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Indiana Phoenix

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Indiana Phoenix is a manufacturer of custom-built front discharge cement mixers and glider trucks. Its size places it in a unique position in the industry. We spoke with its General Manager Dane Keener to find out more.
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Indiana Phoenix was started in 1991 by Terry Zimmer, who owned it until 2000 under the name Phoenix Industries. It moved to Ashlee, Indiana in 1998 but business started slowing and Terry eventually dissolved the company, which was bought by a group of investors in October of 2000.

“At that time they renamed it Indiana Phoenix and focused on new trucks and gliders, and we have been in business ever since. We’ve gone through a lot of different cycles – ups and downs – especially when the recession hit. We built a total of twelve trucks in two years, and it was really tight for a long time,” says Dane.

Over the years, the number of people involved at the ownership level dwindled to two, and in 2015, it became a one-owner company under Carl Stockberger. Dane tells me that this was a positive change and made the company more agile.

“When it comes to making decisions, you make them fast, and you make them right and move on with life. Getting things done through Carl is a lot more efficient. The two previous owners argued over things a lot, and that slowed down the progress,” says Dane.

Today, Indiana Phoenix builds both new trucks and gliders – trucks built from a mix of new and used components – and competes with companies like Oshkosh in building front discharge mixers. Oshkosh is a publicly traded company, with more employees, so different rules are at play. A small business designation was awarded to Indiana Phoenix through the EPA which allows this privately held entity to keep building gliders while governed by fewer rules than the competition. This has given Indiana Phoenix some breathing room, can change over the next few years with any new EPA rules.

In keeping with the current EPA regulations, Indiana Phoenix has to ensure controlled growth. “The EPA will dictate to us what our maximum production capacity can be for that specific product. For gliders, we can build up to 152 per year, as opposed to the past, when there was no limit,” says Dane.

The primary focus now is on serving existing customers while working toward becoming a more prominent manufacturer of new trucks. This is a pressing concern because by 2021, all of the gliders have to have engines that meet new emissions standards. At that point, the glider is not going to make any sense from a financial standpoint since no one is going to pay extra for a new engine while reusing old components.

Currently, the gliders reuse seven of the large components: axles, engine, transmission, drum drive, hydraulic pumps, tires and wheels. The parts are reused because these make up the largest costs in a truck, and the components that Indiana Phoenix uses are built for a million-mile machine, such as over the road truck mixers. Other companies can manufacture gliders, but since they do not have that small business provision, they are not allowed to install older engines in gliders, whereas Indiana Phoenix can. Everything else on the trucks is brand new.

Diesel particulate filters eliminate soot from truck exhaust, and some are intended to be scrubbed of the accumulated soot by burning it off in a process known as filter regeneration. Regeneration, or ‘regen’ as it is less formally known in the trucking industry, happens when the truck is driven at highway speeds, increasing the temperature of the exhaust and burning off the amassed particulates from the filter. For trucks that see more use in urban areas, an occasional higher speed trip may be necessary when the regeneration warning light activates.

“I had a customer this week, and we were talking about the new EPA 2017 engines. He was asking me about the regen system in them. Terex doesn’t have an inhibit switch in the truck, and ‘Why do you guys have one in yours?’” says Dane.

An inhibit switch is used to stop filter regeneration and is used in situations in which a hotter exhaust is undesirable or even unsafe. The regeneration can then be done later by driving at highway speed or by performing what is known as a forced regeneration or ‘forced regen.’ In this scenario, the RPM of the engine is increased while the vehicle is still parked.

Dane told him that a lot of the time a forced regen happens more than a road regen, just because of the way the engine runs in vocational trucks. These are trucks with specific functions that often involved being parked with a running engine such as cement mixers, fire trucks or garbage trucks.

“I said, the amount of time the truck is just sitting there running idle or sitting off road waiting to go to a pour, it’s not on the road; it’s not driving or building enough heat to accomplish the regen. You’re going to run into scenarios where the after treatment will overload, and a parked regen is necessary. That’s just the way the vocation is,” says Dane.

Indiana Phoenix has added an experienced salesperson on the East Coast. It previously had a salesman in the South, but some new blood was needed in the organization. There are three salespeople altogether, and Dane has noticed that the company has been getting a lot more client coverage than from previous sales teams.

“By coverage, I mean, getting out and actually seeing the customers. All three of our guys have multi-state territories. We require that, if working in sales, you have to be on the road at least three out of four weeks of the month. They are visiting customers and prospecting new customers to call on as well,” says Dane.

The number of trucks that can be sold by the sales force is determined by territory. For the first year, the figure is a little lower so as to not to set unrealistic expectations. The goal for the sales team is to sell at least fifty trucks per territory, and currently, everyone seems to be on pace.

The website is being refurbished after being neglected for a number of years. Dane has been the acting general manager for over four years, and some updates have been done in that time, but there is still work to be done. The aim is to add to its parts sales with aftermarket parts advertising.

“We want to showcase our refurbished products. There are a lot of additions, and I want to make it a better fit for what we are doing today versus what was going on five years ago. It should be completed by the end of August,” says Dane.

One product that is being phased out is the specialty chassis line. Some are still being manufactured; however, the focus is on mixers now. The rear discharge trucks that were once a staple of the company are no longer a part of the Indiana Phoenix portfolio.

In the next five to ten years, Dane expects the company to grow and double its production. Parts sales are definitely going to increase due to the number of trucks being put out.

“We are at $28 million in revenue presently, and the hope is to reach approximately $60 million in the next ten years. I don’t think this is too lofty a goal, based on what we are seeing in the market. As long as the economy stays on track, and houses are being built along with improvements in infrastructure, we will reach that goal,” says Dane.

There are potential issues. The industry is bracing itself for added EPA restrictions. From a manufacturing perspective, redesigns have had to be done on all the trucks, to comply with regulations. Anytime there is a change in EPA emissions rules, it affects everything from tires to engine installations. However, Indiana Phoenix is adaptable to the regulations as they come.

Indiana Phoenix is investing in the company and working to reduce labour hours to be more competitive in the market place. “This is always a challenge, but it’s a good one to have, and it will be a lot better once we are done. There will be some difficulties along the way, but we will be okay,” says Dane.

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September 25, 2018, 4:06 AM EDT