should be operational by the beginning of September.
The expansion drive started in 2007 with the construction of a 55,000-sq-ft truck tank and trailer assembly shop. Next came an 8,500-sq-ft expansion in 2009 that added a second production line to the tank fabrication shop. During 2010, Westmor built a 5,000-sq-ft truck tank and trailer shop addition that includes an in-line blasting booth. The most recent construction project will add 10,000 square feet and six work bays to the truck tank and trailer shop.
“Our goal right now is to address current demand, and position ourselves for the future. We want to be able to ensure reasonable lead times for our customers,” says Tim Esterling, Westmor sales manager.
Westmor serves those customers with a broad product portfolio that is built around the transport, storage, and marketing of propane, refined fuels, and various compressed or cryogenic products. The company fabricates its own ASME (American Society of Mechanical Engineers) code pressure vessels for propane, ammonia, and carbon dioxide.
The Minnesota company manufactures a broad line of aircraft refuelers for the federal government and other customers. The company also fabricates a variety of industrial tanks and process vessels. Finally, the company can construct bulk plants (refined fuels and propane) and service stations from top to bottom.
“Being a manufacturer in rural America, we have diversified into a wide range of products to keep our workers and our plant busy,” Esterling says. “This company started as a blacksmith shop. We do a lot of custom fabrication for our customers, and we will make just about anything they request.
“Despite the diversification, our key focus remains on propane and refined liquid fuels. We build about 200 propane transports and storage tanks annually, 65 to 80 bobtails, and 25 to 30 refined oil tankwagons.
“Going forward, we see potential for natural gas as a vehicle fuel, and there might be opportunities for us to build transport and distribution equipment for that market. We're trailerizing four liquefied natural gas (LNG) trailers in August.”
The main market
The upper Midwest is the primary market for the petroleum tankwagons assembled by the company. Propane transports and bobtails, on the other hand, are sold nationwide.
In business since 1972 and located on a 40-acre site, Westmor is a division of Superior Industries, also based in Morris. With 950 employees between them, and another Superior manufacturing division, they account for nearly 14% of the employment in Stevens County in western Minnesota.
A majority of the Westmor plant workers are ASME-certified welders, most trained at the company's own welding school. “Eighty percent of our plant workers are ASME welders,” says Mike Hennen, general manager of Westmor's truck and trailer division. “We need 20 more ASME welders right now, and we'll probably train all of them in our own program.”
He adds that the company follows a very cautious, methodical process for selecting plant workers. “We take our time because we want to be sure the people we select are a good fit for our company,” he says. “We prefer to hire locally, and we bring high school and college students in for summer internships. Even shop workers go through at least three interviews before being offered a job.”
Lean manufacturing practices are employed throughout the operation. Essentially, lean manufacturing program are intended to reduce cost by eliminating of waste. Key principles can include: Perfect first-time quality, continuous improvement, flexibility, building and maintaining longterm relationships with suppliers, production flow improvement, and visual control.
To that end, Westmor's management team has laid out the production facilities for maximum flexibility. For instance, in the truck and trailer shop, workers are assigned to production teams consisting of eight to 15 employees. “This gives us the ability to immediately focus on any surge in product orders, which helps us minimize backlogs,” Hennen says.
Production work on each customer's order is coordinated — and very closely monitored — by Westmor's engineering department. All of the materials and components are gathered, and a customized plasma cutting program is created for all of the tank components that will be fabricated in-house for each order.
“We do a lot of documentation throughout the tank production process,” Hennen says. “That is a big part of the ASME process. We usually have to order the steel needed for each tank we are going to build. Probably 80% of the steel plate we have on hand is already assigned to a specific order. Lead times for steel plate range from four to six months. We do stockpile extra pressure-vessel heads, which are fabricated by an outside vendor.”
Producing pressure vessels
Production of pressure vessels for propane bobtail and transport applications begins in the 45,000-sq-ft tank facility. Steel plate arrives at the fabrication shop after being blasted with steel grit in Westmor's new in-line blasting booth that has blast time in half. Each plate is inspected for contamination and defects during the blasting process.
First stop in the process is the plasma cutter that can handle steel plate up to four inches thick. Propane tanks are fabricated from 3/8-inch to one-inch plate, but thicker material is used for flanges and other components. The plasma cutter can burn through a plate in about 20 minutes and can handle 20 to 25 plates of steel in a day.
From the plasma cutter, the steel goes to the new roll machine that Westmor installed in April. “This was a great addition to our fabrication operation,” Hennen says. “It replaced a machine that no longer met our needs.”
The new roll can handle barrel sections up to 10 feet. Bobtail, transport, and storage tanks and process vessels are assembled using one or more 10-ft barrel sections. Westmor builds propane bobtails with capacities up to 6,700 gallons, transports up to 19,400 gallons, storage tanks and other pressure vessels up to 45,000 gallons.
Once the barrel is formed, the seam is tack welded to hold the shape. The tank section is then moved to the longitudinal welding station, where workers use an automatic sub arc machine. The inside of the seam is welded first and ground smooth; then the outside seam. Welded barrel sections are returned to the roll to remove any flat spots that developed during the seam welding.
Next stop is the assembler, where workers attach the heads to the barrel sections that will form the front or rear of a tank.
Barrel sections that will make up a complete tank are tacked together in the assembler before being moved to the next station where the round seams are fully welded. From there, tanks are sent to another building, where all of the welded seams are X-rayed as part of the ASME process. Once X-rayed, pressure vessels are returned to the tank shop for final assembly.
Transport and other larger pressure vessels are assembled on two production lines, while bobtail tanks have a separate production line. Building bobtail tanks on a separate line makes sense, because they take less time to complete,” Hennen says. “We can turn out a bobtail tank a week.”
Completed bobtail and transport pressure vessels are moved to the truck and trailer shop. There the bobtail tanks are mounted on a truck chassis and transport tanks are trailerized. Installation and trailerizing take place in the 60,000-sq-ft shop's 22 service bays.
Considerable effort has gone into maximizing shop efficiency, and the Westmor management team continues to tweak the layout. Installation and assembly bays are spacious and well lighted. The company provides all of the tools workers need on the job, and the tools are organized for easy access. Floors are heated for greater comfort in the winter. Shop operations are managed with the help of software from Oracle and J D Edwards.
“Our goal is to give our workers what they need to build products tailored to our customers' specific needs,” Hennen says. “We do a lot of custom fabrication. In addition to propane bobtails and trailers, we install truck-mounted aluminum petroleum tanks from Trans-Tech Industries Inc.”
About 90% of the propane bobtails built by Westmor have a stainless steel open deck. “That is our standard product,” Hennen says. “We do some enclosed decks, and we fabricate some decks from aluminum. Still, stainless steel holds up well, and is more resistant to corrosion and wear.”
The truck and trailer shop also provides a full range of cargo tank test, inspection, and repair services. Westmor also offers customers a wide range of upgrade and modification services for existing equipment. With the market area growing for the company's bobtails and tankwagons, Westmor recently opened an additional service center in Portage, Wisconsin.
Parts for the assembly and service operations are pulled from the 10,000-sq-ft warehouse in the middle of the truck and trailer shop building. While 80% of the inventory in the warehouse is scheduled for specific orders, Westmor offers customers a diverse range of LP-gas, truck, and c-store parts.
Equipment stocked in the warehouse includes Blackmer pumps, Liquid Controls and Neptune meters, Betts lighting, Hannay hose reels, Scully overfill protection, Base Engineering shutdown systems, Emco Wheaton systems, Meritor axles and suspensions, and Hendrickson suspensions.
After bobtail trucks are fully assembled, they are sent to one of two paint booths. Most bobtails are painted with DuPont Imron Elite. “We find that more customers are willing to pay for better quality paint,” Hennen says. “We keep the paint booths busy around the clock.”
One of the last stops in the production process for tankwagons and propane bobtails and transport trailers is at the test flow station. The tanks are actually partially filled with the propane or liquid fuel that they will handle, and all systems are checked out. Tanks that have been repaired or modified also are flow tested.
With its growing manufacturing complex and broad range of products and services, management is confident that Westmor Industries is well positioned to meet customer needs today and well into the future.