Innovative Trailer Design
Benny DiFranco has been interested in custom vehicles as long as he can remember. He began his career at a young age working for his father, Dennis DiFranco, at the family business, Peel Truck and Trailer. The specialty service company allowed him to expand his manufacturing skills while quietly working on innovative designs in his down time. In 2006, he bought out his father and laid the groundwork for his spinoff business, Innovative Trailer Design (ITD), now a manufacturer of custom equipment, vehicles, trailers and modular buildings, based in Mississauga, Ontario.
“I always had passion for manufacturing,” Benny recounts. “I started making custom vehicles while I was working for my dad. After I bought the business and began to expand into custom manufacturing, I designed a custom expandable trailer that deploys in 70 seconds. Now we are selling it to colleges, universities, restaurants, retailers and other customers. That grew into whole business of its own, which we spun off as ITD. Now we manufacture transport trailers, container chasses, intermodal equipment and specialty vehicles.”
Niche products for a broad market
Over the last decade, the company has grown significantly. Between Peel Truck and Trailer and ITD, Benny works with a team of more than 130 people, set to increase by 200 with a new specialty contract. While ITD focuses on innovative design and manufacturing, Peel Truck and Trailer still offers quality maintenance and repair services for trucks, trailers and equipment.
Growth has come both in the form of expansion and in adaptive technology. “We started off with scrap paper and sketches, drawing things by hand,” says Benny. “We’re fully automated now. Some clients come to us, others we have pitched our ideas to. We sit down either with a client or with the intention to pitch an idea and we build a 3-D model to scale and show them how we can make this a reality.”
A high-tech focus goes beyond the design phase for ITD. Benny’s custom trailers and modular projects require a slew of automated components, hardware and software, to operate efficiently and as-promised for end users. This makes relationships with suppliers all the more critical.
“We are not producing the same thing every day, or even every week,” Benny explains. “A majority of our business is specialty work so our suppliers are very important. We are always finding the newest and most efficient technologies. For example, LED lighting is big now – we are equipping that to all of our trailers to cut down on the consumption of power and the size of generators. All of our trailers are computerized with programmable logic controls (PLC) systems. When a trailer collapses, everything fits in like a puzzle, so certain equipment has to fit in certain ways. That also requires that we integrate safeties into our computer systems, so when a customer gets it, it is ready to use.”
Innovation at work
Recent projects cater to a wide range of end users, including pop-up liquor stores, restaurants and even mobile hospitals. The custom nature of the company’s process allows ITD to integrate unique elements of design and technology into each project.
One of the company’s most innovative solutions to date is a contract with Kallo, a company based in New York, for a modular hospital. “This 55,000-square-foot hospital will be assembled in Guinea,” says Benny. “It’s all modular, so we are building it all under the roof in Etobicoke. That includes X-ray machines, operating tables, medical gas – it is a fully operating hospital. When it’s complete, we will break it up, drive it on trucks to Baltimore, drive onto a ship and send it to Guinea.” The project is under a time crunch as the country’s elections are coming up. Meanwhile, this unique capacity for building mobile and modular hospitals has led to work with 28 other countries around the world.
“We have done some modular buildings before, like the Tim Hortons portable restaurants and other portable, modular kitchens in quite a few variations,” explains Benny. “Kallo was looking for someone to build mobile clinics for rural areas in Africa. They went out to the market, talked to our competitors and eventually decided we were the best fit. Since then, we have worked with them to develop the mobile side. After that, I introduced the opportunity to build modular health care facilities, they pitched to the Guinea government and we won the bid.”
Other clients include LCBO, a chain of liquor stores, to which Benny and his team pitched a mobile, temporary store model for the business to use during renovations. “When LCBO renovates a store, they have to shut it down,” Benny explains. “We saw that they had a need and we proposed a modular expandable trailer that they could roll to locations and set up while the store is being renovated, so they can continue servicing customers. This is a trailer with which in five or six hours you can set up as a 2,200-square-foot store. It expands from 8.5 feet wide to 22.5 feet wide in 70 seconds. We have also taken this design and made it so you can link them together for a larger facility.”
Over the coming years, Benny and his colleagues will continue to work to expand the business as Innovative Trailer Design develops new mobile and modular solutions for clients around the world.