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Here to Stay

MT: There has been speculation in the industry about the Chapter 11 filing of Trailmobile Trailer in the U.S. and its impact on the Canadian operation. Here's your opportunity to set the record straig...

MT: There has been speculation in the industry about the Chapter 11 filing of Trailmobile Trailer in the U.S. and its impact on the Canadian operation. Here’s your opportunity to set the record straight. What would you like your customers to understand about what’s happening in the U.S. and how it’s affecting your operation?

Morin: Trailmobile Canada Ltd. is not a part of the Chapter 11 filing by Trailmobile Trailer LLC USA. We are an independent legal entity, publicly traded on the stock exchange in Toronto and we are fully committed to the North American market. If anything, due to the misfortunes of our U.S. sister plants we are now serving all the dealerships for Trailmobile in both Canada and the U.S. We’ve ironed out an agreement with our primary lender and we are business as usual. We actually increased our production at the start of the year and look to continue increasing it throughout the year as the order backlog grows. We are here to stay and we invite our customers to come and see that for themselves.

MT: How much of an increase in business has serving the entire U.S. market meant for your operation?

Morin: We are doing about 75-80 trailers a week. Before this we were down to lows of 50-60 a week, although before the economic downturn we were doing about 120 a week and working two shifts.

MT: Speaking of your build-rate, about two-and-a-half years ago this plant was purchased from Mond. In a short period of time you took a plant capable of producing about 14 trailers a day and managed to double its output. What were the key changes you had to make to get there?

Morin: The operation we took over had way too much variation in its product line, which didn’t help the flow of the plant. The manufacturing processes were not very efficient the way they were set up and the operating systems utilized were not effective either. There was no materials requisition planning (MRP), no real inventory control. Right away we rationalized the product line. We now produce dry freight trailers, both specialty trailers and fleet-type trailers. And then we completely reconfigured this facility and set up the proper sequencing and processes. We also implemented an operating system for scheduling, from materials right through to our accounting processes and our billing. That helped us get a better handle on our inventory. The result being a 70% reduction. Most of our materials are now arriving with JIT delivery. We also became ISO 9001 certified, one of the few trailer plants in North America to do so.

MT: Impressive changes indeed. But as you know, installing the right systems and process is one thing. Getting long-term plant employees to go along with the changes is quite another. How did you ensure their buy in?

Morin: The new management team believed in employee empowerment. If you look at companies that have had success of late, all have taken that route. We initiated a visual-manufacturing program, for example. It’s a methodological approach to help employees self improve their work place. This gave the employees a real sense of ownership over their work and area. They do the job every day and they know what it takes to do it well. We provided the training and the tools and we allowed them to execute. In the suspension department the floor used to be cluttered. Using this approach they came up with all sorts of space-saving ideas and managed to free up 20 percent of the floor space.

MT: Have you tracked the end result in terms of efficiency gains and other benchmarks?

Morin: We have had significant double-digit gains in efficiency over the past few years. When we first started producing a Trailmobile product in this facility, we struggled with the new product and start up issues. Over the last year and a half we developed into a leading low cost center within Trailmobile. We are also very proud of our significant improvement in safety and quality that has been achieved in the past few years to complement the efficiency gains.

MT: Looking 10 years down the road, how would you like to see this company positioned?

Morin: We want to be a flat, self-directed organization that can react very quickly to customer needs even when there are last minute changes. It’s an easy thing to say and very hard to execute, I know, but we feel we’ve laid down the ground work and if we can keep continually improving for the next five years like we are doing at this point we can get to the level where this plant basically runs itself and managerial decisions are made at the point of execution. –

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