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Over-the-Road Truckers Rely on Trudell to Get Them Back on the Highway

While best known for its paper industry, Wisconsin's Fox River Valley is also the hub of the trucking industry in the upper Midwest. With Interstate access to seven states and local companies that rely heavily on over-the-road transportation, trucking is a way of life here.

Nowhere is that more evident than Trudell Trailers. Located just off I-41 between Green Bay and Appleton, Trudell has been a haven for truckers in need of trailer repair work for the past 30-plus years. From suspension work to complete fabrication, Trudell's mechanics specialize in getting truck drivers back on the road with a minimum of downtime.

Rust damaged trailer strut.

"Although we are a Great Dane dealer, we repair any type of trailer," said Gary Huben, fleet coordinator for Trudell Trailers. "We get a lot of rollover damage so we're rebuilding the sides and roofs of trailers or repairing suspensions. If a trucker needs repair work, we won't turn him away."

To get those distressed truck drivers back on the road quickly and safely, Trudell employs a total of 25 mechanics working two shifts - and if there is an extraordinary circumstance, Huben said they will adjust. "Getting these folks back on the road and earning money is important to us," he said.

Looking for Portability

For speed and portability, Trudell recently invested in new Spectrum® 625 plasma cutters from Miller Electric Mfg. Co. According to Huben, Trudell turned to the Spectrum 625 when his fabricators asked for a machine that was light enough to move easily throughout the facility, yet tough enough to cut through up to 3/8-inch steel quickly and efficiently.

"For years we had used large 100-amp plasma cutters from a Miller Electric competitor, but they were not very efficient machines," Huben explained. Weighing more than 400 lbs., the plasma cutters were bulky and cumbersome. This made it difficult for the machine to follow fabricators as they moved around the trailers. "We have 13 trailer bays and when they are all occupied, which is most of the time, it's pretty close quarters. With as much cutting as we do, we needed a machine that was light but strong enough to cut through carbon steel, stainless steel, aluminum and rust."

Cutting out the damage.

Prior to the Spectrum 625's introduction in 2002, Trudell Trailers agreed to field test the plasma cutter. Huben said his mechanics were impressed not only with the machine's light weight but its cutting ability as well. The Spectrum 625 weighs just 60 lbs. so it can be moved easily throughout the facility, even up and into a trailer for work on the walls and ceilings. "We load the Spectrum 625s on small carts so they can go anywhere in the shop; one person can easily handle a machine," he said. "With the old plasma cutters, it was not unusual to have to use a forklift to get the machines where you needed them."

Consistent Cutting Ability

But as important as portability is to Trudell Trailers' mechanics, Huben said the cutting ability of the Spectrum 625 was what sold him on the machine. With a 40 amp output and rated to cut 1/2 inch steel at 10 inches per minute, the Spectrum 625 easily cuts through 1/4 to 3/8-inch steel cross members, even those covered with an additional 1/8-inch of rust. "We work on quite a few older trailers, six years old or more, where the suspension work is pure rust," Huben said. "You can't get through that kind of buildup with an oxy-acetylene torch. It has to heat the metal before it can cut it and it will not cut through the rust. Plasma cuts right through the rust, then through the base metal below it."

Cross members are affixed to the bottom of a trailer with a series of 5/16-inch grade 8 screws, up to 20 screws per cross member. In most trailer repairs, those screws must be removed and replaced. To properly remove the screws requires a plasma cutter with gouging capability. Huben said the machine excels at gouging. "The Spectrum 625 comes with both the standard cutting tip and a gouge tip, which makes going from one process to the other easy," he said.

True Cuts in Stainless Steel

In addition to repair work, Huben said Trudell Trailers also does a lot of fabrication work, especially for owner/operator truckers. "The owner/operators like to add their personal touches to their trailers, especially additional lights in the rear," he said. "Everything has to be polished stainless back there, so we are working with 1/16-inch stainless steel and that requires plasma to make the necessary quality cuts without warping the metal. The Spectrum 625 can make those 3- and 4-inch round cuts without warping the stainless steel."

Fabrication made easy with the Spectrum 625.

Huben said Trudell Trailers' three Spectrum 625s are all equipped with ICE-40C hand-held torches with 25-foot cables. "With the portability of the Spectrum 625s and the fact we have shop power into every bay, the 25-foot cables work well for us. When we had the large competitive plasma cutters, the machines were stationary so we had to use 50-foot cables and they were always getting in someone's way or being inadvertently cut or crushed."

Huben also pointed out that the power factor correction feature of the Spectrum 625 allows it to draw 30 percent less amperage than competitive plasma cutters, with the same cutting performance. "We consistently had to slow down the cutting rate with the competitive machines and that hurt productivity," he said. "But with the Spectrum 625s we're cutting 3/8-inch mild steel at 15-20 inches per minute, a substantial increase in productivity."

With his mechanics more productive, Huben said Trudell Trailers has more than justified its investment in the Spectrum 625 plasma cutters. "The mechanics are completing repair jobs in about three-quarters of the time it took with the old plasma cutters," he said. "That means they are able to more quickly and efficiently from job to job and work is moving through the shop at a faster rate. Consumables use is down, productivity is up and truckers are back on the road faster."

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