Less than a year ago, a building that formerly served as a warehouse for a tire distributor had extension cords running through it and the sound of a generator purring in the back.
Why? The guys at MAC Trailer had made a commitment—begin building trailers in this building by October 1—and they were not going to let a lack of electricity stand in the way.
Today the generator is gone and it’s the production lines that are purring. The company achieved what it set out to do—creating a separate plant for its line of refuse trailers and half-round end dumps. But converting the Alliance, Ohio, warehouse into 187,000 square feet of trailer manufacturing plant required a brief period of intense preparation and execution.
MAC saw the building’s potential and its liabilities, concluding that space in the modern industrial park could become an excellent addition to the company’s growing portfolio of manufacturing facilities.
The company got the keys to the building July 1 last year and was building trailers in it three months later.
Ironically, a building that handled tires had no compressed air. But plumbing the building to deliver compressed air was not nearly as challenging as installing electrical service throughout the plant.
Manufacturing aluminum trailers is an energy-intensive process. Converting a warehouse into a trailer plant required the addition of approximately 50 110-volt electrical drops and 80 480-volt drops. The electrical demand far exceeded the supply coming into the building, requiring a switch from 800-amp to 1,600-amp service.
When electrical contractors were unable to complete the work in time, MAC ran extension cords and fired up a generator to provide the electricity the company needed. And when overhead cranes were not delivered or installed in time, a gantry frame mounted on an A-frame did the heavy lifting.
But MAC began building its first trailer right on schedule.
“We had a goal to build trailers 90 days after we took over the building,” says Jeff Sheen, general manager of MAC’s refuse equipment division.
Electrical, compressed air, and equipment all were added within that timeframe. One thing that could not be changed, however, was the footprint of the building.
“We spent a lot of time measuring and mapping out where everything would go,” recalls Tate Ray, plant manager. “A few extra feet at the end of the building would enable us to have a straight assembly line. But we are pleased with the layout we designed. It meets all our key objectives.”
Those objectives include:
• One line for standard refuse trailers
• A separate line for high-spec refuses trailers.
• One line to produce half-round aluminum end-dump trailers.
• The ability to store the bulk of the company’s raw materials inside the plant.
• The ability to produce subassemblies as close as possible to where they are needed on the production line.
• A fully equipped fabrication department that can supply the company’s needs from a central location.
• Minimal movement of material.
“We walked this building when it was empty and got a rough idea of what the plant layout should look like,” Sheen says. “We made three major changes to the layout until we got it the way we want it.”
The layout that MAC developed includes material storage on the side of the plant that flows to a fabrication department on one end of the facility. Fabricated components then flow along a middle aisle to their respected subassembly cell and then to the assembly lines on either the left or right.
Regardless of whether the product is a refuse trailer or a half-round end dump, the assembly lines are similar, each with seven stations.
In the case of the end dumps, an estimated 60-70% of the trailer is built on the first station. There the shell is assembled upside down. From there, the shell moves to the second station to have draft arms installed. The trailer is turned right-side up at the third station. From that point on, the additions are incremental, including tailgate installation, finish welding, wiring, and inspection.
Finished dump trailers are moved outside the plant and tested and the dump cylinders cycled.
“The refuse lines are organized in the same basic way,” Sheen says.
Normally the plant builds a mix that is approximately 70% refuse trailers and 30% end dumps. However, MAC currently is in the process of filling a larger order of half-rounds that has moved the mix closer to 50/50.
In all, the plant has been producing around 70 trailers per month since the company shifted all of its refuse trailer and half-round dumps to the new facility in early January.
Equipping the plant
The plant is almost entirely self-sufficient. The primary exception is steel components such as the suspension assembly. Steel components are fabricated and painted at the company’s main plant, which also is located in Alliance. By doing so, the company avoids the need for an on-site paint booth.
“We can paint at our other locations,” Ray says. “But for us, the trend is toward galvanized steel, especially for refuse trailers. Some of our dump customers want a nice paint job, but our refuse customers are more concerned about corrosion protection. For them, galvanizing is a great solution.”
The new facility is equipped with a number of CNC machines, including a Messer cutting table that can process either steel or aluminum up to 1 1/2” thick.
The plant also is equipped with an end mill router. Thanks to its computer control and precision drive system, the router can engrave sheet metal or cut all the way through it.
However, some of the most useful equipment the plant has was designed and built in house. The plate roller that produces the lower shell for half-round end dumps is one example.
“Our R & D group is great,” Ray says. “They know the way we work and the products we build, and they built a roller that we feel works better for our particular operation than what is commercially available. We have one guy who is kind of the brainchild of the group and a team of engineers who take his ideas and make them real.”
The team also developed the automated sidewall fixtures that MAC uses on its refuse trailers. The automated welder that builds sheet-and-post sidewalls has two torches. The fixture that produces the company’s smooth-sided refuse trailers can make four welds simultaneously.
“They handle the major welding for us,” Ray says. “Everything else we do by hand.”
For that, the company bought 77 Fronius 320i welders. “They are very energy efficient,” Sheen says.
A simple reason
MAC created the new plant for one simple reason: the company’s main facility needed the space. But even moving refuse trailers into the new location did not free up enough room, so MAC moved production of its half-round end-dump trailer to the new plant, too.
“The half-round doesn’t require much tooling to produce, so it was fairly easy to move production to the new plant,” Ray says.
Six years of growth had caused major congestion at MAC’s original main facility in Alliance. The company needed more capacity, but it also needed more room to move around. The fabrication department was a major beneficiary of the new-found space. The department now is able to keep pace with demand for parts, and the assembly line now has room for them.
“We always want to work ahead,” says Mike Conny. “Being able to feed the assembly line is critical. We need to have the parts for today, tomorrow, and the next day in place. It’s waste if we lose time because a part isn’t ready. It may not seem like a big deal to lose five minutes when your company is small, but it’s a major expense if you multiply that lost time by 1,000 employees.”
MAC began to need more capacity following six straight years of growth. The company built only 904 trailers in 2009 and ranked 18th on the Trailer/Body Builders list of the largest trailer manufacturers in North America. In 2015, MAC built 4,880 trailers and finished 10th—the company’s first appearance in the top ten.
Contributing to the company’s increased production has been the addition of plants in Billings, Montana, and Oklahoma City. A former Beall plant, the facility now builds tanks for MAC Liquid Tank Trailers along with MAC aluminum platform trailers.
Also contributing to overall production has been a recent partnership MAC has made with Elite Trailers, a manufacturer of horse, livestock, cargo, and specialty trailers. It is the regional home for MAC dump trailers.
“It’s our goal to be both the low-cost producer and to manufacture the highest quality products,” Conny says. “These two plants have helped us lower our freight costs for our dealers in these areas.”
The next step
The new refuse trailer plant is purring now, but more changes are in store for it before the end of 2016. MAC plans to enter the chip trailer market, and the new plant is where MAC will build them.
“With our moving-floor refuse trailers, we are already halfway to having a chip trailer design,” Conny says. “We understand that part of the process already. But we don’t intend to make a “me too” product. We believe we can remove about 1,000 pounds from standard chip trailer designs through the use of more aluminum—especially over the fifthwheel, the subframe, and rear.”
Conny estimates that the market for chip trailers to be between 3,000 and 4,000 annually and that MAC should be able to carve out 20%-25% of that market.
“It will be a lighter design based on our refuse trailer,” he says. “We believe that this will be something that we can give to our dealers and that our dealers will do a good job with it.”