TRUSSVILLE, Ala. Fontaine Fifth Wheel and its aftermarket parts company, Fontaine Parts Connection, have moved into a new state-of-the-art headquarters in Trussville, Ala. The new building brings together multiple operations that had previously been spread across three locations in the greater Birmingham area.
“When I joined Fontaine Fifth Wheel in 2007, our corporate offices were in Irondale, our research and development facility was down the street in another building and our distribution center was 40 miles away in Calera. Plus, we were about to move Parts Connection into its own facility,” explains Henry Bell, president of Fontaine Fifth Wheel. “We quickly realized that it would be much more efficient to have everyone under one roof, so we started researching locations and designing a new facility.”
The new energy-efficient building encompasses 50,000 square feet, including office space for Fontaine Fifth Wheel and Parts Connection, distribution centers for both businesses and Fontaine’s industry-leading research and development lab.
“One of the primary benefits of our new facility is that it brings the sales and marketing team together with the research and development team on a daily basis,” Bell says. “New technology drives our success. This arrangement facilitates a regular exchange of ideas, customer input and technical developments at all levels of Fontaine.”
Research and Development
At 9,000 square feet, the new R&D lab is larger and better equipped than the previous facility. It also incorporates the latest safety systems. Customers are welcome to watch testing from the comfort of the control room, which overlooks the lab from behind shatterproof glass.
Fontaine conducts extensive testing on its own new and existing fifth wheels and components. It also performs benchmark testing on competitors’ products. Engineers administer life cycle, ultimate strength, wear, vibration analysis, environmental and corrosion tests. Testing equipment includes dynamic test stands, a static load test frame, single-axis shaker table, lock cycle test stand and corrosion and environmental chambers.
The new lab also features a state of the art 3D printer that allows prototypes to be created directly from Pro Engineer CAD data. This process enables Fontaine to make its own casting patterns for new products, reducing lead times to receive prototypes castings from three months or longer down to just a few weeks. As a result, new product speed-to-market is drastically improved.
“At the end of the day, the mission of the R&D lab is to make sure that Fontaine continues to develop products customers need as quickly as possible, and to ensure that those products are safe,” said Steve Mann, manager of research and development.
The new building incorporates a number of showplace features in addition to the R&D lab, including a product display room and a high-tech conference room. But some of its key design elements are less obvious. In the interests of conserving energy, Fontaine incorporated a number of energy-saving options into the building design. These include tinted windows to keep the building cooler, high-efficiency fluorescent lighting throughout the lab and warehouses, panels in the warehouse roof to admit ambient light and motion-sensing lighting systems in less-frequented areas of the building.