When Sylvain Lemaire, his brother Benoît and business partner Richard Allard took the reins of Brandon Truck Equipment in 2013, they had a vision and a game plan for
success centered around innovative designs, product customization and customer service. Reinventing the company as Brandon Mfg., their strategic efforts have grown the business from 17 employees to 120 and from a company that had lost 70 percent of its sales only eight years ago to one of the most diversified and versatile dump (truck) body manufacturers in the industry, now building five to six times the bodies it offered in 2013.
Recent investment in a modular-design large-format fiber laser cutting machine will continue the growth by doubling the company’s production capacity.
Located just outside of Montreal, Brandon Mfg. serves a dealer network in the United States and Canada, shipping upward of 70 percent of its truck bodies to the United States. The construction market is its largest base where it excels in sales of bodies for Class 8 vehicles.
“We compete locally and also with the big OEMs in the United States,” say Sylvain Lemaire, president. “It’s hard to find qualified workers, so we need to invest in the best equipment available to reduce our fabricating time. Doing so lets us be very creative with our designs so we can lower the manufacturing costs, and that’s how we stay competitive.”
Taking weight off
Brandon Mfg. is continually tasked with developing lighter weight truck bodies without compromising product quality or service life. To reduce gas emissions, truck OEMs are forced to add components to the truck and this, along with increased vehicle electronics, makes for one heavy truck, which, in turn, increases fuel consumption and road wear. A 10 percent reduction in vehicle weight can produce a 6 to 8 percent improvement in fuel economy and help reduce carbon emissions.
“Users want to maximize their payload,” Lemaire explains. “If the truck is heavier, the equipment behind it needs to be lighter to allow you to put the same payload in the truck body.”
To develop a lighter weight truck body, Brandon Mfg. uses thinner high-strength steels such as Hardox 450 and, coming soon, 500 Tuff. These structural steels have high yield, tensile strength and fatigue strength for demanding load-bearing applications.
“Because the steel is harder, you can use 3/16-in. or 1/8-in. plate instead of 1/4-in. plate,” Lemaire says. “By reducing the thickness of the steel, you reduce the weight of the truck body. Higher tensile steel can also take more load or force and won’t deform, so you don’t have to reinforce the steel, which also reduces weight.”
Working with high-tensile steel poses challenges. Its special construction makes it costly, and heavy-duty fabricating equipment is needed to efficiently cut and form the
material with accuracy and reliability.
As part of its strategy to lead with technology, the company invested in a 10-kW XXL-format fiber laser cutting machine from LVD. The Taurus machine is a modular design that begins at a 32-ft. (10-m) bed size and can be expanded in increments of 13 ft. (4 m) up to a bed length of 137 ft. (42 m), accommodating sheets up to 3.2 m wide and material thicknesses up to 30 mm.
For Brandon Mfg., the large-format machine offers productivity gains when processing its truck body components. Large parts can be processed without repositioning while
multiple smaller workpieces can be positioned on the cutting table and processed in continuous fashion, without interruption. Parts can be cut on one section of the table, while offloaded on another.
Using large-format sheets also make it easier to nest parts of varying sizes, providing better sheet utilization, less material waste and higher throughput. Smart laser cutting software automates the nesting process for optimal cutting.
The table size of the machine is key to process sheets 96 in. by 402 in. (2,500 mm by 10,211 mm) and 60 in. by 360 in. (1,524 mm by 9,144 mm). Also critical is the 10-kW power source, which makes it possible for Brandon Mfg. to cut thick plate (up to 1 in.) at high speeds.
The large-format laser is three times faster than the plasma equipment it replaced at Brandon Mfg. In addition, fiber laser technology provides higher accuracy and operating efficiency and eliminates the need for secondary operations.
The Taurus laser has the advantage of processing thick mild steel up to 30 mm with exceptional quality cutting results. This is thanks to new cutting head technology LVD recently developed and applied to high-power fiber lasers from 8 kW and above. The technology uses a smaller 1.2-mm nozzle (as opposed to the standard 3.5-mm nozzle) to achieve high cut quality in sharp corners, small holes and intricate shapes.
The large-format laser makes a huge difference, Lemaire says. The laser’s gantry-style design (similar to traditional oxyfuel and plasma cutters) allows Brandon Mfg. to process large plate in one piece, in one continuous operation. This also reduces the number of welds.
“We are always trying to reduce the number of welds in our designs to avoid changing the properties in the steel and to speed up the manufacturing process,” he explains. “When you weld, you affect the material properties because when you add heat, there is a chance of cracking. If you have one piece instead of two pieces that have to be welded, it’s also faster to assemble. So, having the advantages of fiber laser in a large table format that’s similar to plasma is ideal.”
The precision of laser cutting and the large table size also help Brandon Mfg. deliver on its reputation for versatility.
“The challenges our dealers have is that while they usually have truck bodies in stock that they can install rapidly, the customer often wants something slightly different,” Lemaire says. “Most of the time, the modification is at the rear of the body in the tailgate area.”
To address this market need, Brandon Mfg. developed and patented an innovative solution to their truck body; the Flex-System is comprised of the Flex-Gate, Flex-Parts and soon-to-be released Flex-Body. The Flex-System is a set of universal parts designed to be assembled in an easily adaptable truck body that allows multiple configurations.
“With this system, the dealer doesn’t have to reorder a body,” Lemaire explains. “They just change one thing out or add something that is easily bolted on. The result is they are able to provide exactly what the customer wants and to modularly configure the truck right in the yard. Instead of waiting three to four months to get a new body, the turnaround time now is almost immediate.”
Providing that level of versatility to its dealers to shorten lead times is the company’s main objective and another way to open the door to more business. But it wasn’t achievable without having the right manufacturing equipment.
“To be able to do that, we needed to invest in the advanced technology of a large-table laser,” Lemaire adds.
To complement the large-format laser, Brandon Mfg. also invested in an LVD 1,000-ton hydraulic press brake. The heavy-duty machine is 33 ft. long and has the capacity to precision form heavy-duty parts. Using adaptive bending technology and a custom-made crowning system, the press brake ensures the accuracy of heavy bending operations.
By replacing the plasma with the laser and removing an old press brake, the company can create an additional assembly line.
“We will be able to double our production with the high speed and precision of LVD’s equipment and the new assembly line,” Lemaire says.
Another part of the technology story is Brandon Mfg.’s journey to go digital. The company developed its own operating system for production scheduling and built a customized quoting system that is used in-house and by its dealers through a secured online portal on the company website. Dealers are able to create quotes, order online and follow their orders online.
Once an order is confirmed, the information is pushed to a program that generates the details in SolidWorks to program the truck body in 3-D. That, in turn, is linked to another system that performs the nesting and sends it to the machine. The production system is linked to the administration system for invoicing.
“Industry 4.0 is at the center of all the modifications we are making in our manufacturing process,” Lemaire explains. “Having LVD’s equipment enables us to take the turn to Industry 4.0. Our next step is to go paperless in the shop, which should happen within the next six to 12 months.”
As Lemaire recounts, the road forward is one of continuous advancement.
“Two years ago, we reached capacity,” he says. “We had the choice to stay at the same level and just fine-tune things or continue to grow. We decided to invest in technology and grow.”