Natural Gas: The Fuel of Today and Tomorrow

One of the biggest recent developments in America—one that has affected industries from energy through manufacturing through transportation—is the natural gas boom.  It has created jobs and spurred an entirely new industry unto itself, and has brought about cheaper consumer electricity. It’s even responsible, in part, for the manufacturing reshoring initiative.

One of the industries in which natural gas is finding a huge place is in transportation—specifically trucking. In fact, it is estimated that by 2020, the global natural gas vehicle (NGV) fleet size will rise by 92%.  At present, the number of NGVs on the road, around the world, is 18.2 million. A recent report predicts that number to become 34.9 million in only seven years.

The U.S. trucking industry—transporting millions of manufactured goods throughout the country—has already begun to jump on board. They are increasingly replacing petroleum with cheaper, cleaner natural gas, and there are currently no signs of this stopping.

Big-name companies around the country are realizing the benefits of this switch. For example, U.P.S. recently made the decision to expand its number of NGVs from 112 to a whopping 800 by next year.  They—like many others—see the myriad benefits: reaping the rewards of federal and state incentives while representing themselves as green to increasingly conscious consumers. And, of course, there are the big-picture benefits: doing the right thing for the planet, and helping to move the country away from oil importing and toward self-reliance.  Finally, it’s good economics: the use of natural gas can save trucking companies up to $1.50 per gallon.

This isn’t, of course, an overnight change, and like all major transformations, it will take time; as of now, there are only 53 natural gas fueling stations in the U.S.  However, Rome wasn’t built in a day, and the momentum here is moving fast and ahead. It will be interesting to track its progress.

Is There Such a Thing as Blue Collar/White Collar Anymore?

In the heyday of manufacturing, there was a distinction between line workers and office workers. The blue collars were generally high school graduates who excelled at their jobs and retired with good pensions. The managerial teams were mostly made up of those college graduates who majored in business.  In the last 30 years or so, many things have changed and the manufacturing model of the past is, well, the past. Today’s manufacturing environment is evolving beyond colors and is ready to be reinvigorated.

Have you heard of STEM?

The Obama administration’s Educate to Innovate campaign aims to increase our children’s math and science achievements. Education leaders realized that our students were weak in areas that would lead to higher-paying, more rewarding jobs in technology fields. In order to strengthen manufacturing and industry in the U.S., STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) education programs were developed to address this need.

Districts across the country are starting STEM schools and programs to focus on, and foster, a love of the sciences at the elementary levels. STEM is an extension of a child’s natural curiosity and having teachers who embrace the sciences should encourage the next generation to pursue careers in technological fields. And, many colleges are starting programs that are designed specifically for specialized technology fields like manufacturing. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, STEM plays a role in the 10 fastest growing occupations.

Can STEM make a difference?

We are already feeling the pinch of labor shortages in the manufacturing industry. There are jobs going unfilled because candidates don’t possess the skills or have the right training. The STEM educational goals should benefit manufacturing directly. STEM concepts are what manufacturing is about: problem solving, exploring concepts and ideas, turning ideas into realities, and making something work. It is the basis of invention and ingenuity that we haven’t truly fostered in our children in decades.

Americans may not currently rank on top in terms of math and science achievements compared to kids in Asia and Europe but we are still free thinkers who can get out of that proverbial box.  Manufacturing today requires computer skills for running automations systems and mechanical skills to create innovative and pioneering machinery. The time is right to make manufacturing a skill set that will lead to worthwhile jobs and STEM education is a great first step.

Pentaflex Attends Spring Trade Show Conferences

Trade shows are an invaluable resource for us in the manufacturing sector. Trade shows are informative—and fun. They bring together industry leaders to share ideas, showcase new products and technologies, and to prepare for the future.

As a central gathering place for an industry, trade shows have a distinct advantage over other forms of information gathering: face-to-face interactions. Building relationships with customers and suppliers that you already know, and meeting new customers and suppliers may lead to additional working relationships. In addition, most trade shows include seminars and workshops that are knowledge building events.  Seminars are led by industry leaders who have industry experience, information, and understanding. It is an opportunity to interact with a full range of experts.

The spring conferences and trade shows focusing on the automotive and heavy truck market continued through the end of April and the beginning of May.  We choose to attend these conferences and shows because they provide suppliers with the opportunity to gain insight on the markets, and upcoming technology advances.

Picture of the Chevrolet Silverado with colors presenting different grades of high strength and ultra-high strength steel used in the vehicle body.

Picture of the Chevrolet Silverado with colors presenting different grades of high strength and ultra-high strength steel used in the vehicle body.

On April 30, we attended the PMA Auto Parts Suppliers Council and the PMA International Business Services roundtable.  At the PMA International Business services Roundtable, Lou Longo of Plante & Moran led an interesting discussion on exporting and importing, reshoring, and affiliation hints for companies new to the international market.  At the Auto Parts Suppliers Council speakers addressed latest contract terms and

conditions practices, and a supplier panel of leading stamping executives, which was facilitated by Craig Fitzgerald, discussed trends and operating metrics they use for their companies.

On May 1, we attended the Great Designs in Steel annual meeting. Seven major steel manufacturers assembled a group of 1200 engineers from the auto industry to listen to presentations on the latest advances in steel materials used in vehicles that are being introduced to the market place, the latest product development success stories, and the latest processes for manufacturing and testing steel.

Finally, on May 2-3 we attended the Heavy Duty Truck Manufacturers Business Council forum. Industry speakers addressed how their companies develop and train employees, and we were informed about the heavy truck market forecast by ACT Research.

There’s a saying: staying still means falling behind. It’s vital to keep up with the trends that drive the market. Showcasing the newest trends, these events highlight the direction the market is heading. Being informed is good business sense.

 

 

 

 

 

Navistar Receives Long-Delayed EPA Approval for New 13-Liter Engine

Navistar International Corp. has announced that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has finally certified that the company’s new ProStar engine line complies with federal law regulating emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOx). The EPA approval provided resolution to the ongoing travails of the truck maker’s proprietary 13-liter heavy-duty, big-bore engines, which were recently converted to selective catalytic reduction (SCR) emissions technology. Navistar will now be able to sell these engines in the U.S. market without paying further penalties to the EPA.

A spokesperson for Navistar (formerly International Harvester Co.) said, “We’ve reached another milestone in our emissions strategy transition and are on track to deliver our first ProStar units with our SCR-based 13-liter engines at the end of April.”

The story behind the EPA’s ruling and Navistar’s decision-making process could serve as a cautionary tale for other vehicle manufacturers. The saga began a few years back when Navistar’s CEO at the time, Daniel Ustian, determined that the company should pursue a strategy of implementing an unproven emissions reduction technology called exhaust-gas recirculation (EGR), in which hot diesel exhaust is cooled to lower NOx tailpipe levels. According to a report in Fox Business News, Ustian believed at the time that EGR could meet the government’s strict exhaust requirements of less than 0.2 grams per brake horsepower-hour (g/bhp-hr) of NOx while also being less expensive to build than the competing SCR technology (used by the rest of the industry). SCR, which filters exhaust through a urea solution, adds about $10,000 to the price of a new truck, but it complies with the EPA requirement and offers truck operators better fuel economy, according to the Fox Business News report.

The problem with Ustian’s plan to grab market share by offering a cheaper engine than the competition ran into a brick wall when Navistar’s engineers were unable to get the EGR system to meet the emission standard. So by last summer, Ustian threw in the towel and opted to purchase SCR components built by Cummins Inc. Navistar then threw in the towel at Ustian, asking him to step down (for multiple reasons). His gamble had cost the Illinois firm an estimated $700 million. Moreover, Navistar’s market share fell during Ustian’s leadership from 21 percent in 2011 to 12 percent in 2012.

The good news to come out of all this is that Navistar has corrected its course and should soon be back on track, using a clean-air system in its heavy-duty truck engines that the rest of the industry has standardized around.

Here at Pentaflex, we’re glad to see the whole matter resolved. Navistar has a rich history in the truck industry, and we are happy to see they are on their way to a healthy future.

Recap of the Spring Trade Shows

2013-03-21_14-49-58_54  One of the highlights of spring is the trip to trade shows and meetings sponsored by the trucking industry. These shows allow companies to gain insight on trends within the industry, as well as future goals.

On March 11 we attended the Technology & Maintenance Council’s (TMC) 2013 Annual Meeting & Transportation Technology Exhibition in Nashville, TN. We kicked off the TMC meeting by attending the Heavy Duty Dialogue (HDD) conference which brings industry leaders and economists together with VP to CEO level executives from supplier companies from the on-highway, commercial vehicle industry.  This conference allows businesses to hear firsthand the condition our industry is in, and the problems we are facing.2013-03-21_17-11-46_473-1

Much was discussed at HDD about the direction of the industry. Class 8 trucks were a hot topic of discussion. Eric Starks, President of FTR Associates remarked that he is “cautiously optimistic” about Class 8 truck sales for 2013 with the market improving in the second half of the year. Another industry leader, Martin Daum, President and CEO of Daimler Trucks North America, reported that “2012 was an extremely successful year for DTNA, but we can do better in 2013.”  With a 44% market share of the North American Class 8 market, Daum feels that it is DTNA’s job to look at the technology of the future. President and CEO Dick Giromini of Wabash National Corp, a leading trailer manufacturer predicted that the trailer demand will remain above replacement levels between 2013 and 2016. This is positive news for the industry.

2013-03-22_11-50-52_319-1After TMC we attended the Mid-America Trucking Show (MATS) in Louisville Kentucky, which gave us an opportunity to hear several leaders in the Heavy Truck industry (at both the OEM and supplier level) talk about business forecasts for the industry and their companies.  Being able to connect with key customers and visits display booths allows opportunities for collaboration. At MATS, Troy Clarke, President of Navistar predicted that as long as manufacturing activity in 2013 continues to trend upward, the requirements to move materials for production will positively impact freight and truck sales.  He said that the three key issues at Navistar were: setting clear goals and metrics to achieve those goals; bringing the new engines to market; and delivering to the budget.  He also stated that the company would make financial progress on a quarter by quarter basis.

Attending these shows allows companies to stay in touch with industry progress to better serve clients. And, doing so at a large, enjoyable show is an added bonus!

Pentaflex: Providing the Most Cost Effective Manufacturing Processes since 1972!

 

Found by Jack McGregor in 1972, Pentaflex excels in stamping and deep drawing of medium to heavy gage metal components.  After working in the stamping industry as an apprentice, and then moving his way up to Sales and Service Engineer, Jack began to notice a need in the market for stamping materials specializing in heavy gage steel. He decided to put his years of experience and expertise to use and started his own company. The name Pentaflex is unique to us and reflects how we came to fruition. “Penta” stands for our five investors and “Flex” specifies how each investor brought a degree of flexibility to the company from each of their diverse professional backgrounds.

East Columbia Street in Springfield, Ohio was the site of our first location. After many expansions we now reside in a new facility in Springfield, located in the heart of the domestic steel industry.  All necessary outside service industries are situated close to the plant including, heat treating, painting, plating, and other related support companies.   This location allows us to be regularly supplied with material from markets in Pittsburgh, Youngstown, Cleveland, Detroit, Chicago, and Kentucky.

Pentaflex is currently a contract manufacturer of metal stampings, weldments, and assemblies primarily in light to heavy gage steel.  We mainly service the heavy truck and trailer industry as a Tier 2 supplier, providing a wide range of stamped metal parts, with materials including carbon steels, stainless steel, brass, and aluminum.

It is our goal to develop the most cost-effective manufacturing process by continuously improving our concepts.  Customer service is extremely important to us and we feel these concepts have allowed us to maintain long-term relationships with our customers. Our professional staff is always here to help. We have a solid customer focused staff and collectively they have over 10 years of experience.  At Pentaflex, there will always be someone to provide knowledgeable information to customers and suppliers. Pentaflex is also TS-16949 certified, which is a specification that controls the development of a quality management system.  This system provides for continual improvement, emphasizing defect prevention and the reduction of variation and waste in the supply chain. Check out our website today to learn more about our quality focus, service orientation and especially for a list of all our products and services.

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