By Linda Dorow
Vice President of Manufacturing
Linda Dorow, V.P. of Manufacturing
When I started with Big Joe 20 years ago, we were an independent forklift manufacturer with a 90,000 square foot factory in Wisconsin Dells, WI and some 140 employees. Back then we designed and fabricated every piece steel for every truck that we sold, built them from the ground up. Of course, we sourced things like motors and pumps from top quality vendors, but if it was cut, welded, fabricated, assembled, painted and inspected it was done under our roof. It was a good feeling to see the truckloads of raw steel come in one door and forklifts go out the other. It was also a source of great pride to know that the people who worked here earned a good wage and supported their families, and through that, the community at large. Then in 2007 – 2008 the recession hit, and it hit our industry very hard. Companies all across the country were having mass layoffs, and nobody, I mean NOBODY was buying forklifts, so we were forced to layoff people too. It really hurt because so many employees had been here for so long, they were like family, all of them.
We went through some really tough financial times and there were practically no orders coming in. That’s when EP stepped in and bought Big Joe. Luckily, our brand had a good reputation for quality and longevity, and our designs had real market value. EP’s financial backing allowed us to weather the storm, and by bringing their innovative global products, we were able to slowly win back some of our lost market share. It took time, but as a small group we pulled together and since then have more than quadrupled our workforce. I think now people have a sense of security, they feel it again that we’re going strong, I mean were shipping trucks out the door daily and it’s been a really good feeling.
You’ll hear that a company is going through a reorganization in the news and you wonder what that means. For Big Joe, it meant taking a look at everything that we did and evaluating the part and process to determine if it was more cost effective for us to do it in house, or to source a particular vendor. EP’s model for manufacturing was quite a bit different from the way we used to do things, we still build trucks here, but now we get help from our local vendors to make components and subassemblies. In the Midwest region, we have identified 25 key vendors who we’ve come to rely on for their quality and expertise. We’re leaner, but more agile and honestly, profitable because of it.
Of course, a lot of the trucks we sell these days are manufactured overseas by EP and that’s fine. They have advantages that we just don’t because they are a global force in material handling. Why make a thousand pallet jacks in the US when the global demand is in the tens of thousands? What we’re really good at, here in the Wisconsin Dells, is engineering and building the niche trucks, the custom applications, the low volume specialty spec that, really nobody else will touch. We’ve been doing it since 1951, we just didn’t have a name for it.
Introducing the PDX!
PDX trucks are fully customizable
The PDX is all about customization and we will be able to deliver exactly what a customer needs for their application with lead times that rival other manufacturer’s “standard” trucks. It will make use of four platforms, or starting points, if you will, based on footprint and capacity that we can adapt to meet the customer’s specifications. Engineering will evaluate the request to determine which basic platform best meets the majority of the requirements, then design the special features necessary, incorporating available stock components or drawing up unique parts. They will still be custom trucks, but the main core of the units are going to have common parts. Overall from a standpoint from the company, it will save money and result in quicker build times. These trucks all the way down the series are going to be sharing a lot of parts which will allow us to streamline ordering, manufacturing and service in the field. I really like the PDX concept because it allows us to do what we do best.
The frame and chassis for the PDX family is manufactured in Wisconsin Dells, WI
We manufacture the frame here, the complete chassis to the PDX. We also manufacture the elevation system to the truck. We do the machining and the welding of a frame from bars of steel, putting it together, installing the elevation system, all the sub-assemblies, electrical and hydraulics. From there it’s on to paint, inspection and shipping. A custom forklift designed and manufactured in the USA and delivered in an amazing 8 to 10 weeks.
Frames and components come together on the assembly line.
Using EP’s vendor sourcing concept, and our custom design / build capabilities we’re pumping life back into our local economy. We’re ordering steel from local mills, motors, pumps, chains, sheaves, wiring harnesses, control heads, transmissions and wheels … close to 70 % of raw materials and components come from the Midwest, mostly from Wisconsin and nearly 100% of all content is made in the USA.
We’re employing more highly skilled tradesmen than we have in nearly a decade and I’ve seen where some of our vendors now are actually growing, adding employees to their factories or job shops because of all the business Big Joe has provided them. It’s great because we’re keeping it in a local economy and that’s creating a ripple effect of prosperity, good paying jobs where they were few and far between not so long ago. It’s a small world kind of thing, we’re experiencing double digit growth annually, and our growth is made possible through the efforts of our neighbors, who are also growing. Together, we’re creating more jobs for local community members and you know, that’s a good feeling as well.
Can a custom engineered and manufactured forklift family raise an entire community? PDX can do it!