The Importance of Streamlining OTR Trucking Manufacturing with Automation and Workholding

Ahaus employee working on manufacturing automation equipment.

Few industries are as essential to the nation’s economy and infrastructure as over-the-road (OTR) trucking. These massive vehicles, traversing highways from coast to coast, form the backbone of the country’s transportation and logistics network. The efficiency and reliability of the OTR trucking industry are vital for ensuring that products reach their destinations promptly, maintaining the continuity of supply chains and meeting consumer demand.

To meet the manufacturing requirements of this crucial industry, companies are increasingly turning to automation equipment and custom workholding solutions. Ahaus has recently partnered with a number of OTR trucking manufacturers to determine how manufacturing processes can be improved, whether by safety implications or efficiency enhancements.

Joe Becknell, Ahaus Sales Engineer, is one of the first points of contact with new Ahaus customers. “In the past year and a half, we’ve been able to do a lot more projects with the over the road trucking companies,” said Becknell. “We help these companies improve their manual assembly process with more automation on their lines to improve efficiency and quality of their product. We can help with simple workholding fixtures all the way up to full automation lines that assemble the whole final component which goes on the trucks.”

Ahaus employee working inside an automation control panel full of controller components and wires.

Becknell highlighted the recent trend of OTR trucking companies transitioning from manual assembly processes to automation. Many manufacturing companies across the U.S. are facing labor shortages, and automating certain processes can help alleviate staffing needs, not to mention improve the efficiency and safety of other employees. The large size of and weight of OTR trucking components means safety requirements have to be as stringent as possible.

There is a lot of consideration into the safety requirements of handling big parts, whether they’re in the automation or not,” said Brian Keiser, Ahaus Director of Sales. “There are always pinch points with automation, but obviously if an operator has access to a large heavy part that’s moving within a system, that pinch point has a greater risk of severe injury versus a small component. The bigger the parts and the larger the equipment, the higher risk there is for severe injury.”

An Ahaus nameplate on the outside of an automation cabinet.Ahaus is in a select group of automation companies that have the technology, expertise, and experience to handle the complexity and risks inherent to this type of manufacturing. Ahaus’s comprehensive approach to quality underscores the company’s commitment to providing end-to-end solutions that meet the safety needs of their clients in the OTR trucking manufacturing sector. Aside from pinch points and the size and weight concerns, there are a number of key challenges in addressing facility concerns and limitations when implementing automation systems. Issues such as uneven floors, inadequate lighting, and electrical challenges are among the factors considered during the initial consultation with clients.

Brent Gard, Ahaus lead toolmaker, elaborates on safety: “We’ll actually look at the design itself and see where safety can be addressed, it’s not an afterthought. The automation lines we produce always have safety features, whether it’s a mesh or metal guarding that goes around the machine itself, or a light curtain. If the operator or someone else breaks the light curtain, the machine will not move. It’s instantaneous.”

When discussing the ideal customer for automation solutions in the OTR trucking manufacturing space, Keiser emphasizes the importance of clients who understand the value of automation in improving their processes, with products in a 5 to 10-year rotation cycle. However, Keiser acknowledges that not all companies may be ready for the switch to automation. Understanding capital investments in equipment and planning for ongoing maintenance and service agreements are important considerations in determining readiness. For companies new to automation, managing expectations and understanding long-term responsibilities are essential aspects of the transition process.

Ahaus employee testing a massive workholding fixture.“Nothing stands still, no matter what industry you’re in,” added Keiser. “Everything is improving and the companies that have an appetite or stronger desire to improve over time or are going to look at automation for continuous improvement at all times. OTR trucks and trailers haven’t changed as much as cars over the last 20 years, but there are some companies that are innovating, providing new technologies. They are leading the way.”

Embracing automation means companies can streamline their production processes, enhance product quality, and stay competitive in a rapidly evolving industry landscape. And as automation continues to evolve, its integration into OTR trucking manufacturing processes will undoubtedly shape the future of the industry.

Enter Ahaus, which has been designing and building automation equipment for more than 30 years. We research and integrate the best components, including feeder bowls, servo presses, laser markers, and conveyors to deliver an optimal automation solution.

Workholding plays a critical role in automation, even if it’s not obvious at the start. This is where Ahaus stands apart from the competition: many automation companies don’t do their own in-house workholding, but Ahaus’s workholding department makes up half its business – they are, in fact, workholding experts.

“You’re always going have to have fixtures out there in the industry because of the different machines, and it’s a rare instance that we get involved in machines where workholding isn’t a part of the project,” Gard added. “We integrate our machines with custom workholding and utilize robotic interfaces to efficiently manage large volume projects routinely.”

Ahaus’s commitment to quality and safety, our years of automation experience, and our in-house engineering, machining, and workholding capabilities make us a uniquely qualified partner for OTR trucking manufacturers.