Metalfab Fire Trucks managing supply chain, expanding reach
Posted on October 19, 2021 | By Ashley Fitzpatrick | 0 Comments
The chassis arrives from Freightliner. Metalfab Ltd. sales manager Ryan Stacey says starting with the cab and chassis rails, the next step in making a fire truck is a build-out of the body. And on any given day, Metalfab has seven or eight fire trucks at some stage of the detailed construction process in its two buildings in Centreville, N.B.
“We will build the body out of aluminum is our standard material,” he said, on a recent call with Atlantic Business Magazine. “We’ll mount the pump, do all the plumbing, all the wiring, all the electrical here, install the lights. You know, we’ll customize the truck by compartmentation, shelves, trays. If there’s certain items a (fire) department has to store in the truck, we’ll work with them to make sure there’s accommodations.”
Metalfab builds roughly 40 to 45 trucks a year now. It’s a steady business that didn’t slow through the pandemic but, Stacey said, picked up instead.
“We don’t really know why it is,” he added, explaining the rather niche industry of emergency vehicles had leaned heavily on the convention model for meetings and sales. There was a thought a full stop on conventions would translate to a crash in demand. But part of the reason why the business remained steady state may be tied to a quick pivot to more phone calls, Zoom sessions, “a lot of virtual meetings.”
Sustained demand could also be tied to the nature of the product, including the fact fire trucks are long-lead items where purchases tend to be long-planned. “Usually it’s a couple of years for a department from when they know they need to replace a truck to when they purchase it. It’s 12-14 months once we get the order to build it,” Stacey said.
The average lifespan of a truck is 20 to 25 years. And Metalfab, with its 50 or so employees, remains a contact for the fire departments and their staff – often volunteer fire departments – for the entire life of the vehicle.
Fire trucks are ultimately built of many parts, sourced from a long supplier list. Stacey said Metalfab can attest to the supply chain challenges larger manufacturers are facing in Canada at the moment, tied to select shortages in components and snarls in the global supply chain. He said there was some troubles felt at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, but it now feels magnified.
“We’re getting emails on a daily basis on price increases, part shortages, things being late delivered to us. Because a fire truck is a complicated product with a lot of purchased parts from several – many –suppliers, it’s a juggling act for us to keep everything going on schedule,” he said.
It’s not unlike stories being shared throughout the Canadian manufacturing base and something, as deputy prime minister Chrystia Freeland has said, the Government of Canada is paying close attention to, with related discussions at meetings of the G7, G20 and most recently of central bankers at the fall meeting for the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
Speaking to reporters in Washington, D.C., Freeland said the government is “mindful” of the current challenges from an uneven restart in the global economy, being complicated by the latest wave of the pandemic. “Broadly, I am optimistic about the strength of Canadian economic recovery,” she said.
From the company’s manufacturing base close to the U.S. border, Stacey said Metalfab is similarly optimistic in its thinking and looking ahead to when the waters will calm. Exactly how long it will take is uncertain, but the company is positioning to grow, with dealers in Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and New York State, and a base in Ontario with a recently signed dealer focused on sales West to British Columbia. “We have a solid base in the Maritimes and Ontario, but we’re looking at different areas to expand,” he said.
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