BRISTOL — A Bristol manufacturer took a step into the future on Friday afternoon, unveiling a new $25 million, 200,000-square-foot plant that will create more than 200 new jobs. 

Universal Trailer Corp. told a group of more than three dozen people that the new facility — which sits on 43 acres located at 2020 Blakesley Parkway, just south of the Indiana Toll Road and northeast of downtown Bristol — is a cutting-edge example of the future of manufacturing.

Universal Trailer makes towables of all sizes under the Haulmark, Wells Cargo, Featherlite, Exiss and Sooner brands, along with the Haulmark Motorcoach line of motorhomes. As the largest manufacturer of commercial and lifestyle trailers in North America, company officials say the new plant will allow them to be more efficient and produce more products. 

"This was something that came together after two years of development and careful exploration of how the automotive and aerospace industries operate," said Universal Trailer President and CEO Terry Carlson.

Walking through the new factory, most of the production processes are automated, utilizing robots, conveyor belts and cranes to weld and paint steel parts. Tom Holt, category business manager for Universal Trailer, said the new facility revolutionizes the trailer industry by producing trailer kits that are shipped and assembled in other Universal Trailer plants closer to where they are going to be delivered. 

"That saves us on transportation costs. It is more efficient and it allows us to produce higher-quality trailers faster," said Tom Holt. 

Holt said that the production line at full speed can produce a trailer kit every eight minutes and a semi truck can carry 16 to 40 kits at a time. He said that the company expects to have five semi-trailers out delivering product from Bristol at any given time.

The Bristol plant will also fully assemble some models, depending on what the demand is for the trailers in this area. Once production is up to full capacity, Holt said they expect to manufacture over 30 fully assembled trailers per day. 

"This is what the future of manufacturing looks like," he said.

Other innovations for the trailer manufacturing industry at the new Bristol plant include:

• An anti-corrosion dip tank, which covers every part of the trailer with a paint to prevent corrosion.

• The use of roll formed steel that will produce 15 percent lighter trailers.

• The use of automotive fasteners for increased strength.

"We have developed a process that gives people a stronger, lighter trailer and a better value for their money," said Carlson. 

CONTINUED GROWTH

Bristol was far from only community competing for the investment Universal Trailers made with the new plant. Elkhart County and state leaders gathered at the event Friday afternoon and applauded the ability of every agency involved in this project to make sure that the county delivered a package that Universal Trailers could not turn down. 

"This county has always been a destination for building and manufacturing," said County Commissioner Mike Yoder. "This development makes sense in this county because building trailers is in our DNA. If you talk with site selectors they like our area because of our work ethic and because of the ability for local governments and the state to come together to make developers feel welcome." 

Bristol Town Council President Ron Norman said he was excited to see Universal Trailers invest in Bristol and that this will not only add to the town's tax base, but also encourage future development. 

"Our north development park has filled up fast. We probably only have enough space for two more developments in this park," he said. "We have welcomed seven new developments into the community in the last five years. With our prime space along the toll road and the fact that we have rail access, we are seeing a lot of interest in Bristol right now." 

Yoder said that the new facility represented the cutting edge of manufacturing and that it was up to the county to embrace this new wave. 

"The fact is this is where manufacturing and farming are heading," he said.

Universal Trailers said that they still had about 30 positions to fill and that they are accepting applications. For more information on how to apply you can go to www.universaltrailer.com

Follow Ben Quiggle on Twitter @BenQuiggle

(1) comment

what-if

To be competitive, it is inevitable that "most of the production processes are automated, utilizing robots, conveyor belts and cranes to weld and paint steel parts". The good part is that fewer workers will suffer debilitating repetitive motions injuries and physical disability (think medical and disability costs). The bad part is that those who depend on traditional low-skilled repetitive work jobs get lower wages or are unemployable. Even in areas that do not yet have a lot of imports to compete with, well paid jobs now favor workers who who love to learn new job skills. The best workers have learned how to teach themselves. In the past, it might have been enough for schools to teach kids to behave and follow directions. What if we invested enough in teaching salaries so that we had more highly skilled teachers who love to learn how to teach the love of self-learning--not just force feed kids with stuff to pass uniform achievement tests. What would it cost to have schools less like factories that expected uniform results. What if schools were more like places that raised challenging questions. What if schools were places that have opportunities to learn how to learn whatever the student wants to learn. A good example is the 8th grade group at the Goshen Middle School that bought a proposal to the City Council on how to provide wi-fi to the whole city so more kids could learn how to self-learn.

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