Issue Summer 13
When inventor and businessman Magnus Hendrickson founded his namesake company 100 years ago on May 1, 1913, it would have been hard for him to imagine exactly how successful it would become over the course of the next century.
Hendrickson was an innovative company from the start, but over the years it continued to develop a strong reputation as one of the leaders in heavy-duty truck and trailer suspensions; auxiliary lift axles systems; axles; springs and bumpers for commercial trucking industry.
Today, as the company marks its centennial, Hendrickson holds the pinnacle spot in many of the markets it serves, and President and CEO Gary Gerstenslager says it has every intention of holding onto that position for another 100 years.
Hendrickson’s global footprint includes facilities in the United States, Canada, Mexico, the United Kingdom, Spain, Turkey, India, Japan, China and Australia.
The company’s origins can be traced back to 1913, when Hendrickson Motor Truck Co. was established. The Chicago-based manufacturer that built trucks equipped with cranes to haul stone and other building materials. In 1926, the company developed the first of many innovative additions to the truck market in the form of its first tandem walking-beam truck suspension. The company says the “walking beam” design that mounted the axles on each end of an equalizing beam distributed the truck’s load more evenly and resulted in improved traction and a smoother ride.
As the company continued to gain ground in the suspension industry, Hendrickson drew the attention of The Boler Co., which already owned successful manufacturers of leaf springs and metal bumpers.
The Boler Co. purchased Hendrickson in 1978, and the company’s capabilities allowed Hendrickson to expand its product offerings to include related lines such as trailer suspension systems, auxiliary axle systems, springs, metal bumpers and other heavy-duty truck components. In time, Hendrickson sold off its truck manufacturing operations to concentrate on suspension systems and related business lines, and today this remains its focus.
Gerstenslager says the company holds the leading market position in North America in heavy-duty, tandem drive suspensions for vocational trucks, heavy-duty air-ride suspensions and axle systems for trailers, parabolic tapered springs, and heavy-duty air suspension and mechanical systems for auxiliary axles.
“The fact that Hendrickson has been a successful manufacturer for 100 years is a testament to the quality of the company’s products as well as the quality of its ideas,” he says. “Being successful means that we have good products that lead the industry in technology and creates value for the OEM, fleet and owner operator.”
Being the Best
The reason Hendrickson has been in business for 100 years is simple, Gerstenslager says: “Our products are simply the best available.”
He further states, “the company has devoted considerable time and efforts to making sure our products are the most durable, lightweight and competitively priced in the market.”
Much of that is credited to the company’s manufacturing process, which Gerstenslager says has been completely optimized to produce the best product in the most cost-effective manner possible.
“We started out in the early ’90s with the focus being on quality and consistency, so the first and the hundredth spring or suspension had the same performance characteristics and quality throughout the manufacturing process,” Gerstenslager says.
This has been accomplished primarily through automation, Gerstenslager explains. By automating most of the welding and spring manufacturing processes, the company has effectively removed human error from the production processes. Although Hendrickson’s primary goal was always to improve the overall quality and performance of its products, Gerstenslager says increasing automation had the welcome side effect of reducing production costs throughout its facilities.
“The value we bring to the end-user is really innovated, lightweight, durable ride solutions, allowing the customer to carry more cargo and experience more up-time – all this at a competitive price,” he adds.
Hendrickson’s manufacturing operations are among the most effective and efficient in the industry, but Gerstenslager says the company has never been one simply to rest on its laurels. The company’s biggest challenge, he says, is to stay one step ahead of the competition and maintain its position as one of the most innovative manufacturers in the truck and trailer sector.
“Our history has always been one of innovation and providing unique solutions to the industry, and those are the things we focus on,” Gerstenslager says.
In recent years, Hendrickson has invested heavily in its research and development, opening new laboratories and devoting significant resources to next-generation product development.
One of the most recent examples of innovation in the company’s product line is its PRIMAXX® EX heavy-duty vocational air suspension. Available for commercial and military applications, the PRIMAXX® EX system offers maximum stability and handling, according to the company, while also doing more than other suspension systems to protect the vehicle and driver.
The PRIMAXX® EX system is designed for 100 percent off-road use and features the company’s QUIK-ALIGN® axle alignment system that allows for fast and easy adjustments without the use of shims. The system’s triple-torque-rod configuration reduces stress on the axle and maintenance requirements, the company adds.
Hendrickson also points to one of its road-proven products, known as INTRAAX®, as a primary example of the innovation and skill the company brings to the marketplace. According to the company, INTRAAX is the first fully integrated top-mount air suspension/axle/brake system in the market today. End-users continue to prove INTRAAX’s reliability and performance by piling up thousands of miles on tens of thousands of trailers worldwide every year. INTRAAX is ideal for platforms, tankers, dumps, grain haulers and specialty trailers, according to Hendrickson.
Being an essential part of customers’ equipment isn’t just an aspiration for Hendrickson – it’s the company’s entire mission statement.
“It’s essential for Hendrickson to develop innovative products that fit customers’ unique requirements and make life easier for them and adding to their bottom line,” according to Gerstenslager.
That’s especially true in today’s economic climate, where the company and its OEM customers have to compete with low-cost global manufacturers while also working within the confines of increasing regulations. Although Gerstenslager says the company understands the need for some regulation, it is constantly working to make sure those regulations don’t interfere with its ability to serve its customers throughout the transportation industry.
“The biggest concern we have is keeping [the] U.S. manufacturing base competitive,” Gerstenslager adds. “Some regulations are beneficial while some implemented over the last few years have already had a negative impact on competitiveness. In the end, we want a win-win for us and the customer long-term.”
Looking forward to the next hundred years, Hendrickson is uniquely positioned for growth while continuing to be an innovative and manufacturing leader of ride solutions to the global commercial transportation industry. Hendrickson’s parent company has a great deal of confidence in its ability to expand, and has faith that Hendrickson will continue to be the go-to brand name in the industry for many more decades to come and a market leader in multiple sectors.
“We’ll manage our growth in a number of ways,” says Matt Boler, president and CEO of The Boler Company. “Our philosophy has always been to hire talented people around the globe, invest in state-of-art tools and equipment and empower our associates to do their jobs.
“At the same time, our executive management team at Hendrickson believes in nurturing creativity as well as cutting-edge manufacturing technologies,” Boler adds.
“Finally, our growth strategy is a blend of organic growth by capturing global market share as well as further acquisitions that complement our core competencies,” Boler says.
“I am excited as I look forward to the future and the endless opportunities that Hendrickson is positioned for,” Boler concludes.