Don Worthington

York County bridge inspection manufacturer expanding

In 2014 Pat Dandridge took the unusual step of moving to Rock Hill rather than moving the company he had purchased, Hydra Platforms Manufacturing, to his home of Atlanta.

Dandridge found he couldn’t replicate the Rock Hill workforce in Atlanta. The men and women who made the bridge inspection platforms had so much “tribal” knowledge – Dandridge’s lingo for shop skills – that “we couldn’t break up the band.”

Two years later Dandridge has cut his local commute from the historic district of York to the Antrim Business Park near the Galleria Mall to just a few minutes by moving some of his company to the East York Business Park.

Hydra will continue to use the space at the Antrim to service the platforms it makes as well as test their operations. The Antrim site has a bridge so each unit can be tested before sending it to customers.

Dandridge has turned a former injection molding plant in the East York Industrial Park into a manufacturing plant, building truck- and trailer-mounted inspection platforms. He has more than tripled his workforce, from 15 at the Antrim to 47 at the two locations.

Finding the East York Industrial Park site was serendipity, he said. He had seen the the sign on S.C. 5 and one day made the turn. He found the building and started negotiating. He did not know how he would turn the building into a manufacturing plant, but he knew the why. Demand for his product was increasing and he was out space at Antrim.

“This looks better than I visualized,” he said recently while giving area business people and elected leaders a tour of his new plant.

The operation is a mix of high tech and basic manufacturing.

Steel and aluminum come into one side of the building. Pieces are cut and drilled. They are welded together, painted and assembled.

The high tech is electronics that allow the platforms to be positioned underneath bridges as well as the precision that’s required. The platforms are built to tight tolerances, and each weld must be exact. It’s a life-safety issue, Dandridge said.

The basic design of the platforms hasn’t changed significantly since Garth McGillewie of Lake Wylie founded the company in 1983. The first platforms were built in Chester County.

In 2006 the company moved to the Antrim Business Park.

But much has changed since Bob Fletcher was hired as general manager.

Fletcher initially was a consultant to Terex, the firm that acquired Hydra in 2008. He started consulting for Dandridge, who hired him as his new general manager.

One of Fletcher’s roles has been tweaking the platform’s engineering.

The changes were made for two reasons – a truck unit weighed so much it could not legally be driven in some states and the platforms had almost become custom builds. Dandridge wanted a “repeatable standard product.”

That meant building on the shop knowledge of the staff. It also meant that Dandridge could start hiring people with specific skills. No longer did each worker need to know something about his co-worker’s job.

Tweaking the product is not the only thing that Dandridge envisions for the East York Industrial Park site. One day he wants to move his service center from Rock Hill to the site. He also wants to build a corporate office and expand manufacturing capacity at the 30-acre site.

Current capacity is about five to six trailer units per month, and a truck unit every six to eight weeks.

He anticipates demand for either rental units or purchased units to increase as more attention is focused on the country’s crumbling infrastructure. While a drone can fly underneath a bridge and shoot video of a problem, it still takes a platform for an engineer to put his hands on the problem and a construction worker to fix what’s gone bad.

Dandridge wants to make sure that the platform is made and maintained in York County.