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The Mod Squad: New Vehicle Option Center Builds Business

Thu January 05, 2012 - Midwest Edition
Construction Equipment Guide

Dan Cowher faced a dilemma. Veolia Environmental Services had just received a contract for recycling in a city near St. Louis, Mo., and needed more trucks. Veolia’s solid waste division, based in Milwaukee and part of the world’s largest waste services company, needed 14 drop-frame chassis that could accommodate manual-loading recycling bodies — they reduce time and stress since workers don’t have to reach as high to empty cans.

So the fleet’s director of solid waste ordered Mack TerraPro chassis from the Kriete Group’s Milwaukee Truck Sales. All went well until a third-party modifier caused delays and mechanical issues. It was not a good situation.

So the second cousin to former Pittsburgh Steelers’ coach Bill Cowher called a different play: a hand-off to the Mack New Vehicle Option Center. NVOC not only finished the job, it shaved 12 weeks off the production schedule.

Since then the operation, known in the industry as the Mod Center, has customized 18 chassis for Veolia. The center engineered brackets, relocated air dryers and other components and worked with the body supplier to get Veolia back in the game.

“We wanted OEM-engineered components,” Cowher said. “The Mod Center will engineer something that is not currently in the spec today so it can be done on the assembly line. That will save us time on future orders. The center is very customer-focused and fair. I call them ’Mission Impossible.’ Just call [center director] Vic Sherbrick and he does it.”

One Stop Shop

There are actually two Mod Centers in the Mack universe: NVOC1 inside Macungie Assembly Operations and NVOC2 at the Mack Customer Center in Allentown, Pa. Opened in 1997, NVOC1 handles vocational trucks while NVOC2, which debuted in 2010, specializes in highway models. The centers employ a staff of 38, including two full-time engineers and four designers.

They work their magic on all Mack models. NVOC lengthens and shortens wheelbases and installs pusher, tag axles and multi-steer axles. It can install all-wheel-drive axles to convert a Granite model into a 6x6. Pinnacle models get wet-line kits, hydraulic systems for dump bodies and walking trailers. NVOC can put a 36-in. sleeper, and 100,000-pound-capacity rear planetary axles on a Titan. It can install roof-mounted air conditioning units on TerraPro models. It builds twin-steer Granite models for the Canadian market.

The Mod Center also works for Mack International. Right now it’s helping Chile’s leading Mack distributor, SALFA, overcome a familiar issue with dump trucks. The factory-mounted back-of-cab exhaust prevents a bodybuilder from moving the body close enough to the cab to evenly distribute the weight. Currently the production line at Macungie is not set up to accommodate mounting the exhaust under the frame. But NVOC can. The installation will cut delivery time from factory to customer, and it won’t disrupt the assembly line.

Simple and Fast

Nowhere is this customized approach to manufacturing more visible than at NVOC1. In an area off the production line at Macungie Assembly Operations near Allentown, Pa., Sherbrick points to the front of a TerraPro with a hole the size of a microwave in the grill. Inside the hole the radiator gleams like a new coin.

“Waste haulers will put a driveshaft through the middle of the radiator and run their hydraulics off it. But the spinning flywheel will throw grease onto the radiator and degrade its ability to cool the engine. Now look at this, he said, walking around the driver’s side and pointing deep within the chassis. There, painted bright red, a 3-feet-long cylindrical PTO sits next to the transmission.

“We’ve installed a direct connection off the transmission, which means the customer can make a direct connection off the PTO. It allows the bodybuilder to run all of the hydraulics for the body without having to route hydraulic lines all the way to the front of the truck. You now have increased cooling capacity, without all of the hoses hanging off the front of the vehicle.”

The result is a cleaner-looking, more efficient truck that’s ready for the bodybuilder, straight from the factory, with all its systems intact.

With the sound of impact wrenches burring in the background, Sherbrick said the center’s goal is to make sure the customer doesn’t have to ship his truck to multiple vendors to get the options he needs.

“Some dealers have the capacity to do this but the advantage to having us do it is the customer is covered under the Mack warranty. If there is an issue we have a network to get it resolved. That’s a big selling point.”

So is time to market.

“We’re faster and more nimble than assembly operations. We have an extremely aggressive schedule to gain new market share. To do that you have to be quick in getting new product to market.”

You also have to know what you’re doing, and customers like Cowher say that with 35 years of experience, Sherbrick does. That deep knowledge has enabled him to meet the needs of everyone from the owner of a few trucks to North America’s largest fleets.

Preparing the Fleet

He’s not alone. A few miles north the doors of all 20 bays are open at NVOC2. Technicians drill diamond-plate headache racks and install hydraulic lines. They’re working 10 hours a day, seven days a week to customize the 50 trucks in the lot.

It’s a typical day for Greg Wentz, the production supervisor who runs this part of the operation. A 25-year Mack veteran, Wentz started as a Class A diesel mechanic at the Allentown factory branch and worked his way through sales engineering and the national accounts group. Now he and his team help customize the vehicles of some of the nation’s biggest fleets.

“We do customer-requested modification, anything from pre-delivery inspection to setting customer-specific parameters in the electronic systems,” Wentz said.

This sometimes means working on several hundred trucks for an individual fleet with a big order.

“Larger fleets do this so they get a consistent look and build… [such as] pre-delivery inspections and decaling. We check the operation of all gauges, lights, switches; check fluid levels and tire pressure. A lot is done at the factory but this is a final check because many of the customers’ trucks will go directly from here to their final location and not through a Mack dealer. So it’s got to be right.”

Engineered Together

Tightly integrated engineering is the biggest draw for Dave Adams, president and CEO of Putzmeister America, part of the Putzmeister Group, the world’s largest producer of concrete pumps. (To give you an idea of Putzmeister’s global reach, its pumps have been pouring water on the damaged reactors at Japan’s Fukushima nuclear power plant for months.) Since domestic pumps are mounted on Mack’s TerraPro chassis, NVOC engineers work closely with Putzmeister to ensure the product is right for each customer.

“Because regulations vary from state to state, province to province, we find that the chassis has to be modified to meet local requirements,” Adams said. “We’re always battling to get the right wheelbase or satisfy a tight turning radius. There’s no way we could perform the modifications to the chassis like the option center can. Otherwise we’d have to engage a third party to modify the trucks. We’d prefer to have the Mack factory prepare the chassis so once it gets here we can immediately mount our unit on it.”

Coordination is critical, since some of Putzmeister’s pumps are huge — they can weigh more than 100,000 lbs. and extend more than 227 ft.

“Once the unit is installed the truck and the pump become a highly integrated machine,” Adams said. “We use the engine to drive the pump. As a consequence we want to do the engineering of our pump and the truck together.”

He believes the value of the Mod Center lies in that tight integration.

“That’s their mission: to do what’s outside the normal production application, and they do that quite well. I’m happy.”

Bigger is Better

For Dave Wright, the general manager of the concrete pump division of SANY America, the Mod Center allows his company to build bigger and more complex products. That gives SANY the ability to compete in a global market.

“NVOC just built a prototype for us — a seven-axle truck, three axles that steer in front and four that steer in the rear. They’ve maximized the size of the pump body that can be mounted — it weighs in excess of 120,000 pounds and has a boom with a 60-meter [197-feet] vertical reach. They’ve created a platform that allows us to design bigger pump bodies and meet permitting regulations. That’s what makes the Mod Center so valuable, the willingness to produce these specialty trucks that aren’t produced in extremely high volume.”

Wright can build that platform on a standard TerraPro chassis without having to outsource complex work to multiple vendors.

“The Mod Center will produce a truck that is 100 percent ready to go. The wheelbase, the fuel tanks, the air tanks are located where we need them. We can just plug our wiring harness into the Mack controller. We’re getting full factory support for the truck. It’s streamlining our operation.”

That brings innovation to SANY’s products and makes them more attractive to its customers.

“We’re pushing the envelope. The Mod Center is a very important partner, not only to SANY but to the industry.”

Seizing Opportunity

Mack dealer Bob Nuss recognizes an opportunity when he sees one. The president of the Nuss Group was looking for a chance to sell into the heavy haul market. The introduction of Titan by Mack gave him that chance.

“We knew we had an opportunity with Perkins Specialized Transportation,” another Minnesota company, he said. “In order to get into extreme heavy hauling we had to make changes to the chassis that we could not do on the assembly line. The Mod Center’s engineers visited the customer and engineered the options that were required. They customized a front frame extension that allows Perkins to push or pull a load.”

Perkins is using several tractors to push and pull 1.5 million pounds of decommissioned nuclear generators up seven percent grades from California to Utah.

Nuss is expecting widespread media coverage of the haul and doesn’t mind sharing the spotlight with NVOC.

“I was excited when Mack put in the option center because it gives dealers and customers a way to get some things done that aren’t necessarily worth the cost of doing a one-time engineering project for one or two trucks. This gives us a bridge to get some unique business. They definitely add value.”

Joe Cambria Jr. agrees. The vice president of Cambria Mack Distributors in Edison, N.J. said his dealership could do some of the work but finds NVOC the best partner for complex operations.

“Take roofing trucks. You may be doing knuckle booms, stick cranes, conveyors. The customer would have to send the trucks to separate installers. If you’re a fleet manager you want consistency, accountability and familiarity. When putting complex pieces of machinery together, if I can have the NVOC do the lift axle and the PTO and the pump, all the body company has to do is mount the body and hook up. We have a final product that will serve the customer better.”

That makes NVOC a tool for selling as well as manufacturing.

“Let’s say I’m quoting boom trucks. Now I’m going to one source to get a quick and accurate turnaround. It cuts my selling time. Accountability is a big issue, too. If the Mod Center tells you they’re going to do something they do it. If there’s an issue in the field, the truck doesn’t have to go back to the body shop. It can go to any dealer. Without the Mod Center’s help it would be harder to obtain these deals and deliver customer satisfaction.”

Caring for the Customer

Dan Cowher’s still amazed at the way the Mod Center worked with a vendor to install a new type of system on his trucks. In a time when companies don’t always work together NVOC got the job done. That kind of commitment adds value to his business.

“I’m very grateful for the relationship that Veolia has with Vic and the Mod Center,” Cowher said. “I enjoy people who have the knowledge, expertise and the passion for the work and the customer. It’s rare today to find people who really care.”

This article was reppublished with permission from Bulldog Magazine 2011 Volume 4.

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