A CLEAN SHEET of paper and decades of manufacturing experience can produce a state of the art trailer manufacturing plant.

In the case of the Great Dane’s new refrigerated trailer plant in Statesboro, Georgia, one of America’s oldest trailer manufacturers had the opportunity to pick out the best of what it has learned over the years and put that expertis e under the 450,000-sq-ft roof of America’s newest truck trailer production facility.

But not at the expense of new ideas.

Experience may be the basis for the plant’s foundation, but Great Dane also has implemented a number of fresh ways to improve quality and efficiency in its new facility. If those concepts prove as successful as management anticipates, they will be replicated at other Great Dane manufacturing plants around the country.

Besides Statesboro, Great Dane builds refrigerated trailers in Brazil, Indiana and Wayne City, Nebraska. Some of the technology is specific to reefer trailer production. Other concepts, however, can be applied just as well to dry freight and even platform trailer production.

“We concentrated on ways to improve our workflow and to automate production,” says Michael Chitty, sales engineering for Great Dane. “Some of the machines we have developed here will almost certainly be used elsewhere in our company.”

Great Dane had several objectives in mind when designing the new facility. They include efficiency, product quality, environmental concerns, and ergonomics.

To achieve these objectives, Great Dane relied heavily on automation and designing the plant in a way that minimizes the distance that raw materials, subassemblies, and components must travel. The company also took aim at improving material handling. To illustrate the point, the company’s Savannah plant (now closed) required raw material, fabricated parts and components to travel between multiple buildings, resulting in excess travel of part during the assembly process, which was reduced by a factor of nine in the Statesboro facility.

Great Dane is beginning to harvest the fruit of its ideas. Management has allowed the plant to gradually ramp up production following last year’s grand opening. The plant built its first custom trailer late last summer for Rowland Transportation of Dade City, Florida. Throughout the fall and winter, assembly increased as employment grew and the new workforce became increasingly familiar with the new plant layout and its technology that includes robotic welding and automated foaming.

Production is definitely building momentum, especially with Great Dane’s receipt of a 200-unit order for Celadon Group. The plant is approaching its capacity—50 refrigerated trailers per week with one shift. While the plant still has room to grow, it’s well on its way toward targeted production of 100 trailers per week at full two shift capacity.

First major order

The building includes 12,000 square feet of office space and a 3,000-sq-ft climate-controlled customer preview center. The Statesboro plant is tooled to manufacture Great Dane’s new Everest refrigerated trailers, the TL model reefer for truckload carriers and the CL model reefer built especially for the needs of multi-temp and foodservice operations, especially those in the Southeast.