The new two-coat paint system, installed at Wabash's Scott County, Tenn., facility, can completely immerse a 53-foot trailer frame in a series of e-coat baths that electrically bond paint to metal. It's a system that has been used by auto and truck manufacturers for some 30 years, but never before applied on such a large scale.
Jerry Ehrlich, Wabash president and CEO, characterized the new installation as "another brick in the building blocks Wabash is putting together to give our customers a competitive advantage." He said the paint process would greatly extend flatbed trailer life by significantly reducing corrosion and paint chipping.
Ehrlich attributed his company's outstanding growth record to the innovations Wabash has applied to trailer building since its startup in 1985.
"It was basically a stodgy industry that was still building trailers much the way they were in Gustav Fruehauf's day. We've turned it around by rethinking every aspect of trailer construction and manufacture."
Ehrlich said one of the company's biggest breakthroughs was the development three years ago of DuraPlate, a composite material for van trailer walls that offers most of the weight savings of aluminum but is stronger and less prone to damage from rips or punctures. It's a proprietary
material that Wabash produces in its own plant.
"But the demand has been so great, that manufacture of DuraPlate trailers -- currently at 40,000 a year -- has been limited by plant capacity," says Ehrlich. That will change late this year with the opening of a second DuraPlate manufacturing facility that will nearly triple current output, boosting production potential to 120,000 trailers a year.
New proprietary products from the composite are also in the offing, says Ehrlich. New trailer doors made from DuraPlate will reduce overall trailer weight and will have break strength five times greater than present doors. They will also have a 10-year guarantee against corrosion.
Plant manager Tim McKowen says the e-plating system -- which Wabash has dubbed ElectroShield -- is also very ecologically friendly. "We are now able to use or recapture 98% of the paint used in the coating process. With the previous spray system, as much as 70% was lost to the atmosphere."
Water, chemicals and other liquids used in the closed loop coating process are also recovered, treated and restored almost to drinking-water purity. A small amount of non-toxic solid residue can be disposed of without additional treatment.
In addition to the new paint treatment, flatbeds produced at the Tennessee plant are being equipped with backup lights and warning horns, as well as antilock brakes specifically designed for trailers. Wabash has also developed a system that can automatically transfer weight from one axle to another automatically.
Reflecting on the rapid growth that has made Wabash a billion dollar enterprise, Ehrlich said, "The opportunity to introduce innovation into this industry has been a major part of our success -- and I just see more and more such opportunities in the future."