7777 N. 73rd St., Milwaukee
INDUSTRY: Manufacturer of work truck attachments
EMPLOYEES: Approximately 350
If you spot a snow plow this winter trudging along the streets, there’s a good chance its attachment was made in Milwaukee.
Milwaukee-based Douglas Dynamics makes all the pieces needed to create plow attachments for work trucks and several other types of work truck attachments and equipment.
There are an estimated 500,000 snowplows and sand and salt spreaders in service that were made by Douglas Dynamics, according to a recent SEC filing.
“We’re the only snowplow manufacturer that produces our own hydraulic power units,” said Dan Lovy, director of manufacturing. “We pride ourselves that we make our own hydraulics.”
The primary parts of a plow include the blade, an attachment system that has a hydraulic power unit integrated into it and an under-truck mount.
Hydraulic fluid flows through the power unit, which then feeds the cylinders to make a plow move whichever direction the operator desires.
Douglas Dynamics makes several hundred attachment systems every day.
A sheet of steel accepted as part of the company’s morning shipment each day is turned into either a plow or plow attachment within 24 hours of entering the facility.
Every part made at its facility starts out as a raw plate of steel. To create the blade itself, a sheet is rolled to create the curve shape seen on a plow’s blade. A blade is only 1/8 to 3/16 of an inch thick but reinforced by other parts.
Only straight plow blades are built at the Milwaukee facility. V-Blades, which are used to help plow larger areas, are built in a separate location.
The company’s MVP-Plus V-Plow sees the highest demand. While the actual plow blade is made separately, the power unit is still made in Milwaukee.
“We have about 25 different power units, and we make all 25 every day,” Lovy said. “We take all 25 plow systems and we level load those throughout the year, so every day we build a little bit of everything.”
All the pieces that go into the power units are made in the facility’s machining shop. Dozens of different kinds of cylinders and metal parts can be seen at various stations throughout the facility. The Milwaukee location produces 1,500 cylinders a day for various products – not just plow attachments.
“Anything that’s steel or aluminum, if we can make it, we make it,” said Rob Schleicher, business unit manager.
Douglas Dynamics uses a mix of robot and human production to keep up with demand.
“I think we’re at the point where about 90% of our product is built on a robot,” Schleicher said. “If we didn’t have robots, we’d need almost three times as many people welding as we do today. That’s a tough skill to find these days.”
Once a part has been shotblasted to get rid of imperfections, washed and sealed, it is then sprayed with an electronically charged powder coat (in either a red or black color) that is attracted to the metal of the product. This powder coat is used rather than paint because of its durability.
Despite a slow start to the winter season the past three years in terms of snow totals, Douglas Dynamics officials said in the company’s recent annual report that they are seeing increased demand for their products. The company had an order backlog of $126.4 million and $107.1 million at Dec. 31, 2020, and 2019, respectively.
Lovy said the company has remained well-staffed to help tackle the backlog on orders and it hasn’t been too severely affected by the ongoing labor shortage.
Douglas Dynamics recently moved an undisclosed number of members of its upper management team from the company’s plant, located near 76th Street and Bradley Road, to an office space within the One Park Plaza building, located on the city’s far northwest side, to accommodate for a growing number of employees.
The move allows the company’s commercial snow and ice department to take up the office space at the company’s plant location, at 7777 N. 73rd St., and continue to grow.