BTS 2023, Features

50 years of innovation

The story of Hendrickson started over a century ago, when in 1913, Magnus Hendrickson started a small Chicago-based manufacturing business that built trucks.

In 1926, he introduced the first tandem truck suspension, which mounted the axles on each end of an equalising beam. This unique walking beam design distributed the truck’s load evenly between the two rear axles, which improved traction and greatly reduced the effects of bumps and potholes in the road.

Magnus Hendrickson with his son and grandson.

But it was in 1973 that Hendrickson first made its mark down under, with the launch of Hendrickson Australia. 

Lynn Brown was the company’s first managing director. Initially he was running Hendrickson Australia out of his home in the Melbourne suburb of Mount Waverley. The first parts shipment he received was delivered onto his nature strip!

It wasn’t long before Hendrickson leased a warehouse in Mulgrave, which it quickly outgrew. With the facility unable to keep up with demand, Hendrickson moved to a purpose-built building in Abbotts Road, Dandenong in 1982.

The RT walking beam suspension was among Hendrickson Australia’s initial products. It was well suited to the construction industry, which was experiencing a boom in truck sales – and this, in turn, resulted in rapid growth for Hendrickson.

Hendrickson staff pictured outside the Mulgrave building in 1977.

In the 1980s, Hendrickson Australia’s US parent company acquired Hutch, an Ohio based trailer suspension manufacturer. Hendrickson’s trailer headquarters are based at that same location to this day.

Subsequently, Hendrickson Australia expanded into the trailer market during the 1990s and that took the business to the next level, as Hendrickson Asia Pacific general manager Arthur Mitsel explained. “In the early days we were really focusing on truck products, but the truck market in Australia was shrinking, with many manufacturers relocating their operations overseas and then bringing complete vehicles into the country,” he said.

“The growth really started when we began bringing the trailer products in, starting with the HT suspension, launched in 1991.”

This was followed by the launch of INTRAAX Trailer Suspension in 1996.

John Stewart, Brad Sleath and Arthur Mitsel inside the Hendrickson Customer Centre.

Today, INTRAAX remains the company’s most popular product, with over 10,000 units produced in 2022 for Australia alone. 

“INTRAAX continues to grow in popularity year on year. I think this is the product that most typifies our philosophy as a business. When Hendrickson introduces a product, we really think of it in terms of the operator, in the sense that it needs to add value to their business,” said Mitsel.

“INTRAAX does that in spades because it’s an integrated suspension and axle with superior weight to capacity ratio, with long life wheel ends and easy maintenance it is the complete package, allowing operators to increase their payload due to it being a lightweight integrated suspension with exceptional durability; therefore increasing their uptime due to it being so low maintenance.”

Though INTRAAX was launched down under nearly 30 years ago, much has changed. “It’s a very different product to what it was when it first came to our shores. We’ve really worked to refine that core American technology to suit our market conditions, so we’ve continued to evolve and develop the product as time went on,” Mitsel explained, adding that Hendrickson’s ability to customise its products to suit local requirements has been key to its success.

“That’s allowed us to be very successful in all the markets we operate in. Our products tend to be quite different, depending on the region. In Australia for example, the core difference is that there are road friendly requirements unique to our market. We do a lot of onsite manufacture and assembly, whereas some other brands bring the products in complete.

“The durability aspect is also quite different to what it would be in the US. The length of time the product needs to survive in the field is significantly higher. In the US, a trailer would be used for about 10 years, whereas in Australia they’re running up to 20 years, so here they tend to do a lot more miles.”

Hendrickson Asia Pacific’s expansion beyond Australia started with the opening of a New Zealand facility in 1995. A Japanese arm was set up in the 2000s and in 2011, it took over the Korean business of Watson & Chalin.

The company’s entire Asia Pacific region is managed out of its current facility in Dandenong South, home to its headquarters from 2008. 

Validation engineers providing production support.

Since that time, Hendrickson Asia Pacific has continued to grow its distribution and support throughout the region. The product range has also greatly expanded to encompass axles for trailers and suspensions to suit trucks, trailers and buses, along with very heavy-duty suspensions for mining applications.

The engineering facility at Dandenong South allows Hendrickson to take a concept, develop and prove it, before ultimately bringing it into production.

More recently, in March 2022, Hendrickson Australia further bolstered its operations by securing the adjacent facility to its current location, bringing it up to approximately 15,000 square metres. 

In a prelude to the brand’s Australian 50th anniversary, the latest expansion marks Hendrickson’s ongoing commitment to continue to support customer growth within the region by leveraging proven expertise and an ever-evolving quest for innovation within the heavy commercial vehicle industry.

Incorporated within the expansion is a state-of-the-art customer engagement centre which allows Hendrickson to further develop its product training programs and continue to partner with some of the industry’s key stakeholders and its customers.

Global sourcing is also a feature of the new facility. Using the latest resources and communication, staff are able to source from the location most suited to the specification and quality required, to maintain the high standard expected from Hendrickson’s end users.

“Our vision is to continue to support the industry and our customers in their pursuit of improved productivity and safety within an ever-demanding commercial environment,” said Mitsel. 

“Hendrickson, particularly in the trailer space, was the new kid on the block, even though we’ve been here for a long time. Over the past 10 years especially, people are really recognising the value our product brings.

“We’re very excited about our future and will be bringing a whole lot of new products into the marketplace. The onset of electric vehicles provides another opportunity to continue to add value in that space.”

With the early years of Hendrickson in Australia framed through the Hendrickson family influence, it’s been Hendrickson’s people who have continued to shape the company’s growth over the past 50 years.

“Something that is really important and dear to my heart is really in terms of people. I’d like to think that we’ve built a very good culture over my time here, and we’ve got engaged and loyal staff members” said Mitsel. 

There are many staff members with over 15 years service, including Mitsel, along with Andrew Martin (MD and VP of international operations), Tracie Hart (HR executive manager), Simon Iyer (DOF international operations), John Stewart (sales and marketing executive manager), Evan Edmonds (trailer product coordinator); plant operatives Kim Nguyen, Nga Kareroa, John Colverd and Guna Dissanayake; and sales team members Matt Huigens, Brad Sleath and Patrick Duncan. A true testament to the culture at Hendrickson is the 10 Year Club Annual Luncheon where past and present employees with 10 years or more under their belts come together to celebrate, reminisce and enjoy an afternoon seeped in Hendrickson Australia history. The group currently boasts 31 members and a combined tally of over 400 years of industry experience.

Some of the Hendrickson team will celebrate 50 years with customers at a cocktail event at the Brisbane Truck Show. They will be joined with US based division heads from the truck and trailer divisions. An all-staff event will follow in July where the team can celebrate the company’s success and Hendrickson Australia can show its appreciation to a team of over 120 employees who continue to support Hendrickson’s growth at every level.

Visit Hendrickson at the Brisbane Truck Show at Foyer 88, or for more information call 03 8792 3820 or click here

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