Pierce Manufacturing Streamlines Production While Keeping Every Build Custom
April 1, 2021
By Blue Print Editorial Team
By Blue Print Editorial Team
EVERY BUILD IS UNIQUE
When the goal is to build vehicles that save lives, you need to use quality parts and stay focused on the job. That’s exactly what Pierce Manufacturing does as the nation’s largest producer of fire apparatuses. Each unit that rolls down the assembly line is fully customized with equipment that can pump thousands of gallons of water per minute or extend a ladder 107 feet up to a building.
In business for more than a century, the company is no stranger to growing and changing with the times. And today, with their fire and rescue vehicles in such high demand, they look for opportunities to speed up production and improve their supply chain.
“One of the complexities of our product is we build custom. We can’t drill down every different nut and bolt that might be used on the truck because they’re different configurations. There’s constant flux of how this product is built until the customer comes in to accept it,” said Terry Walsdorf, an engineer of fire suppression systems for Pierce.
HAVING WHAT'S NEEDED RIGHT WHEN IT'S NEEDED
Pierce has multiple facilities spread across Appleton, Wisconsin, and each was ordering their own parts. This led to duplicated orders and bloated inventory – not to mention all the work involved with manually stocking bins and disposing of packaging.
In the past, employees had to walk over to a single location for parts, record the transaction on a piece of paper, and then have another person enter that information into a computer for record keeping. Walking to get parts and waiting for them to be handed out was wasted time that Pierce employees weren’t able to spend on vehicles.
“With the customization of these fire trucks, it makes it very difficult on our supply chain to manage all of those changes and differences,” said Matt Leslie, Pierce’s commodity manager. “We need to meet those needs of the customer and work through the supply issues that that causes.”
Pierce wanted to find ways to reduce the time employees weren’t on the line and gain visibility into exact inventory levels. The ideal solution would free up employees from ordering and stocking and also from walking and waiting for supplies.
MORE TIME FOR THE RIGHT TASKS
To improve the supply chain and offer new efficiencies, Fastenal introduced the idea of an onsite solution. This would bring full-time Fastenal employees in to aid and assist Pierce’s existing staff, shifting the responsibilities of ordering, stocking, and general inventory management away from Pierce’s team. Fastenal would handle making sure the right parts were on hand. For Pierce, this would mean no longer filling bins or placing duplicate parts orders; workers could focus on production-related tasks.
Pierce was one of the earliest adopters of Fastenal’s vending technology, so the company was familiar with how the service could help improve production. Now, with the general goal of a faster, smoother supply chain, and specific aims of reducing the walking time and cutting down on ordering and stocking, Pierce again turned to Fastenal.
“Every aspect of what makes Fastenal good, Pierce embraces it,” said Troy Parkos, regional vice president, Fastenal. “So, our safety specialists are engaged. Our metalworking specialists are engaged. They challenge us in everything that we do well. Anything that’s new, we bring it to them because we know they’re the type of customer who’s going to embrace it and help us get better.”
Fastenal also tracked item usage from every part of the plant so that a detailed, accurate plan could be created to put vending machines in the best locations: near workers but not in the way of their workspace.
"One of the biggest wins was getting the point-of-use tool cabinets in here, getting the vending machines here on the floor at the point of use,” said Walsdorf. “Ultimately, it benefits our customers, because we’re devoting our resources and time to building them a quality apparatus as opposed to chasing down parts, tools, and hardware.”
A CUSTOM SOLUTION FOR CUSTOM WORK
Because no two companies are the same, Fastenal always customizes an onsite solution to match the needs of each unique business partner. For Pierce, the Fastenal team worked to find a way for the systems from both companies to exchange data. Pierce uses a program to manage plant budgets and determine which departments and jobs are profitable. Fastenal worked to ensure that new product-usage data not only went into Fastenal’s inventory management system but also flowed into Pierce’s system.
Fastenal’s vending and bin stock solutions helped Pierce save time and money by removing the guesswork of managing inventory and by placing needed items in point-of-use locations. This reduced purchase orders and consolidated billing, all while critical supplies were delivered to multiple points of use by Fastenal employees. A customized vending center was set up in the space that used to house Pierce’s tool crib. Fastenal turned it into a controlled environment, shrunk the necessary footprint, and provided half the space from the old crib back to Pierce to use for other needs.
Cabinets, where tools can be checked in and out, were moved onto the floor to control and track tools used during assembly. And Fastenal switched all tools on the assembly line to new Milwaukee cordless versions to improve ease of use and to prevent the unintentional scratches that were left behind on vehicles from air hoses dragging across the tops as workers moved around.
“One of the huge things with Fastenal is being able to forge an exclusive relationship with Milwaukee Tools,” said Walsdorf. “They have enough battery life with the larger amp hour batteries, and they last a better part of your workday. So, instead of having to lug a bunch of stuff and pull an air hose off the wall, you can get these battery-operated tools. I check it out of the vending machine. So, I get the drill, I can do my job, and I can move onto the next thing.”
A FLEXIBLE PARTNERSHIP
When Pierce recently began to shift to mixed-model manufacturing, they needed a flexible solution to react to changing demands in materials and the evolving needs of workers on the plant floor. Fastenal moved quickly to dedicate resources to technology and processes that would adjust to the new workflow.
By partnering with Fastenal and going with an onsite solution, Pierce was able to see the benefits that come from having an experienced supplier with a vast distribution network based right in their facility.
Full visibility on inventory: Pierce knows how much of each item is on hand and can see all the turns associated with each piece. And because each part is tracked down to the project level, it’s possible to see precisely what went into each vehicle. Tracking usage patterns also allows Pierce to adjust spending to cut back in some areas while making sure that nothing goes out of stock.
Improved purchasing: Fastenal helped to eliminate manual reorders, cut down on the total number of vendors used, and speed up emergency orders to the point where many are now fulfilled on the same day.
Increased productivity: Walk and wait times were reduced for employees (who can now get supplies from point-of-use locations), and labor costs for restocking shifted to Fastenal. Both of these gave Pierce more time to focus on production-related tasks.
“Fastenal makes us a better manufacturer just by being fully integrated into our business and not just providing the parts,” said Leslie. “They are providing us solutions and ideas that we otherwise wouldn’t have the resources or the expertise to provide.”
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Terry Wasldorf I Engineer, Fire Suppression Systems, Pierce Manufacturing
“We have a symbiotic relationship that developed over the years with Fastenal. They benefit from Pierce by having us as a customer onsite, and we benefit from having all of our needs for hardware, tools, and support for those services right at our doorstep.”
Matt Leslie I Commodity Manager, Pierce Manufacturing
“We have Fastenal reps integrated right there on the manufacturing floor. If there’s something that our manufacturing folks are missing, the Fastenal reps are able to supply that at a moment’s notice, and that’s really key when we have to customize these vehicles to keep them moving through our facilities.”
Troy Parkos I Regional Vice President, Fastenal
“Pierce makes an amazing product that’s in high demand. So their backlog is not days, it’s not weeks, it’s a year. They have the demand there. Their challenge is to get trucks to customers quicker. So we’re here to solve problems. It’s a lot more than just providing a product. It’s the value added behind the product.”
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