From a Forge to a Vocational Vehicle Suspension and Steering Powerhouse

Simard Suspensions

Simard Suspensions designs, manufactures, and installs front and rear suspensions and steering systems for vocational trucks. The Quebec-based firm has a new assembly plant, a popular patented front tandem suspension system, and a culture of innovation. The company also does truck conversions and offers a cutting-edge line of modified vocational vehicles for off-road work.

With its newly expanded workforce, Simard Suspensions is eager to increase its presence in the vocational vehicle sector.

“We are based out of Baie-Saint-Paul, which is a small town northeast of Quebec City. This is where the company started back in 1935,” states President and Owner David Tremblay. “We manufacture systems – it could be suspensions or steering systems.”

Simard Suspensions’ front-end solutions include a twin-steer front suspension, which increases payload, maximizes tire and steering component performance; a spring tridem front suspension, which boosts lateral stability; and an air front suspension, which offers superior traction on sloping or rough terrain.

Other popular systems include a dynamic tridem hydro-pneumatic rear suspension to provide enhanced traction and load distribution. Its ETS hydro-electric steering system, meanwhile, features patented technology designed to decrease wear and tear and enhance manoeuvrability and safety.

The company designs and makes these suspension and steering systems for concrete mixer, slingshot, concrete pump, crane, dump, trailer, oil and gas, snow removal, and container trucks. Of these vocational vehicle categories, concrete mixers bring in the most revenue for the company, in Canada, at least. Tremblay estimates that the vast majority of Canadian concrete mixer trucks are fitted with Simard products.

The company’s market reach extends far beyond Canada, however. “We sell from Alaska down to Chile and from Vancouver to Newfoundland on the East Coast. We sell to the United States, Canada, Latin America, Mexico. Through the years, we have also sold in Australia and New Zealand,” he says.

Three primary aspects make Simard stand out from the competition. First is the company’s expertise in developing efficient suspension systems with operator comfort in mind.

Its suspension and steering systems also provide excellent manoeuvrability. “By manoeuvrability, I mean being able to go around corners, being able to have the feeling of safety when you hold the steering wheel, making sure you can access a difficult job site as efficiently as possible,” Tremblay explains.

The final differentiator is flexibility. The company excels at doing truck conversions and takes pride in its ability to offer customized solutions and tweak configurations as required by clients. Wheelbase modifications and twin-steer conversions – converting single-tandem trucks into vehicles with front twin steer systems – are company specialties.

Simard Suspensions recently closed an assembly plant in Stony Plain, Alberta but opened a new facility in Quebec. The shuttered facility catered to vocational vehicles in the oil and gas sector for nearly two decades before a downturn in oil prices and other factors led to its closure. At the same time, the company has expanded its footprint in Quebec and elsewhere.

“We opened a new plant in Montreal last September, and we are working on a network of partners in the U.S. for the installation of our products,” Tremblay notes.

The Montreal plant features 10,000 square feet of shop floor space and is being used to install axles and suspension systems, among other duties. To staff the new plant, Simard went on a hiring spree; total employment at the company grew from 140 workers last year at this time to 180 today. The increase in new hires also reflects the strength of the vocational vehicle market, he says.

“When truck sales are up, and they were up last year, we need to ramp up our crew,” he notes. Hiring is now paused for the time being. The company wants to train its new workers and get the Montreal plant up to speed before adding any more personnel.

The firm’s size and presence stand in stark contrast to its rather humble beginnings. Founded by Emmanuel Simard in the 1930s, the company originally operated as a forge, repairing farm machinery and fitting horseshoes.

Things changed rapidly, and the company developed expertise in truck repairs. In 1983, Emmanuel handed it over to his son, André-Marie. Under this new leadership in the mid-1980s, the company developed a highly successful front tandem suspension system for heavy trucks.

At the time, Quebec transportation officials were worried about possible accidents and wear and tear on vocational vehicles, due to overloading and uneven payload distribution. Consultations were held with industry leaders, including representatives from Simard Suspensions.

Following these consultations, the company “went back into the shop and developed the first front-end tandem suspension for [vocational vehicles] and got a patent for that,” says Tremblay.

This front-end tandem suspension ‘optimizes the capacity of heavy trucks and the distribution of loads,’ according to the company. The system enhances vocational vehicle safety and productivity and has become a very popular product.

In 2009, André-Marie Simard retired, and Tremblay became the company owner. Despite this change in ownership, the firm continued to focus on innovation. In 2011, the company introduced a new division to design and manufacture trucks for off-road work in the mining, oil, and construction industries. The vehicles were branded under the name Dramis International (‘Simard’ spelled backwards).

To build its Dramis vehicles, the company uses vocational truck platforms from manufacturers such as Mack, International, Kenworth, and Western Star.

“They put the engine transmission and cab together. From that point, we reinforce the chassis, we put in the axles, front and rear suspension systems,” he explains. “We maximize their capacity.”

Vocational trucks in the Dramis line feature a ‘semi-active hydraulic suspension system’ that senses obstacles and ensures that rear tires are always in contact with the ground. Dramis vehicles offer excellent speed. When empty, Dramis trucks can hit eighty kilometres per hour both off and on-road. Fully loaded, they can reach seventy kilometres per hour. A payload capacity of sixty-five tonnes and fuel savings of forty percent are obtainable. All of this adds up to lower costs and greater productivity for clients.

The Dramis line further underscores the central role innovation has played in the company’s success. Over the decades, it has reinvented itself by adapting to changes in the market. Persistence and loyal, hardworking staff have also been key to ensuring longevity. “The company is nothing without its team members. Being able to build the team and lead the team toward goals is critical for the success of any operation,” affirms Tremblay.

The company has ISO 9001 certification, implemented a lean manufacturing process years ago, and has a dedicated quality assurance team that handles quality-related issues. Promotion is handled in-person and online. The company attends industry events and trade shows like the Quebec Mines + Energy conference, held in November 2018.

Simard Suspensions plans to expand its reach in the mining sector. According to Tremblay, Dramis vocational trucks are more economical and environmentally-friendly than existing mining vehicles. “We burn less fuel, go faster, we’re more efficient, and the truck is narrower. It’s a smart move for mining companies to switch to this kind of vehicle,” he says.

He envisions much growth for the company and big changes in the vocational truck industry. “We already have a presence in America, but I see a lot of potential development for us in the U.S. We also have a few partners in Mexico. Latin America: their economy is growing; there’s a lot of potential for us there. As for technology, more and more we are hearing about e-mobility. Even in big mining trucks, e-mobility is something that will happen for sure. Also, autonomous vehicles and [online networks] that provide information to the truck user or the fleet manager,” he adds.

Last year, hiring was one of Simard Suspension’s biggest challenges. Now that the Montreal plant is up and running, the firm can concentrate on other issues, including how to maintain the innovative outlook that has been so vital for success.

“You need to be aware of how your working environments will evolve – the technology. Our success is based on innovation. We need to be consistently looking at where the market will be going,” states Tremblay.

September 19, 2020, 6:02 AM EDT