TELL CITY, IN. OEMs and trucking fleets alike are demanding more quality and longevity from trailers–-and those demands are being felt all the way down to the component level.

“That doesn’t just include the parts themselves; it applies to the business processes surrounding them, too,” Kent Finkbinder, president of Webb Wheel Products’ trailer division, told Fleet Owner here at the Webb facility just north of Louisville. “What we’re trying to do is take a fresh look at the basic components that go on a trailer and ask ourselves how to make them better, how to reduce parts numbers, etc. The end result is savings for everyone—us, the trailer OEM and the fleet.”

Webb Wheel, based in Cullman, AL, invested $24 million to build a new trailer hub and drum manufacturing facility in Tell City, a process that began in April 2004 and that is just now nearing completion. Finkbinder said this new plant was designed from the ground up to create more savings across the entire component manufacturing process.

“For example, we’re located right across the street from the foundry that supplies our raw materials,” Finkbinder said. “That shorter supply chain gives us a more consistent supply of material and makes us a more strategic partner for the foundry. The customer ultimately gets that benefit as well.”

Webb also brought in robotic production systems from as far away as Italy to create a faster manufacturing process for hubs and drums, while providing a consistent level of quality. “It gives us higher throughput with a modest workforce – we’ll have 80 people on three shifts by the end of the second quarter – while allowing us to produce more precision parts,” he said.

Webb also chose to add cost to its manufacturing process and product design up front to lower back-end overhead.

“For example, we powder coat all our hubs. It’s more costly, but it gives our hubs longer corrosion resistance, about 500 salt-bath hours as opposed to liquid spray paint, which can barely maintain resistance for 100 hours,” said David Link, vp-manufacturing. “We also 100% balance all of our hubs and pre-grind them for ABS. That cuts in half the amount of part numbers a vendor needs to worry about. It may add cost to us, but it adds value ultimately for the customer.”

“It’s really all about simplicity--adding things on the front end of the manufacturing process to make hubs and drums easier to stock and use in the market,” added Finkbinder. “It’s all about trying to make our business and products simpler, easier, and better for us and ourcustomers.”