Exclusive: Driving innovation with Pierce Manufacturing

February 7, 2024

FSJA explores the technological prowess and strategic innovations from Pierce Manufacturing which are shaping the firefighting industry’s future

Pierce Manufacturing, a key player in the firefighting vehicles market, has established a reputation for innovation and reliability.

Founded in 1913, Pierce started with a focus on more general vehicles before pivoting to firefighting equipment.

Over the years, this Wisconsin-based company has grown to become a leading manufacturer in the industry, consistently evolving to meet the dynamic needs of fire and rescue services.

Renowned for their advanced fire trucks and firefighting apparatus, Pierce’s commitment to quality and customer-focused design has set them apart.

As a part of Oshkosh Corporation, Pierce benefits from a broader expertise in specialty vehicles and access to cutting-edge technology, enhancing its product offerings.

FSJA Editor Iain Hoey sat down with Pierce Manufacturing’s President, Bob Schulz, who took the helm last year for an insightful discussion about the company’s operations, innovations, and future direction.

With nearly two decades at Pierce, Schulz’s tenure as President is not only a new chapter for him but also for the company, as it continues to navigate the ever-evolving landscape of fire and emergency services.

In this conversation, Schulz shares insights on his experience as President, highlighting milestones, the role of technology in fire trucks, the importance of customer feedback in product development, and Pierce’s strategies in facing global market trends.

Can you share what your time as President has looked like since you were appointed last year?

Reflecting on the last year , I’ve drawn greatly from my nearly two-decade journey at Pierce.

This tenure has been supported by invaluable mentorships.

Leading Pierce now, I’m indebted to our exceptional team who are the cornerstone of our success.

We are structured to empower our team, aligning with Oshkosh Corporation’s strategy: Innovate. Serve. Advance.

This framework is our guiding principle and galvanizes our team to propel our strategy forward.

Key highlights so far are the expansion of our production talent pool and significant investments in our business infrastructure.

These enhancements have bolstered our operational capacity significantly over the past year.

We’ve also successfully completed several facility transitions during this period.

We continue to invest in our team and in our operations as well as continuing to invest in innovation and total lifecycle support.

This approach is a reflection of our belief system, aimed at securing long-term success for Pierce, always viewed through a lens of forward-thinking and continuous growth.

What trends do you see emerging in the fire and safety vehicle market?

There are some consistent trends, particularly in safety and operational effectiveness.

These elements have always been the bedrock of our mission and service to our customers.

Our commitment lies in consistently designing, building, and maintaining high-quality firefighting apparatus – a principle we’ve upheld through time.

Recently, we’ve noticed an increasing emphasis on the cognitive load experienced by firefighters during emergency responses.

The deluge of information and demands faced by first responders is enormous.

Recognizing this challenge, we find ourselves in a unique position to offer advanced technologies and information systems designed to enhance service levels and response capabilities.

Addressing the cognitive load on firefighters and first responders is becoming a key focus in our industry, and we are actively working to mitigate these challenges through our innovations.

Have there been any recent technological advancements or innovations that have had a significant impact on the fire truck industry?

It’s important to note both internal and external advancements.

These innovations enhance the experience of our customers as well as the workflow of our team.

We’ve seen significant developments in robotics, 3D scanning software, and the pervasive use of artificial intelligence.

These technological developments have opened up extensive opportunities for us to refine our design processes and manufacturing capabilities, ultimately elevating the overall quality of our firefighting apparatus for our customers.

The accelerated pace of innovation has transformed the way information is shared and the increasing number of devices utilized.

This rapid exchange of data presents both opportunities and challenges in our market, influencing how we adapt and evolve in the fire truck industry.

What I’m getting at is the significant role of real-time information in monitoring the health of firefighting apparatus.

This capability presents the potential for enhanced uptime, a crucial factor in emergency response.

However, the flip side is the burgeoning volume of data and the rise of devices used to access this information, which introduces its own set of challenges.

One notable example is distracted drivers as a growing issue which puts firefighters safety at risk

It becomes our responsibility to develop safer methods of constructing firefighting apparatus and to implement solutions which mitigate these risks.

The core of our approach is to provide more comprehensive, real-time information improving apparatus uptime and supports the operational efficiency and safety of first responders and firefighters.

What role does customer feedback play a role in Pierce’s product development?

Customer feedback plays a foundational role in our product development at Pierce.

We begin every product development process by tuning into the ‘voice of the customer.’ This approach is central to our philosophy.

Our focus is on identifying and understanding the challenges and needs faced by our customers, and then crafting technologies to address these specific issues.

What are the most significant trends shaping the firefighting vehicle market today?

It’s important to consider the broader macro-economic and environmental factors which have shaped the market.

In North America, we’ve observed a marked increase in demand over recent years.

This surge in demand coincides with challenges in the supply chain.

Although the situation has improved, there are still areas which present difficulties.

Additionally, the dynamics of the labor market have necessitated a change in our approach, particularly in enhancing our communication with dealer partners and customers.

This increased level of engagement has become more crucial than ever in navigating these market conditions.

What I’m emphasizing is the necessity for close collaboration with our customers in planning the procurement cycles of firefighting apparatus, especially considering the rapid evolution of the market.

It’s become increasingly important to engage in detailed discussions about their specific configuration needs.

This is in response to the growing demand, which, in turn, has led to longer backlogs.

We’re witnessing shifts in both technology and in workforce dynamics.

These changes call for a broader and more extended planning horizon.

In the context of the complex manufacturing process of fire trucks, how critical is the supplier relationship to Pierce’s overall success?

The relationship with our suppliers is absolutely crucial to the success of Pierce, especially given the intricate nature of manufacturing fire trucks.

The importance of these relationships hinges on the commitments made and fulfilled.

Each step in the planning and building of our apparatus is layered with complexity.

Timely delivery from suppliers is essential.

If there’s a deviation from the schedule, it triggers a cascade of challenges downstream.

While we are adept at adapting and overcoming these obstacles, the essence of our success lies in effective communication with our suppliers and their adherence to commitments.

Simultaneously, we’ve cultivated opportunities to tailor configurations, leveraging our knowledge of supplier performance.

We actively promote and work with suppliers who consistently meet our standards.

We start by addressing the customer’s needs: understanding what they are looking for and the specific challenges they face.

From there, we work together to identify the most effective configuration.

Our dealer partners are central in this process.

They have a detailed understanding of our practices, born from time spent in meticulous planning, active listening, and thorough understanding.

This allows us to guide them in configuring apparatuses which fulfill the customer’s requirements and align with our most reliable suppliers.

This strategy ensures we meet customer expectations while optimizing our chances of success through dependable supplier performance.

How do you see the global fire truck market evolving in the next decade? What role do you anticipate Pierce play in this?

The last few years has taught us to expect the unexpected.

What I can assure is Pierce’s unwavering commitment to our partnerships with customers, dealers, and suppliers.

We are dedicated to our core principles of innovation, quality construction, and sustained support products throughout their entire lifecycle.

We will continue to find creative solutions to solve customer problems and challenges, and we do that by listening to our customers, following through on our commitments, and always operating with integrity.

This article was originally published in the February 2024 issue of Fire & Safety Journal Americas. To read your FREE digital copy, click here.

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