Easy hauling

The Retriever, a truck bed made for moving large pieces of industrial and construction equipment, is changing the way leasing companies, contractors and transportation firms do business. The truck bed, available in four different models, can handle loads between 7.5 and 18 tons.

While most large equipment trailers are hydraulic powered, the Retriever is different.

It features a curved truck bed with a ramp that raises and lowers, which allows equipment to drive up. The rear end of the Retriever also lowers, making for a decreased-angle approach, said Joe Simons, president of Waukesha-based Up-N-Atom LLC, manufacturer of the Retriever.

“The bed (and ramp are) air operated, which is unique to our industry,” he said. “This means ours is a no idle system. We have a large reserve air tank added, and as the truck is driving it charges.

“When the driver arrives, he powers down and can go the full cycle of loading and unloading without the engine.”

The Retriever saves two hours of idle time in an average day, or 400 to 500 gallons of diesel fuel per year, Simons said, because the system does not need an engine during operation.

While the Retriever is five to 10 percent more expensive than hydraulic-powered equipment, it provides quick return on investment because of its safety, fuel savings and faster load times, Simons said, because equipment is simply driven onto the trailer.

“With the load time, we can save 15 percent (of a driver’s) time over the course of the day,” Simons said. “And that’s virtually all in the load and unload process. They can make more deliveries in a day.”

Simons formed Up-N-Atom in the mid-1990s to develop the Retriever. At the time, he owned an industrial equipment leasing and transportation company, whose employees frequently needed to move cranes, bulldozers, forklifts and other commercial and industrial equipment.

At the time, Simons had an idea for a better equipment-moving trailer.

Traditional trailers designed for moving industrial equipment operate like large flat-bed tow trucks, Simons said. Those trucks, powered by hydraulics, can be dangerous because equipment moves at steep angles onto the truck bed.

“We were never completely happy with what we used,” Simons said. “At (my former company) we used a hydraulic roll back truck, where the bed tilts up. We had a lot of issues with it – there are lots of moving parts, a lot of maintenance was required and the load angle is very steep. We wanted to get away from those.”

In the mid 90s, Simons began developing prototypes that would become the Retriever line of truck beds. The first models were used in his leasing and transportation business, which he sold in 1998 to actively pursue Up-N-Atom.

The Retriever was first sold to outside customers in 2002.

Today, Up-N-Atom has 11 full time employees. The company currently subcontracts its fabrication, only performing final assembly, installation and testing in its 11,000-square-foot facility. 

Because the company is still relatively small, subcontracting its fabrication makes sense, Simons said. However, he plans to move it in-house in the future.

“We need a laser to make our products, and that’s a $1 million investment,” he said. “It also takes a good size press to form our pieces. I envision when our growth gives us the (sales) flow to justify the equipment to move fabrication in-house.”

Simons believes Up-N-Atom will sell about 100 of its Retriever trailers this year. To make in-house fabrication justifiable, the company will need to triple its sales.

Although it is several years away from moving fabrication into its Waukesha facility, Up-N-Atom will likely need to expand early next year, Simons said. The company will soon add at least one person to its sales staff and plans to hire two to three assembly workers in the fall.

“We’ll be OK this year, but at 100 units we’ll be maxed out here,” Simons said. “If we see (growth) we will have to start looking by the fourth quarter.”

The company’s current facility has possible expansion space, and its landlord has several other industrial properties where it could expand.

Up-N-Atom had record sales in 2006, but slowed in 2007, largely because of changed emissions standards on large trucks, Simons said. The company expects 50 to 100 percent revenue growth this year.

“2008 started slow, but we’ve picked up 12 orders in the last week,” he said. “Our quote and sales activity in the last week has really picked up.”

Some of the growth will come from a new model of the Retriever that the company recently released. Named the Low Rider series, the model’s deck is 10 inches lower than others, allowing oversized loads to travel beneath highway overpasses, Simons said. The Low Rider series is designed for equipment like farm tractors with air conditioning units on top of them, which are difficult to move because of height.

“Those are pretty tall and you’re not able to haul them on a (traditional) flat bed,” Simons said. “With the Low Rider, we can get to legal height with up to a 250 horsepower tractor, and that’s a big piece of that market.”

Up-N-Atom is also working on designs for a new series of trailers it will introduce in the first quarter of 2009, Simons said. The new model will be more lightweight and will be able to carry loads heavier than 18 tons.

“It’s also going to improve our clearances – it will be lower than our standard models,” Simons said. “It’s our goal to show it at The Rental Show (a national trade show) in March in Atlanta.”

Up-N-Atom LLC

Address: 21675 Doral Road, Waukesha
Industry: Trailers for transporting industrial and commercial equipment
Employees: 11 now, anticipating hiring three to four this year.
Revenue growth: 50 to 100 percent by year end.
Web site: www.upnatom.com.

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