Ok, that title made you click, didn’t it? I confess it’s a little misleading. True, I DID just get back from an event where the major fire service media were shown a sneak peek at Pierce’s latest innovation, which will be unveiled in a matter of days. However, I also had to agree not to disclose any details until that official unveiling. Well, that’s not entirely true—Pierce did tell us that we were allowed to share three details: it’s a new product, it has to do with increased space in the cab, and it promises to deliver more visibility.

A Pierce employee explains the process for producing the lettering on Pierce trucks. The company uses real gold in its Gold Star, a painstaking process that takes hours for each set of letters.

Think red is red when it comes to painting fire trucks? Think again. 

The metrics board in the cab assembly area. The Pierce plant contains dozens of these boards, each measuring aspects of performance for a particular area. A large board at the front of the facility tracks overall progress.

The body of a vehicle is prepped for painting. The paint room is set on a large grate, under which water flows. Excess paint is captured in the water and filtered for reuse. 

After parts are painted, they hang for drying and await the next step.

Testing on complete apparatus includes a high-pressure wash to ensure that there is no leakage.

A new piece of equipment, the water jet is used to cut aluminum.
So, because I can’t share more details with you until March 24, I thought I would share a few photos and impressions from the tour we were given of the Pierce and Oshkosh facilities (unfortunately, photos aren’t allowed at Oshkosh due to the military contracts it fills). Watch for my blog that will be posted on March 24 at 2 pm for more details on Pierce’s new product; we’ll also have some information in the June issue of FireRescue.

The Pierce Experience
Pierce is known for its world-class facility, but knowing that and experiencing it are two different things. This was my first trip to the Pierce facilities; those of you who’ve been there multiple times to inspect or pick up a truck are most likely used to the attention to quality and detail. Here are a few things that struck me.

In every area of the Pierce facility, large boards outline various metrics that define how the operation is proceeding. They call it “One System, One Team, One Oshkosh,” and it drives everything they do. These displays change frequently and employees’ attention is brought to them daily so that inefficiencies and errors can be dealt with quickly. Each area, such as the cab assembly area, has its own measurements, which then roll up into the large board for the entire facility. You literally can’t miss these boards, as they’re everywhere, providing a constant reminder to employees about continuous quality improvement.

Our tour guide had about as much to say about what’s changing at Pierce as he did about the current setup. Describing a particular station on the line, he’d say, “Four weeks from now, this won’t be here.” Showing us on-floor warehousing of parts and supplies, he described how in a few months all of that would be gone, stored off-site as a new system of providing needed supplies to the line takes over. The overall impression: No one at Pierce is comfortable with the status quo. They’re focused on how they can do things better, faster, more efficiently, and they’re not afraid to make sweeping changes to how the factory is laid out.

After what you just read, you might have an image of a sleek, well-oiled factory with a fast-moving assembly line and robots everywhere performing specialized tasks. In fact, I was impressed with how much the Pierce operation is driven by people—highly skilled individuals who are much more than just cogs in a giant wheel. I saw only two robots in our entire tour. Instead, people were everywhere, bent over welding, meticulously stripping masking tape off of painted parts, assembling instrument panels and pump panels by hand.

Indeed, this makes perfect sense: Pierce specializes in custom fire apparatus; much of what they do can’t be done by machines, and that’s why it’s so special. Still, this was in direct contrast to the Oshkosh facility, where, although still largely operated by people, a more traditional moving assembly line drives the production, and you observe the perfect order of a factory where everything has a place.

Customer Focus
I tried to think of a more clever subhead for this, but I couldn’t. Put simply, I don’t believe anyone could visit Pierce and not come away with the overwhelming impression that the customer is king. Because of their customization, Pierce prides itself in being able to respond to customers’ needs. A mechanic from Fairfax County who was there for a vehicle inspection told us how he’d mentioned the need for a part (on a vehicle back home) to a Pierce technician, who designed and produced it overnight, so that the customer would have it to take back with him the next day. Pierce also is working on the second version of its ePickup application, which allows customers who are doing a vehicle inspection to use a Panasonic Toughbook and, walking around the vehicle, mark up on the handheld exactly what they would like to change.

Not everyone in the fire service has the opportunity to visit manufacturer facilities—even if you ride in a Pierce apparatus, you might never get there. But if you can, I highly recommend it. Visiting any manufacturer facility is a great way to determine whether they are a good match with your department. And it would serve any apparatus manufacturer well to be as open and inviting as Pierce.

So let this be just a little peek into what Pierce has to offer—and stay tuned for that sneak peek into their latest pum—I mean, product.

Shannon Pieper is senior deputy editor for FireRescue magazine.

Copyright © Elsevier Inc., a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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