7,560,000 Reasons Why One Axle Matters

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These boards are at every station in Meritor’s axle plant.

Aside from it being a milestone for the company itself, what does it matter that Meritor recently celebrated its 10 millionth trailer axle coming off the production line?

I ask the question not to take away from the achievement — and it is an achievement — but rather out of journalistic habit: how is this good for our readers? How does this improve their day, help them make money or save money? Basically, what does it matter?

Via an invite from the company, I — along with a handful of other trade media press — flew down to Lexington, Kentucky to attend Meritor’s 10 millionth axle presentation. The event was held at their Frankfort, KY plant where local politicians, Meritor customers and the axle facility’s staff were on-hand. After the speeches were done, the workers went back to work and the rest of the visitors were treated to a plant tour.

During the tour, being guided through roughly 22 manufacturing processes and watching staff do whatever their particular station required them to do, I realized that what was truly special about the 10 millionth trailer axle wasn’t its number; it was the amount of people needed to manufacture one, single axle.

The Frankfort plant supports a local career fair, the United Way of Franklin County, and a local college.

Over dinner later that evening, I asked Brent Fisher, site manager for the Frankfort facility, how many people handle one axle, from start to finish. Not a special axle — just your simple, regular Meritor trailer axle. Thirty-six people, rough count, Fisher said.

Let’s do some fun, probably not very accurate math. (Note I’ll be sticking with U.S. numbers because the plant is located in the U.S. — although this particular facility services Canada, too.)

The average number of persons per household in Frankfort in 2011 was 2.10. So 36 multiplied by 2.10 equals 75.6 people. So, one axle helps feed and house 75.6 people.

Now, for the sake of argument, let’s say there are 100,000 components on your tractor-trailer and it takes 75.6 people to manufacture each one of those components: 100,000 X 75.6 = 7,560,000.

By that math, one tractor-trailer is worth 7, 560,000 people.

Clearly, I’m taking some large mathematical allowances to illustrate my point (rest assured I don’t apply this logic, if it can be called that, to stories that actually need legitimate number crunching).

$2,2 million has been invested over the past three years for equipment upgrades, like a new paint line.

Every component on your truck or trailer has a handful of people — somewhere, in some part of the world — working on it. That one person has a house, a couple of children to feed maybe, and likes to spend money on both the big things and the small, but important stuff: college tuition, vacations, NHL tickets, a big fat steak for a summer BBQ with friends. Maybe a nice bottle of Kentucky bourbon to take back to Canada — *cough.

That’s why the 10 millionth trailer axle to come out of that plant is important, why Meritor’s attention to manufacturing processes, to how it runs its business in a fiscally and socially intelligent manner is important.

People and their families. Work. A living. Things that help other people build and maintain a living. Our businesses extend beyond what they provide. So does the work of each individual in those businesses.

That’s a lot of responsibility. But maybe that’s something we should realize more. And maybe that’s something we should celebrate when we successfully do it 10 million times.

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John G. Smith is the editorial director of Newcom Media's trucking and supply chain publications -- including Today's Trucking, trucknews.com, TruckTech, Transport Routier, and Road Today. The award-winning journalist has covered the trucking industry since 1995.

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