If you’ve attended a music festival, outdoor wedding or large-scale event, you may have personal experience using a mobile handwashing station or luxury restroom trailer made by Ameri-Can Engineering of Argos. Versions of these trailers can be found on TV and movie production sets, a variety of construction sites, and in disaster relief situations. Ameri-Can also makes emergency shower units and decontamination trailers for special purposes.
Sharp Changes in Demand
When 2020 began, demand for Ameri-Can’s luxury trailers was strong and many orders were on the books. Once the pandemic hit, everything changed. As events, concerts, and festivals were canceled, so were the orders for trailers.
Not long after existing orders disappeared, hospitals quickly became desperate to get decontamination trailers and emergency showers to provide for the needs of doctors, nurses, and medical personnel who were in contact with COVID patients and unable to leave the hospital. “Demand exploded,” says Keegan Campbell, COO of Ameri-Can Engineering. The company provided trailers used at the Javits Center in New York City and at hospitals and test sites throughout the country.
Demand increased from other essential businesses, construction sites, factories and schools, with the need to provide hot water for handwashing and increase the number of individual restroom stalls available. Ameri-Can developed a hand-washing trailer with stations that offered social distancing but no loss in capacity, which could be operated by either solar power or propane.
Innovation in Response to Scarcity
The urgent increase in demand brought Ameri-Can face to face with another pandemic problem: long lead times, scarcity and unavailability of parts and materials, and a shortage of drivers to deliver completed units.
Dealing with the new reality of material shortages and delays spurred Ameri-Can on to new levels of innovation, changes in their production process, and facility modifications. As procurement practices shifted toward maintaining higher inventory levels, unused space was transformed into a warehouse area with a poured concrete floor and shelving units. Revamped processes from booking an order to production have helped Ameri-Can Engineering increase production speed while staying true to their standards for quality craftsmanship.
When parts and materials were scarce or completely unavailable, the teams jumped in to innovate to keep production going, redesigning parts and procedures, using new methods and materials to get the job done—on time. Campbell says that shortages led to hundreds of small innovations made by the team, including a redesign of rails for ADA ramps that brought better results than the original design.
Working with Purdue Manufacturing Extension Program, Ameri-Can Engineering recognized their need for process changes and introduced new ideas and flow, even reinstating processes and procedures they had successfully used in the past. Ameri-Can also made use of available training resources offered as part of the pandemic relief. Through the 180 Skills program employees gained new skills and received refresher training for existing skills.
People and Performance
An essential business, Ameri-Can Engineering remained open with no layoffs, and for nearly a full year, they also experienced no cases of COVID. Keegan Campbell says that the company is extremely proud of the efforts of all employees to keep each other healthy and safe so production of trailers and hygiene facilities could continue.
The greatest challenge Ameri-Can Engineering faced during the pandemic was maintaining the mental health of the team. People worked hard and showed up every day to make trailers, despite worries over the health of their families, jobs lost by spouses or loved ones, and the need for childcare and schooling requirements.
Funds from the IN-STEP (Indiana State Trade & Export Program) grant enabled Ameri-Can Engineering to enroll the team in the Lippert Academy for Leadership. The program provided coaching and services that helped address mental health and give them the perspective to feel better about their work and understand the value of their contribution to keeping frontline healthcare workers safe.
Reflecting on the pandemic year, Campbell says that the company is proud of the way employees jumped in to innovate and redesign products and processes to meet critical deadlines. They pulled together, kept each other safe and healthy, and built quality products on time. Although they saw a 24% increase in the class of trailers they call social needs – for disaster relief, hospitals, charities – overall production for 2020 was down by 30%. Still, during this time period the company has grown from 22 to 30 employees.
As event schedules have resumed in 2021, demand for restroom trailers has returned. This is in addition to a continued demand for hygiene units and increasing popularity of luxury restroom trailers. Production in 2021 is 40% above last year’s and today, Campbell says, orders are booked out further than ever before.
Challenges brought on by the pandemic led to growth and investment within the organization—changes in process, upskilling, new methods, and increased staffing. Through it all, Argos has been supportive, helping Ameri-Can follow its mission to make a positive difference in people’s lives. Campbell believes that this location in northern Indiana is just right—it offers easy access to transportation for materials and finished products and a strong sense of community, with people who have a sense of wanting to do good for others. Ameri-Can Engineering, he says, “wouldn’t think of being in any other location.”
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