Marion Body Works builds cabs, bodies for range of applications
By Chad Elmore27 January 2021
Five legs for stability: Marion Body Works is a manufacturer of fire trucks, commercial truck bodies, aluminum custom cabs, custom-engineered vehicles and defense equipment.
Depending on one’s perspective, Marion Body Works is a manufacturer of fire trucks, commercial truck bodies, aluminum custom cabs, custom-engineered vehicles or defense equipment. Given a wider view, one will see it is home to all five.
“We’re a custom manufacturer of components that go on straight trucks. That’s a high-level description of who we are,” said Curtis Ignacio, president, Marion Body Works, Marion, Wis. “We have five legs of a stool, and the way we look at it is those five legs really help us balance our business, so when we have downturns such as from COVID-19 or the 2008 recession, we will survive it.”
Family run since it was founded as a blacksmith shop in 1905, Marion Body Works today employs more than 300 people throughout a campus that uses 20 of the 63 acres it owns in the small town in central Wisconsin.
“All of our products are related to the other,” said Ignacio. “When we’ve had people come in, everyone’s got their eyes on the new firetrucks. That work helps prove our capabilities and gives them a level of trust in what we can do. Then, they’ll recognize we’re also building defense units for our warfighters, such as wrecker bodies, cargo bodies and troop carriers. When they see that, it gives our work even more legitimacy because they know we’re building equipment that will hold up in all parts of the world. Then, they’ll see our cab business and the commercial body work, where we do everything from refrigerator trucks to moving vans.
“We do a lot of stuff here,” he said. The factory is equipped to do the work customers require. “For example, because our defense work is mostly made from steel, we have always certified our welders and that standard carries over to the products”
Custom aluminum cabs
Marion Body Works will happily fabricate custom products from steel. However, since 1964 it has made a name for itself with aluminum products, first with all-aluminum fire apparatus and later custom cabs.
There are several benefits to building a cab from aluminum, said Ignacio. “Aluminum is lighter, and it doesn’t rust. Many of our cab customers have found that steel stampings were cost prohibitive in the production runs they need. We use aluminum extrusions for less investment in time and money. Plus, we can make the extrusions that replace two- or three-piece stamped parts.”
The company’s engineering team works directly with OEMs to develop new product for their customers. Using an integrated design approach, the company can match current designs to ensure parts commonality as well as the proper fit and finish and safety regulations.
That approach to product development means there is no off-the-shelf Marion cab. “Some years back, when I was more involved with some of the day-to-day cab sales, I would get call from a potential customer,” said Ignacio. “After he told me who he was and that he was looking for a cab supplier, he’d ask, ‘What does your cab look like?’
“I said, ‘Well, it doesn’t look like anything because we don’t have a Marion cab sitting out there.’
“Then I’d ask, ‘What does your cab need to look like? What does it need to do? What are you using today? What are the problems you’re having with it? Do you need more room in it? What certifications do you need? Do you already have a less-than-stellar vendor supplying your cabs? Are they shipping on time? Or do you just want a new design?’”
Once answers to questions like that are figured out, Marion Body Works can get to work, developing the finished product in partnership with the client. Its engineering team also ensures the cab is designed from the standpoint of manufacturability, looking for the most expedient way to build the product. Ignacio said the company prides itself with on-time performance, with 99% on time rate for cabs, which are shipped to the customer for final paint and assembly.
On the cab side of the operation, the company currently works with several equipment manufacturers in markets such as fire apparatus and material handling. While agricultural and construction equipment sales numbers tend to be higher than a custom manufacturer such as Marion can support, “where we’re going to excel is with customers that will sell 100 to maybe 500 pieces annually,” said Ignacio. “That’s the kind of customer that has a niche where we’ll fit in well.”
Written by Chad Elmore, this article originally appeared in the December 2020 issue of Diesel Progress.