At Heil, it’s all about aluminium

From an outside point of view, it is a fascinating time to observe a company perform in a new market or one that has a changing political environment. In Thailand, the new parliament has to face the challenge of bringing stability to the kingdom. This has included announcing many proposed changes in legislation including the creation of minimum wages.

But, visiting Heil’s production plant in Bang Pa-In, about 40 km north of bustling Bangkok, is a not-so-turbulent experience. “We already pay an average wage well above the minimum, therefore we welcome the government’s plan to raise the general pay level,” says Jeffrey Edwards, Sales & Marketing Director of Heil Asia. “In fact, there is a positive vibe after the election. The uncertainty is gone and the stock market is booming, so we are expecting a bright future.”

Established in 1995 to enter the Thai and Chinese markets initially with a joint venture partner, CP Corporation, Heil Asia Limited operates as a wholly owned subsidiary of US company Heil Trailer International. Since the branch’s inception, it has become a leading regional force in the supply of aluminium petroleum and dry bulk tankers.

“Anywhere in the world, our product range is designed by engineers, built by master craftsmen and backed by the industry’s best after sales service,” Edwards claims. “We are proud of our people, our work ethic and of course, our product.” It is obvious that all the management are proud of what they have achieved at this manufacturing facility as local Managing Director Somkiat Songsiri gives us a guided tour of the assembly lines and points out some of the unique design features and manufacturing processes that produce aluminium barrels of such world renown.  

Nonetheless, it was an economic adventure to enter the Southeast Asian market. “The local market was new to us, so it was a calculated risk to establish a whole new production site,” says Edwards. “Today, however, we can even imagine a joint venture in China or India, there is much opportunity there.”

The manufacturing facility was modelled on Heil’s flagship factory at Athens, Tennessee, with virtually all plant and equipment imported from the USA. Despite the logistical challenge to set up the branch, the original mission statement was simple. “We simply tried to make it right the first time,” Edwards recalls. “The rest is history.”

Since 1995, Heil Asia’s engineering staff, in conjunction with the corporate research and development team, has custom designed tanks and trailers to all prevailing codes in the region, including U.S. DOT 406, UN/ADR and AS2809. In addition, Bang Pa-In production facility has achieved ISO 9001 status to ensure each tank trailer is manufactured to global ISO standards. Today, Heil Asia Limited is the largest single dedicated aluminium tank manufacturing plant in SE Asia with a formidable manufacturing capacity.

“In the beginning we focused on the SE Asian market, primarily on Thailand, which still accounts for 60 per cent of our business,” says Edwards. “But, we soon  developed other important markets in the region that now enable us to increase our production and our product offering.”

Heil Asia has seen several downturns in various global and Asia Pacific markets in the past decade. “To be less dependent on one target market, we had to look at alternatives to expand our operation. That’s why we decided to enter other markets such as Australia and New Zealand,” he says. But, the re-orientation hasn’t been all smooth sailing. “Australia and New Zealand are a unique business environment, they’re very demanding, which is a challenge – but it’s a good challenge. Venturing into the new markets has widened our client base.”

The foundation of Heil’s success abroad, however, is being laid in Thailand. “The commercial production at our facility in Bang Pa-In is limited to our aluminium dry bulk and petroleum range, although we also offer a stainless steel variant,” says Edwards, recalling the company’s original mission statement. “We don’t have the goal to be all things for all people. We want to be good at what we do, and do it well.”

According to Edwards, producing a modern aluminium tanker is “a science” only few companies in the area are able to master. “The vessel design is the key,” he indicates, “but, we don’t want to reveal secrets that involve custom and practice taking decades to develop by trial and error and field experience.”

One key element of the Heil product, though, is obvious – all Heil heads are TIG welded. “TIG is an expensive procedure, but it can assure the elimination of leaks and weld spatter,” Edwards says. “All aluminium welders have been trained in the US to experience the Heil technique first hand.” 

Having built the first aluminium tanker in 1940, the unique Heil design has constantly evolved. “Through continuous research and development, using 3D design software and finite element analysis in combination with a century of technical experience, we have developed a range of unique solutions to eliminate cracking problems,” he adds, while declining to discuss the construction of a Heil vehicle in detail. Talking about the weight advantage of an aluminium-based tanker, though, more information is forthcoming.

“Strength is not the only advantage of an aluminium construction over carbon fibre or steel. The most obvious advantage is reduced weight. For example, a 35,000-litre aluminium tank trailer will weigh approximately 2,000 kg less than a similarly equipped steel trailer. As gasoline weighs approximately 0.73 kg per litre, a standard transporter can haul 1,817 litres more each trip. Any transport manager can quickly calculate how much that means in revenue savings to his company.”

At Heil Asia, the weight savings are calculated on an aluminium tank and piping. Usually running gear, running gear frame, wheels and axles are all steel. Yet, aluminium options are already available to increase the weight advantage, such as aluminium running gear frames and alloy wheels. “We are also able to design and manufacture a lightweight integral running gear frame in Thailand. Made entirely of aluminium, it does not corrode over time unlike mild steel alternatives,” says Edwards, announcing a true all-aluminium solution.

Gaining renown as the region’s aluminium expert, it is no surprise that Heil Asia continues to grow its presence in the Asia-Pacific marketplace, with sales spread across the region from Pakistan to New Zealand. “It is a continuous learning process, but the result is an impressive production performance. If you place an order today, in most cases the trailer will be built within three and a half weeks,” Edwards promises. “We know that we’re still newcomers after 16 years in the Asia Pacific region, but we are always happy to learn. We pay attention to quality, and listen to what the clientele wants. It’s that simple, really.”

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