Mr. Truck 11-9-09
November 9, 2009
Featherlite has acres of trailers – you could run across the rooftops for miles and end up in a corn field. Featherlite can pump out thousands of trailers a year, from horse trailers, cargo trailers, car haulers, NASCAR race trailers, specialty semi trailers, helicopter pads and portable emergency rooms for events like Katrina. Featherlite was the first aluminum specialty trailer born in 1973, when I was a sophomore in high school. It will surprise you just how dominate Featherlite is in big-event trailers.
I traveled north of John Deere to Cresco, Iowa, in the middle of corn country to see one of the most efficient trailer factories. Everything is streamlined, coordinated and innovative with employees that have stayed with the company for decades. Complex and professional manufacturing helps with uniformity and the trailers have been built by the same workers for 10-20 and beyond years. This company is all about small town values with work ethic. Driving past the corn fields, out of the small town of Cresco, you see world class manufacturing that reminds me of Detroit and the Big Three Automakers computer based efficient plants. I’ve toured many truck plants with their robot welders and sophisticated assembly lines, but Featherlite is the most impressive trailer factory I’ve toured. Smooth flowing professional production is the best way I can describe it.
Randy Lewis gave me the tour and history lesson of Featherlite from its creation in Oklahoma to the move to Iowa and now Featherlite is a division of UTC. Being a valuable part of a larger corporation adds stability in tough economic times. Featherlite’s parent, Universal Trailer, is the largest trailer company in America. Featherlite is the oldest aluminum trailer manufacturer in the nation.
Trailer manufacturing starts at the bottom. Featherlite smoothly blends the axle sub-frame and aluminum floor frame. This is engineering, every piece has a purpose that connects like fine woodwork. Most trailer companies add axle frames to the floor so they stand out separately. Featherlite axle frames have the same floor I-beams inside and out in a streamlined axle trolley with aluminum stringers in the axle trolley. Featherlite started the trend in 1985 with torsion axles, ahead of the crowd. This provides a better ride than leaf springs and they are safer.
Unique Goosenecks, with Industry Exclusive Robot Welder
It’s fun to watch, it’s like a Terminator movie – lights flashing, sparks flying and a robot arm that spins all around the gooseneck frame. Welding the fitted metal in its own jig platform, it’s fast and again, the theme is efficiency. For robots to work, tight tolerances for proper fit are the norm with 1/100 of an inch tolerance for the robot to weld the gooseneck. An accurate metal saw fits the gooseneck pieces.
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CNC, plasma cutting machines make holes with precession making it easier to repair when parts fit. This makes a big difference when you change lights, having a nice smooth hole that fits as well as doors and windows.
Featherlite new wave siding can be aluminum, painted or polished so your trailer won’t blend in with the common trailers at events.
A variety of trailer types give Featherlite dealers more options that customers need. So many new options and features makes the slogan “Ahead of the Curve” fit well, which is the theme of having Featherlite trailers that fit you, your horses, your business and your hobbies. What I don’t hear much about in the trailer business is parts and service. It’s a big part of the auto business. When you have a dealer network the size of Featherlite, parts and service is important for healthy business and customer relations. Featherlite also has a fleet of delivery trucks and trolley doubles to keep their dealers supplied.
Featherlite has innovative manufacturing systems and machines
Featherlite has pioneered innovative new manufacturing techniques in the trailer industry. It’s not your typical plant, parts come to the assembly line, all tools have a specific place, and welders are overhead. Several lines of trailers come through the plants side by side. Dedicated interiors building keeps the specialty trailers rolling out. Designers and engineers make the magic with art and science. This is reflected in the awesome graphics and refined look of Featherlite trailers. Look at the Medalist horse trailer to see trailer beauty. The current build is 40 percent horse trailers, 25 percent stock trailers, cargo, specialty and auto make up the balance.
Featherlite is as close to auto manufacturing as you can get. It’s a lesson in engineering, efficiency and practical design. Starting the aluminum trailer craze, Featherlite is leading the way as we see more companies switch to aluminum. It’s nice to see the vision become the trend with efficient manufacturing, no waste, built more like trucks with strength and built to be light for easy pulling and less fuel.
For more information, please visit http://www.FTHR.com.
Kent Sundling (alias “Mr. Truck”) spent 20 years wearing out pickup trucks as only a farmer could. With over 1 million miles pulling trailers, Mr. Truck has a unique collection of truck and farm stories that will educate and entertain. Mr.Truck gave up his bib overalls and John Deeres in his quest to save the farm and moved to the big city to sell trucks. After selling trucks for 10 years, this farmer now writes for eight magazines and owns over two dozen Web sites, helping folks find the “Right Truck.” If you have a question for Mr. Truck, you may contact him at his Web site, http://www.mrtruck.net.