R O Hahn Builds Lengthy Success With High-Quality Repair Work

Feb. 1, 1999
One of the best-known cargo tank repair shops in the Midwest is R O Hahn Inc in Cincinnati, Ohio. For nearly 50 years, the company has built a reputation

One of the best-known cargo tank repair shops in the Midwest is R O Hahn Inc in Cincinnati, Ohio. For nearly 50 years, the company has built a reputation for high-quality work on virtually any type of cargo tank.

Repairs, tank tests, and vehicle inspections account for about 35% of the activity at R O Hahn Inc, and mechanics work on around a hundred trailers each month. The company also has built a busy parts sales operation. Still, sales and leasing of new and used trailers remain at the core of the business.

"We've always offered repair services to support our sales and leasing activities," says Reg Hahn, president of R O Hahn Inc. "Repair, along with tank testing and inspection, gained in importance when HM-183 was adopted in 1990. We've seen steady growth in our service operations ever since.

"One of our biggest challenges now is finding adequate numbers of qualified mechanics for the shop. With low unemployment and a strong economy, code welders and other skilled maintenance personnel are in short supply."

That wasn't a problem back in the early 1950s, when Reg Hahn's father, Raymond, was running the Cincinnati sales branch for Highway Trailer, a long-gone manufacturer of tanks and vans. Around 1953, Raymond Hahn changed the branch name to Cincinnati Highway Trailer and began an association with Heil Trailer that continues to this day. The company moved to its current location off I-275 north in 1983. Cargo tanks were an important part of the operation from the very start. For a number of years, R O Hahn Inc even assembled truck-mounted rectangular dairy tanks.

Assembly work remains a part of the business even today. R O Hahn Inc recently began assembling kitted dry bulk trailers that are imported from Southeast Asia. Each 1,000-cubic-foot carbon steel tank and all its parts arrive packed in a 40-foot dry freight container. Besides tanks and vans, R O Hahn Inc sells refrigerated trailers, dumps, flatbeds, and live-floor trailers. The company is a dealer for Heil Trailer International, Acro Trailer Co, Nova Fabricating Inc, Hutchinson Industries, Determan-Brownie Inc, Trailmobile Corp, East Mfg Co, and Fontaine Trailer Co.

R O Hahn's management stresses the importance of building long-term relationships with customers. The company stands behind the truck bodies and trailers it sells by offering extensive service capabilities. Repairs are backed by a base liability insurance level of $1 million and an umbrella of $3 million.

"Some tank repair shops have little, if any, coverage," Reg Hahn says. "We try to carry enough to give our customers an added level of comfort. More of them are asking for proof of insurance, because they want some recourse if a repair goes wrong."

All repair and service work is performed in R O Hahn's approximately 25,000-square-foot shop. The company holds "R" and "U" stamps and is certified to repair and modify code tanks. The only tanks not accepted are MC330/331 pressure vessels. Most of the repair work is generated by customers within a 150-mile radius of Cincinnati. Pick-up and delivery services are provided.

Fifteen mechanics work in the 1512-bay shop that includes a 54-ft paint booth and a frame straightening bay. Shop hours are 7 am to 6 pm, Monday through Friday. Shifts are assigned by management, but workers can choose the number of hours per day. R O Hahn Inc offers three options: 10 hours a day Monday-Thursday; 10 hours a day Tuesday-Friday; or 8 hours a day Monday-Friday.

Art Hahn, R O Hahn Inc director of services, is a registered engineer and is in charge of repair operations. His cousin, Reg, says it has been very beneficial to have a registered engineer on staff.

"We're glad we took that step when the HM-183 cargo tank rules were adopted," Reg says. "It has given us more flexibility in our tank repair operations and has boosted customer confidence."

Unfortunately, Art's registered status may not be enough for the Department of Transportation (DOT) in the future. DOT officials are hinting that they want to require the use of third-party inspectors by repair shops that work on code tanks.

"This action seems like a certainty right now," Art says. "Why else would ASME (the American Society of Mechanical Engineers) be in the process of writing a new code section? While we agree that this will improve the uniformity of tank repairs, we have to question the need for third parties. Not only will we face a shortage of enough third-party inspectors initially, but it will mean higher repair costs and longer repair lead times for fleets.

"We might be better off as an industry to come up with a certification program for tank repair shops that would satisfy DOT's concerns. Repair shops should band together to develop their own standards and controls. If we do that, DOT wouldn't need to be involved.

"DOT officials are justified in wanting verification that code repairs are performed properly, but they are missing the real problem when they develop rules that penalize responsible repair shop operators. DOT needs to be more aggressive in going after the operations that don't follow the rules, but it doesn't seem to have enough personnel.

"We've seen the emergence of second- and third-level tank repair shops that operate outside the regulations. Some of these shops have neither CT numbers or code stamps. We still see tanks that have been improperly repaired and pose a serious risk of equipment failure."

At R O Hahn Inc, every effort is made to do things right, and this starts with safety. The company encourages shop safety by paying bonuses of $50 per quarter for workers who avoid lost-time injuries. Four consecutive quarters of safe performance earns a $250 bonus.

R O Hahn Inc also has found that bonuses help reduce absenteeism. Workers can qualify for an extra $100 for every year of employment by avoiding late arrivals and unexcused absences. The bonus total is reduced by 1% for every late arrival and 2% for every unexcused absence. "Ninety percent of our people are qualifying for better than 90% payout," Reg Hahn says.

Limiting injuries is one reason R O Hahn Inc refuses to perform tank tests and inspections at customer locations. "It is especially foolhardy for a lone inspector to perform an internal visual inspection at a customer location," Reg Hahn says. "In addition, the customer is open to liability if the inspector is injured.

"There are too many variables (weather and temperature, especially) at a customer location, and it's too difficult to control them. We question whether conditions in the field can be controlled enough to ensure that a mechanic can accurately perform leak tests and other tests."

On the other hand, conditions can be rigorously controlled in the R O Hahn Inc shop, and mechanics have everything they need to perform tank tests and inspections safely and accurately. Company procedures require that only clean, vapor-free tanks can be brought into the shop.

While a tank is still parked outside, a mechanic takes the first steps by checking oxygen content and lower explosion level. Those tests are repeated when the tank is brought into the shop. In addition, the mechanic verifies that wheels are chocked, forced-air ventilation is in place, pumps and other product handled systems are locked out or disconnected, safety harnesses and lifelines are being used, and the confined-space sign is displayed on the vehicle.

The supervisor and entrant must sign the permit, which is valid for just a single shift. They each check the atmosphere independently, and their readings must match. If discrepancies occur, a third meter is used.

Forced-air ventilation must be functioning at all times, and the atmosphere must be retested after any lengthy break and at the beginning of each work day. Entrants are monitored constantly while inside tanks.

Mechanics at R O Hahn Inc generally specialize in tanks or other (vans, flatbeds, dumps, etc). While some crossover is allowed for suspensions and such, management believes specialization reduces the potential for mistakes and helps guarantee higher quality repairs.

Those assigned to tank repairs use a variety of specialized test instruments, including pressure-testing fixtures that were built in-house. The pressure-testing fixtures are issued by the shop foreman and are designed to ensure that tanks can't be over pressured.

R O Hahn Inc mechanics perform significant numbers of vapor tests, even on new trailers. Kentucky and Indiana require documentation of the EPA vapor test on their own forms.

Specialized equipment includes a machine that forms lap seams on stainless steel sheet used for replacement jacketing. In addition, R O Hahn Inc has a small machine shop for fabricating parts.

"We contract out major fabrication projects because there are a lot of commercial machine shops in this area," Art Hahn says. "They can do it faster, better, and cheaper. We get fabulous rates."

The repair operation also stocks an extensive range of replacement parts from vendors. Vendors represented by R O Hahn Inc include Civacon, Blackmer, Emco Wheaton, Betts, Allegheny, Dixon, Girard, Scully, OPW, and Thermoid.

Inventory levels are monitored by computer, as are all aspects of the repair operation. R O Hahn Inc uses ADS Sygmon software, which was originally developed for truck dealers. Installed in 1996, it was modified for the R O Hahn Inc operation.

The software uses the Vehicle Maintenance Reporting Standards code extended out to five digits. "It gives us the capability to monitor parts inventory requirements in detail," Art Hahn says. "It gives us a clear indication of what parts are being used most frequently."

Turnover has become more important as the company has expanded its parts sales operation. The parts department is open from 8 am to 6 pm Monday through Friday for walk-in business. However, the company also delivers or ships orders.

Two delivery trucks handle customers in the greater Cincinnati area, and orders by more distant customers are shipped by United Parcel Service. "We're very service oriented, and we do our best to ship orders the same day they are received," Reg Hahn says.

Customer service means the company stocks a number of low-demand parts that require a long lead time from the manufacturer. As a result, the turn rate for the inventory is just three to four times a year.

Still, happy customers mean more orders in the future. That philosophy has made R O Hahn Inc a winner for almost half a century, and it will continue to bring success in the future.