08/23/10 — Company planning expansion in county

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Company planning expansion in county

By Steve Herring
Published in News on August 23, 2010 1:46 PM

MOUNT OLIVE -- Triangle Suspension Systems plans to shift its tapered leaf spring production from Dubois, Pa., to the Triangle plant that opened last spring in southern Wayne County.

The move will mean a $500,000 investment in the local facility, which shares space with IMPulse NC in its building on Old Mount Olive Highway. Both are members of the Marmon Group.

Company officials say the move is related to the recession in the trucking industry, which has led to lower demand for many vehicle components and increased competition from domestic and offshore suppliers. The Mount Olive plant is equipped with larger and more cost-effective machinery, said Harry Pehote, Triangle's vice president and general manager.

The transition will begin late this summer and will take several months to complete. The number of employees affected by this change will depend on future business levels, Triangle officials said. However, the majority of the production in the Dubois plant is for multi-leaf springs, which will not be affected by the change.

Century-old Triangle Suspension Systems has its headquarters in Dubois. It makes leaf springs and distributes a wide array of related suspension components for medium- and heavy-duty trucks, tractors and trailers.

"We feel real good about Triangle Springs in Wayne County," said Mike Haney, existing industry specialist with the Wayne County Development Alliance. "This is the plant of the future. It is high tech and there is nothing else like it out there. Even though the economy slowed it down, they are well-positioned coming out of this.

"We have a good work force for them and the cost factors are going to swing in Mount Olive's favor. We are really looking forward to them being a long-term partner for us."

The eventual number of employees at the plant hinges on when the economy rebounds, plant manager Don Moore said.

"We thought we would be much farther down the road than we are, but we are not," he said. "Hopefully (the economy) will return soon. We are primarily after-market heavy-duty truck springs and we do some OE (original equipment) business, but specific OEs, not general."

The plant is also gearing up for a new product called a "hard turn" spring. The initial tests were conducted at the plant last week.

"There are two people in the country who do it," Pehote said. "One of them does it for the OE, the actual truck builder. Then there are two of us in the after-market that do it. The main difference is that this is a state-of-the-art plant. The equipment is state-of-the-art and the processes are lean and the people have been trained specifically for this product line whereas our competition makes three different product types all in the same factory.

"We have separate factories devoted to separate product lines. When we built this plant, it was the exact right decision at the wrong time. We got approval to build the plant about a day before the economy went downhill. We have had to struggle through the last two and a half years through the poor economy, poor sales with a brand new plant and a lot of overhead."

As such, the plant has not ramped up as the company had intended to, he said. The plant is using a skeleton crew, he said. But they have been "well-trained and know what they are doing," Pehote said.

Plans are for the plant to being making springs with a parabolic bend. The parabolic (curved) profile is used for a variety of springs the company manufactures.

"So what we are doing here is to create a plant to do all of the high-tech springs," he said. "When I say high-tech, it is very high tech to get that parabolic profile exactly right. It is a computer-controlled system. You have to program the machines to do the parabolic profile correctly. You have to maintain the machines to do it correctly. There are a lot of high-tech pieces behind the scenes that you don't see. All you see is hot steel rolling in and out of the mill."

The plants where the parabolic profile springs are currently made are a century old and inefficient, he said.

While it has the high-tech equipment, it is "spread out all over the place," he said.

The equipment will be better-situated when it is moved to Mount Olive.

The move also will mean some increase in employment, Pehote said.

"Right now we do not know how much. It may be as little as two people. It may be as many as six. Our piece of the business has still not picked up. The economy has not picked up to the level where we require more than one shift," Pehote said.

"Down the road, if we get back to the volumes we were at in 2006, the intention was for this plant to have around 106 people," he said. "But we are a long way from that and it is a long way from three shifts, 24-hours-a-day, five days a week. However, we are confident that once the economy recovers trucks will start to move again. When they move they break suspensions and that is what we are here for, supply new ones."

Pehote praised Wayne County, its work force and the Wayne County Development Alliance.

"I would recommend it to any manufacturer, company that I know of if they were looking for a new site," he said. "The whole county and the state have been more than helpful getting us started here. I wouldn't have expected what they did for us."

Triangle also supports the county's WORKS imitative program.

"They learn quickly and they are smart people," Pehote said. "This looks like grunt work, but it isn't."

For example, employees have to read blueprints to make the springs and used micrometers and tape measures to ensure the product meets its specifications.

"We didn't have to teach them," he said. "The education system here in Wayne County and the community college or wherever they came from. WORKS for me is one of the major things for industry down here. I am real impressed and so is our upper management."