I spoke with Chief Engineer Dennis Skaradzinski, who's worked for Great Dane for 19 years, six of them at the Brazil plant. Skaradzinski oversees 28 engineers, including project managers and specialists, who all help create different product lines of custom-built trailers within the manufacturing plant.
Brazil's Great Dane Trailers is the biggest plant in terms of product diversity with both dry freight and refers (or refrigerated units). Great Dane has many plants from Pennsylvania to Georgia.
Skaradzinski said within one model year, the plant produced 3,804 refer trailers and six, 936 dry freights. He told me how the engineers are working on setting up databases for each product line to make the process easier, faster and more accurate in the future. He said Great Dane would like to eventually be paperless on the shop floor.
After talking the basics with Skaradzinski, I was sent to the desk of Drew Mumaw, a CATIA engineer, who has worked at Great Dane for more than two years after moving to Brazil from West Lafayette.
Mumaw did his best to explain his job to me, but I have to admit it was incredibly confusing. He tried to simplify the description of his tasks for me, but with no background in engineering, it was hard for me to comprehend. But I did learn that he creates templates, which are made of three things: Dynamic billing material (or in my words a parts list), 2-D drawings and a 3-D digital model. The templates will be used in multiple plants.
Mumaw explained a sales order is the way the sales department and customers communicate with the engineers about what they want in each trailer. He uses that sales order to make his templates, by taking the system codes and building a CATIA model based on each customer's order requirement.
Mumaw works to make the templates fairly general in order to be used for multiple trailer orders.
Another engineer, Ryan Langdon, works to put the unique specifications with each trailer's plan.
He changes any parts out on the 3-D model and changes out billing materials based on specific parts needed.
The computer program Langdon and Mumaw use makes 2-D drawings (like blue prints) and a 3-D digital model for the workers in the plant to use when fabricating the different parts of the trailer.
"It saves a lot of leg work and time," Langdon said. "It's easier to implement standard changes."
Mumaw and Langdon both enjoy their jobs because they like programming, analysis and problem solving -- all things I guess I'm not very good at, because I could never see myself sitting at their desks.
"It's neat to see (the trailers) out their getting built," Langdon said.
Even though I didn't completely understand all the details of their job, I did learn that their jobs all intertwine with every other job at Great Dane. The engineers make the plans so those inside the factory can do their jobs right.
Every job at Great Dane has a purpose and is needed in order to make the trailers and satisfy the customers.
"If one side falls behind, the other side jumps in and helps," Langdon told me.
It seemed to me teamwork is really what Great Dane is all about. Each person -- from an engineer to a maintenance mechanic to a welder to a receptionist -- is a part of the team and is needed to make Great Dane the productive factory it is.