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Fire Industry Today: Know Your Manufacturer, What to Look for in a Fire and Emergency Manufacturer

Issue 9 and Volume 25.

By Cal Kanowitz

Operators of fire and emergency vehicles have a great deal of responsibility and stress on a day-to-day basis.

Whether they’re putting out fires or transporting someone in need of medical assistance, their focus must remain razor sharp to effectively get the job done and keep all those involved safe. That’s why it’s critical to supply them with reliable equipment built for their specific needs.

For a buyer, it’s not always easy to find a suitable manufacturer that will get your job done according to your unique situation. As you work with a manufacturer to develop new fire and emergency vehicles, you’ll want a good understanding of the company’s operation.

Here are some qualities to look for in a manufacturer that can lead to a beneficial and lasting partnership.

Manufacturers should have the engineering capabilities to create vehicles suited for the unique needs of each buyer and operation. (Photos courtesy of author.)

1 Manufacturers should have the engineering capabilities to create vehicles suited for the unique needs of each buyer and operation. (Photos courtesy of author.)

A History of Government Contracts

There is only so much you can learn about a manufacturer by reading its Web site or asking for referrals. To truly know what a manufacturer is capable of, you must first sit down with the company’s leaders and ask about the jobs they have completed in the past. This will provide insight into the company’s capacity and its ability to complete sizeable contracts with products that meet required standards.

Regular fulfillment of government contracts is crucial in the fire and emergency market. Manufacturers with a proven track record of government contracts know how to navigate the specific procedures and standards required for completing such work, and they understand the urgency often associated with these jobs.

When a fire or emergency vehicle needs to be fixed or replaced, you can’t afford to waste time getting it back on the road. Because of their importance to the community, these vehicles need to be delivered quickly and on time, so you’ll want to look for a manufacturer with a history of delivering on government contracts with strong lead times and a high on-time percentage.

Custom Engineering and Design Capabilities

Once you have an understanding of a manufacturer’s past work, learn as much as you can about the company’s engineering capabilities. A manufacturer should provide access to its engineering team early in the conversation to explain the company’s engineering and design process and how it can overcome customization challenges. Every buyer in the fire and emergency market has its own requirements for how a vehicle must function, so finding a manufacturer with the ability to engineer solutions tailored to meet those requirements is essential.

Preferences for equipment placement, seating arrangements, storage compartments, and more can greatly impact the overall design of a vehicle, so a cookie-cutter approach doesn’t always work for these vehicles. A good manufacturer should be able to design, redesign, modify, and change things for customers as needed.

A Lean, In-House Manufacturing Process

It’s also important to understand how much work the manufacturer will complete in-house for your order. Manufacturers in this market understand the challenge of producing custom equipment, which is why many of them turn to original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) for jobs that carry unwanted overhead. If much of the work is outsourced, you could end up with additional costs, longer lead times, and quality issues. If your manufacturer is going to outsource, make sure you understand what it is outsourcing so you are comfortable with the process and product you receive.

That said, the more a manufacturer can do on site, the more likely you are to receive a finished product that satisfies your needs and doesn’t have problems that affect the overall performance and safety of the vehicle. A lean manufacturing process that can handle tasks such as metal fabrication and proper painting and coating is one sign that the manufacturer can deliver your order as complete as possible with limited outsourcing.

Current Quality Management Standards and Certifications

Look for a manufacturer that has the most current quality management certifications, particularly International Organization for Standardization 9001:2015. This standard is one of the most widely recognized quality management standards in the world, and the current version has been in place since 2015.

Manufacturers with limited outsourcing help prevent additional costs and quality issues.

2 Manufacturers with limited outsourcing help prevent additional costs and quality issues.

Quality management systems that are updated to the current standards and certified welders are signs of a reliable manufacturer

3 Quality management systems that are updated to the current standards and certified welders are signs of a reliable manufacturer.

Keep in mind that manufacturers are not required to achieve the most current version of this certification, which means some may hold certifications from 2008 or earlier. Manufacturers that update their quality management systems every time a new standard is released show their commitment to continued improvement in their operations.

Additionally, manufacturers should have welders who are certified based on the materials they are working with. An indication of this is if a manufacturer has a certified welding inspector on staff. The welding inspector oversees all welders and makes sure they are qualified to American Welding Society standards and passing welding inspections. Welders should be regularly tested to make sure their skills match the work they’re completing so the finished product is safe for the operator.

A Low Warranty Claims Percentage

Although the occasional warranty claim is unavoidable, claims on fire and emergency vehicles should be rare. Every time a vehicle is pulled from the streets, especially in cities with limited resources, the safety of the community is compromised, and money is lost.

Inquiring about a manufacturer’s warranty claims percentage can help you gauge the reliability of its work. Ideally, a manufacturer should have a warranty claims percentage of less than one percent. This figure provides assurance that the company is producing quality products that are less likely to have problems when they hit the street.

Repeat Customers

Another way to build your confidence in your manufacturer is to ask about repeat customers. If low warranty claims are an indicator of quality products, then repeat customers are an indicator of a quality experience. Manufacturers with a high percentage of repeat customers generally know how to take care of their customers and build long-term relationships that are beneficial to all parties. By creating a lasting partnership with your manufacturer, you can plan for consistent service and products.

Transparency

As you prepare for your first meeting with a manufacturer, remember that it is not required to share all this information with you. If it doesn’t want you to know its warranty claims percentage, it doesn’t have to tell you. This is not to say it does bad work, but with most successful partnerships, communication and honesty are key. A manufacturer that is willing to share this information and regularly provide access to its team for open discussions will allow you to make the best decisions for your operation and team members.

Who’s Your Manufacturer?

For your operators to get maximum use out of the equipment you are buying, you must do your due diligence when choosing your manufacturer. By finding established partners and asking the right questions, your team can become a part of the process and help create equipment that allows your operators to be safe and efficient, which should be the primary goal for everyone involved.


Cal Kanowitz is the marketing and dealer development manager at Marion Body Works, where he guides brand strategy and promotion. Kanowitz has worked at Marion for more than four years.