CHATHAM, Ont. – International Truck and Engine Corp. is pumping US$270 million into its Chatham assembly plant to prepare it for production of the company’s new flagship highway tractor – the ProStar.
The investment into the plant and its workers is part of International’s efforts to make the launch of the aerodynamic ProStar completely “flawless.”
“We expect a flawless launch because we have developed a truly great product using a great process to ensure we understand and deliver on our customers’ buying motivations,” says Tom Baughman, vice-president and general manager of International’s Heavy Vehicle Center. “As the International ProStar represents a new standard for linehaul tractors, the Chatham plant represents the new standard for manufacturing heavy trucks.”
Jodi Presswood, program manager, Heavy Product Center with International, adds “We want to get to a flawless launch by job number one. We want to get the first product into the customer’s hands and make sure it is a perfect truck and doesn’t have any issues.”
To ensure that’s the case, International will hold back most of the first ProStars it builds during the first few months of production (with the exception of some evaluation units). The company expects to hold onto the majority if its trucks until about March, 2008, so it can immediately address any issues that arise in the field.
A limited number of prototype ProStars are already being operated in real-world conditions by customers, including at least one unit in Canada.
International officials say the company has continuously improved the reliability of its trucks over the past few years and the ProStar will set a new standard for uptime. Engineering and manufacturing improvements achieved with the ProStar are also being incorporated into the company’s legacy products, Baughman points out.
Dave Boland, Chatham plant manager, says the modernization of the assembly plant is long overdue. For instance the plant interior was recently painted for the first time in more than 30 years, providing improved lighting and working conditions for employees.
As recently as 2003, the outlook for the Chatham assembly plant was grim. International announced it was closing the plant and moving production of its Class 8 trucks elsewhere. New life was breathed into the plant, however, when the company struck a deal with the Canadian Auto Workers and the governments of Ontario and Canada to keep the plant in operation.
The plant is now churning out a record number of trucks – 200 per day over two shifts. The upgrades being implemented at Chatham will increase capacity to about 265 trucks per day.
Among the upgrades are an improved, five-step dynamometer testing procedure. Trucks undergo a pre-inspection, simulated load test, bump track test, leak test and post-dyno validation. Boland says the comprehensive test improves out-of-plant quality and ensures problems are addressed before the truck reaches the dealer’s lot or customer’s yard.
International has also consolidated its five trim lines into three, extending the final configuration line by 700 feet and adding 10 new lift assists. Boland says these upgrades will support higher production levels and make life easier for assembly workers. It will also allow for “door-off” assembly, reducing damage to the paint and door sills.
A new chassis paint system has been added, which Boland says results in a higher quality chassis paint job and better overall paint coverage. International is also adding a new body paint system which will consolidate three paint systems into one. A positive ventilation system prevents contaminants from damaging the finish. It also provides for better consistency for colour matching, Boland adds.
The company has also taken steps to prepare its employees for production of the ProStar by adding a Training and Validation Center.
It’s a full-scale line station production simulation that allows employees to fine-tune their skills, ask questions and provide input on production processes well before actual production.
Finally, the company has developed a Certificate of Manufacturing program with St. Clair College which is offered to plant employees. It’s a training program involving 200 hours of theory and hands-on instruction.
“It prepares employees with the necessary manufacturing knowledge needed to work efficiently in our evolving and modernizing assembly plant and helps employees understand their role in building a quality product for our customers,” Boland says.
The ProStar is built on the foundation of four value propositions: unprecedented uptime; unparalleled driver satisfaction; best-in-class fuel economy; and lowest cost of ownership, according to Presswood. He says the goal is to deliver a truck that combines automotive reliability and functionality with truck durability.