Made in Eastern Iowa: Making truly 'XL' trailers in Manchester

By  | 

MANCHESTER, Iowa (KCRG) People get larger. Cars get larger. Trucks get larger.

XL Specialized Trailers, of Manchester, is the second-largest manufacturer in customized heavy-haul trailers.

Same for trailers.

XL Specialized Trailers opened in Manchester in 1995.

"The capacity of the trailer gets a lot bigger," said Jeff Ingels, vice president of business development. "We started out making trailers that haul about 70,000 pounds. Now we build ones that haul 185,000 pounds."

It's within that 90 tons maximum load that a couple hundreds workers at XL help in the mission of manufacturing high-end trailers.

Ingels said "everything" for XL is made at the facility in Delaware County.

The process is also curious to watch.

"Everything basically starts out as a blank piece of steel," said Luke Livingston, the vice president of operations. " We’re highly-vertically integrated, which means 90 to 95 percent of every part in our custom trailers starts out as a blank piece of steel. It comes in on a truck, we get deliveries every morning and goes directly from there into our plasma tables, our parts are cut, taken off the plasma tables and kitted. Everything is 100% kitted to the next operation."

Being a custom plant, making a trailer to order, Livingston said XL doesn't keep much inventory, which keeps the entire operation a little more efficient.

"We’re very proud of our processes and we feel we’ve pioneered lean manufacturing in a large job shop and have used a lot of that to become more efficient," said Livingston.

As the steel forms into the final trailer, workers add the air, electric and build the hydraulics. Paint comes into the mix, making the raw trailer look more and more like the final result.

Livingston also noted some of the more distinctive elements that people will spot on the trailer.

"We use apetong, a southeast Asian wood, and it's extremely hard and you don't want to put a nail into it," said Livingston. "This is called white apetong. Not just the tone but also the grain."

The company website says XL Specialized Trailers started with an acronym of "WTTBAMIJALBB" to mean "we took the best and made it just a little bit better". After founder George Wall started the company in 1995, it remained in family hands for nearly decades.

In February 2016, the company announced Bull Moose Industries, a manufacturing group, had purchased XL.