The automotive manufacturing process involves a lot of moving parts, and a maker can quickly find itself in the weeds if it tries to manage all aspects on its own. Solutions provider Leadec Industrial Services specializes in providing skilled staff to meet a broad range of needs. “We do the work that our customers may not have the time or expertise to do themselves, ” says Steven Bentley, vice president of engineering and project services. “We design custom solutions which varies from plant to plant.”
Leadec is the latest incarnation of Voith Industrial Services, an automotive industry support company with more than 50 years of experience. In late 2016, Voith sold its Industrial Services Group Division to Triton, a private equity firm. The purchase combined a host of capabilities and groups, including Voith Industrial Services’ subsidiary, the Alabama-based Helix Systems Inc.
Helix operates several site offices in Alabama, with locations in Lincoln and Vance, a corporate office in Bessemer, and additional site offices in Knoxville and Chattanooga, Tennessee. “Bringing the companies together allowed them to complement each other, ” says Bentley.
Leadec specializes in ancillary processes, providing a range of production, facility and supply chain services in support of their client’s primary purpose. “We’ve created an organization to address a lot of different needs, ” says Daniel Diehl, vice president of sales. “We can deliver on-site support all across the U.S.”
In the U.S., Leadec employs around 3, 300 full-time personnel, with 3, 100 of them working in on-site projects. Leadec totals nearly 16, 000 employees worldwide, with a presence in North and South America, Asia and Europe.
With its immense range of personnel and capabilities, Leadec develops highly customized strategies depending on a customer’s needs, and can work within the space and time constraints presented by each project. “There’s no cookie-cutter approach, ” says Bentley. “We pride ourselves on knowing our customers.”
Leadec offers automation support with an emphasis on electrical engineering. The company can provide an automated system’s electrical design, programming, switchgear construction, installation and commissioning, as well as any online or offline maintenance it may need.
“Over my 10 years here, I’ve seen customers begin to ask more for process equipment maintenance, ” says Bentley. “Now we’re getting closer to the heart of the manufacturing plant.”
Maintenance services extend to production equipment at large, including tracks, skids, lifters, robots and more, from the beginning to end of the production process. To avoid interrupting normal operations and to minimize facility downtime, Leadec plans maintenance around the customer’s schedule. “We work in adaptable situations, ” says Diehl. “That often means doing this work on holidays and weekends. It’s all to avoid long shutdown periods and to make things optimal for the customer.”
Teams also offer technical cleaning services to ensure operations continue without obstruction. “We have crews on-site to ensure everything is spotless, ” says Diehl. Techniques vary by project, and the cleaning equipment for each item depends on their qualities and the extent of cleaning necessary.
Leadec employs specialists with a thorough understanding of the departments they work within, allowing for precise and customized cleaning based. These specialists use a variety of techniques including a dry ice method, which can gently clean a range of equipment both economically and with low environmental impact.
If a customer needs to relocate machinery, Leadec can transport the materials from one site to the next, handling all the logistics, disassembly and setup. “We’re a general contractor with the capability to do all that ourselves, ” says Diehl. “We can rig and relocate plant equipment, from breakdown to transport to installation and ensuring that everything’s working again.”
Transport capabilities extend to internal movement as well, including inter-plant transport of materials, spare inventory and parts management, empties cleaning and handling, and more.
Leadec can deploy technical specialists to perform maintenance on entire buildings, overhaul plants or provide electrical services. The company offers installation of both the electrical cables and control cabinets needed for production. Engineers can plan out the production of major manufacturing aspects like assembly lines, and develop whatever technology is needed to bring its automated systems to life.
Manufacturers may opt to leave some assembly duties to Leadec’s on-site teams. Capabilities include door, exhaust, wheel, tire and chassis component assembly, as well as preparation of modular parts like struts and axles. Services continue as vehicles roll off the line, as Leadec can provide vehicle inspection, loading, transportation and delivery.
Prior to the new branding, Leadec has served a host of major automotive makers. In 2014, Helix was selected by Mercedes-Benz to handle facility modifications at its Vance, Alabama, plant’s paint shop.The multi-million dollar project was a turnkey conveyor installation and automation job, demonstrating the company’s aptitude in a variety of fields, including engineering, fabrication, project management, and installation.
“It was a major project that required detailed planning, ” says Diehl. “We were able to move the skid stacker over the plant’s winter shutdown, and we completed the new mezzanine while the line below was in production.”
The following year, the on-site team relocated two additional stackers in the plant’s Body-to-Paint system over a long weekend. The final phase of the project involved an overhaul of the transportation of vehicles from the body shop to the paint shop. The team modified the existing conveyors, extended the mezzanine and installed an empty skid return below. Staff worked around regular plant operations until winter shutdown.
Bentley was tasked with integrating Helix Systems into Voith’s operations in 2014. He has worked with Leadec for 10 years as of this summer, initially joining as general manager of Voith’s North American operations. “When I started here, a lot of our services focused on the paint shop, ” says Bentley. “That was 2007, and the automotive industry went through changes along with the economy of the time.” As the industry recovered with a greater emphasis on automation, Leadec was called upon to provide support for production systems. “Customers have redefined what they see as their core business, ” says Bentley. “We evolve as our customers’ needs evolve. We grow and move with them, so in response, our emphasis has shifted to support and maintenance.”
As skilled tradesmen become increasingly scarce in today’s workforce, Leadec prides itself on sourcing the right personnel for any field.
Team members are matched with projects based on their skills. After personnel have been selected, the customer may review incoming staff to ensure a proper fit. “It’s up to us to make a good match between clients and personnel, ” says Diehl. “By providing clients with the right people, we free up their staff to stay on their own tasks. We help them remain focused on their jobs and pursue their goals and ideas.”
Since Triton’s purchase of Voith Industrial Services, Leadec has operated as an independent service provider. The company immediately took measures to distinguish itself through new branding. “We had the opportunity to come up with a new way to represent ourselves, what we do and who we are, ” says Bentley.
The new identity came with a new name, intended to reflect the company’s status as an industry leader and its technological aptitude. “While we’ve grown and adapted, our commitment to service remains the same, ” says Bentley. “We’re the same company they’ve relied on for years.”
Text By THOMAS M. LITTLE // Photo by CARY NORTON