A Trip to the Knaack Box Factory

This banner hangs over the entrance to the factory floor. The Werner Company (Werner Ladder) bought Knaack and Weather Guard in 2012 from Emerson, the industrial conglomerate that currently owns the Ridgid brand.

This was shot from the approximate center of the plant and should give you some sense of its size. At 400,000 square feet (including a sizeable warehouse area) it is too large to be photographed in its entirety from the ground. The best way to see it is from above: See satellite view and street view in Google Maps.

The steel and aluminium used in Knaack and Weather Guard boxes arrives at the plant in coils and is stored until needed. At that point it is rolled flat and cut to shape prior to bending.

There is a lot of forklift traffic in the plant. Those red and yellow lines on the floor extend throughout the factory and show where it’s safe to walk. If you stay between the closely spaced red and yellow you’ll probably be okay. Cross the red without looking and you’re liable to be hit by a forklift.

This material has been punched or laser cut to size and stacked close to the machines that will bend it to shape. Similar stacks of material can be found throughout the plant. The tags in the attached bags are work orders that explain what the material is to be made into.

This piece of equipment is called a folding machine and is basically a mechanized metal brake. The operators position the piece on the work surface and the machine bends it to shape.

The aluminium piece coming down the rollers is part of a high side truck box. It has been placed there by the industrial robot that bent it to shape in a computer controlled robotic press brake. Click here to see the robot in action. A robot is performing this task because the pieces are heavy and the work is repetitive. It’s plant policy for people to avoid lifting anything heavier than 35 pounds.

This older hydraulic press brake is manually controlled and requires a human operator. The pieces it’s making are small so it’s no big deal for the operator to lift them.

These end pieces for a Jobmaster Chest were made by the hydraulic press brake in the previous photo.

The fellow in this photo is spot-welding a hinge to half of a Storagemaster cover. After spot-welding the hinge to the other half he will send the cover to the weld line for further assembly.

This is the business end of the spot welder in the previous photo. The length of the arm determines the reach of the machine, in the same way that the throat dimension of a band saw determines the width of the material that can be run through it.

This is the flow line cell where Storagemaster chests are assembled. Pieces are tacked (spot-welded) in place and then the weld is completed at the next station down the line. Click here for video. My tour guide frequently spoke of ergonomic adaptations—that the factory is set up to minimize lifting and material handling by humans. Note the red and yellow “tubes” that hang from booms in the background—more on them in the next slide…

The device coming out of the yellow tube is the business end of a vacuum lifting system; the flat pieces at the ends of the hoses are suction pads. Similar in concept to the vacuum suction cups used to lift glass, this device is connected to a vacuum pump and mechanical hoist. With this system, a worker can lift and position heavy pieces with minimal exertion or risk of injury. I wasn’t able to shoot video of the lift but you can see a different model in a video shot by the company that makes the equipment.

The largest boxes are assembled in a work cell known as the 2 man area. This fellow is assembling a model 119 Field Station. Click here for video.

When the welding is complete boxes are placed on an automated conveyor that advances them towards equipment that will clean them prior to powder coating. The boxes shown here were assembled in the flow line, just beyond the divider behind them. Click here for video.

This fully welded box has been hung from an overhead conveyor and is entering the machine that will wash it prior to powder coating. Akin to an industrial dish washer, the machine is about the size of a semi-trailer.

This area is like Grand Central Station, with boxes and parts being conveyed every which way. Just washed items are sent to the lower level to be dried by heated air. Dry pieces come up and are sent to the powder coating area. Freshly powder coated items are conveyed to an upper level where the finish is baked on. And finished boxes come down from above and are sent to the final assembly area.

After the washed box or piece is dried and allowed to cool, it passes through an automatic powder coating unit ( click here for video). I saw several such units at the plant, each approximately the size of a semi-trailer. Sensors tell the heads when to spray; they only come on when there is something in front of them to be powder coated.

Parts such as wheels, handles, and latch hardware are stored in metal bins near assembly areas.

In the final assembly area for Knaack products a worker installs drawers in a Storagemaster rolling work bench.

Weather Guard’s aluminium boxes are produced in a separate area of the plant. This worker has positioned the parts for a model 127 Saddle Box (a cross box) in a robotic welding fixture and is tacking pieces the robot can’t get to. It’s easier to understand if you watch the video.

After the Saddle Box comes out of the fixture a human welder completes the welds the robot can’t do.

As with Knaack’s boxes, Weather Guard’s boxes are washed prior to powder coating. Their aluminium boxes typically receive a clear or black coating.

Here workers do the final assembly of Weather Guard boxes. I expected to see industrial impact drivers but they were using the same cordless tools used on the jobsite. The impact drivers shown here are DeWalt 20V MAX models but I also saw some Makitas. Some of the older tools (DeWalt and Makita) were incredibly beat, used so hard sections of the housings were worn through—and yet they still worked. I don’t have photos because the tour guide gave me the look that meant “It’s time to put the camera down dude”.

A large section of the building is devoted to warehousing. I looked but did not go inside. It was mostly forklift traffic in there and I didn’t feel like getting run over.

These finished Field Stations are about to be boxed for shipping. For more on how the tools you use are made see: A Trip to the Screwdriver Factory, A Trip to the Recip Blade Factory, A Trip to the Nail Factory, and A Trip to the Leatherman Factory.

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