The surrounding production floor booms with the sound of assembly as Terry Planck, Industrial Sales Specialist for E-One, leads us across the factory to the multiple production lines, custom pumpers, industrial rescues, commercial pumpers, and aerials all assembled in a systematic flow across the floor.
The usual tour of E-One’s Florida industrial campus takes at least three hours. The E-One employs more than 800 people manufacturing everything from ARFF vehicles, to highly customized pumpers and aerials.
E-One was founded in 1974 by Bob Wormser, an engineer who believed that aluminum was the material of choice to stop corrosion in fire trucks. From that radical thought, the first modular all-aluminum body for fire apparatus was born.
“When E-One introduced aluminum bodies some in the fire service balked,” Planck said. “Now all the leaders in the industry are providing an aluminum body.”
However, only one other manufacturer builds with extruded aluminum bodies. Most of the other manufacturers build using a formed aluminum body, not extruded.
“We build solid products to withstand the test of time, and extruded aluminum has proven itself time and again.” Planck said.
Despite having proven its point about the durability of aluminum, customers still demand a choice of materials when ordering new fire trucks. E-One apparatus bodies are available in stainless steel as well as extruded aluminum.
For the cab, E-One uses four-sided seamless extrusions interlocked and welded to 3/16-inch aluminum plating. This durable frame minimizes damage to passengers in an accident with a built in roll cage. They can withstand over 5X the static roof load and over twice the fontal impact required by NFPA.
In the body construction, extruded aluminum is also used or stainless steel is an option utilizing 12-gauge stainless steel.
“Until recently, E-One’s aerial ladders were only available in aluminum,” Planck said.
While aluminum still dominates the production floor at E-One’s aerial facility in Ocala, steel aerials can also be seen on the production floor.
“Everyone knows the superior quality of our aluminum aerial ladders,” Planck said. “Look at the thickness of these materials.”
The E-One team takes great pride in using hand-held sanders to give the aluminum ladders their distinctive brush pattern.
Even so, E-One provides a steel aerial option. A separate building is dedicated to the sandblasting, thermal zinc coating and painting of their steel ladders. The new HPS 105 ladder and HPS 100 Platforms are built using a high-strength DOMEX steel and an innovative greaseless roller system.
Again, whether steel or aluminum, every E-One ladder undergoes extensive testing, even before it is married to a chassis. The company maintains outdoor testing facilities at the aerial plant for completed trucks to perform angle and flow testing. Their drive-on tilt table measures 11 feet wide and 40 feet long and has the capacity to handle loads up to 150,000 pounds.
“NFPA requires that you build them to operate at as much as a 26.5 degree tilt,” Planck said.
E-One remains one of the few fire truck manufacturers to engineer and manufacture the cab, chassis, body and aerial in-house. A computer operated milling machine is used in making turntables for the aerial devices, every hole precisely drilled to guarantee a perfect fit.
“We have the latest manufacturing technology,” Planck said. “We pride ourselves on our capabilities to built effectively.”
On the main campus, there is almost as much activity outside as inside. Every bay at the paint shop is filled by waiting apparatus. Technicians polish the welds to guarantee a smooth finish.
The painted bodies are transformed into finished fire trucks as we watch an eMAX pumper undergo construction. The eMAX niche in the fire truck marketplace offers a maximized configuration for fire department needing to replace multiple vehicles with a single truck.
“See how small the pump area is?” Planck said. “It gives you a lot more storage capacity and room for a good size tank.” To be exact, eMAX offers up to 605 cubic feet of storage space with an apparatus configuration designed to offer maximum maneuverability with a short wheelbase.
On one production line, workers are hanging doors on a wetside tanker truck, a style in which the tank is exposed rather than contained inside the truck body. Planck points out a nearby pumper with a low hose bed.
“With all its quality checks done, I’d expect that truck to be off the assembly line by tomorrow,” he said.
After main receiving, the tour moves to the chassis plant. Truck cabs and bodies are married to the particular chassis specified by the customer. The array of custom paint colors now expands to white, yellow and even green.
Planck points out a custom Quest cab, still minus its grill. The hallmark of the Quest design is an expansive 3,728-square-inch, two-piece windshield. This latest version boasts a lower center console and a higher overhead console, increasing the windshield viewing area.
Workers wearing extensive fall protection work atop the new cab, welding structural support.
“Our cab withstands over 5 times the static roof load and over twice the frontal impact required by NPFA,” Planck said. “You’ll notice that cab and doors are built with 3/16-inch aluminum. A lot of people try to make do with just 1/8-inch or less.”
From cab assembly we move to frame assembly. E-One team members thread wire harnesses and air brake tubing through the chassis in preparation to add the motor and cab. Three big cranes come into play, lowering the new components onto the waiting frame.
“In the past, a fire truck equipped with a 3,500-gpm pump required at least a 500-horsepower engine,” Planck said. Today, with emissions controls adding to the strain, the minimum has risen to 600 horsepower.
“You’ve got these big pumps but you still have to keep these engines cool,” Planck said.
Electronics governing engine efficiency is as cutting edge as the electronics controlling the fire apparatus, he said. The technology has evolved to the point that most firefighters are past their concerns about dependability in a critical situation.
“We have been building trucks for over 40 years,” Planck said. “We have mastered the craftsmanship of building quality fire trucks.”