What downturn? KW expanding production at main truck plant

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With all the doom and gloom surrounding the truck market in 2007, it may seem like a peculiar time to expand capacity at a major truck manufacturing plant. But that’s exactly what Kenworth is doing at its Chillicothe, Ohio plant – home to the majority of its Class 8 truck production.

Kenworth is forging ahead with a US$23 million expansion that will increase capacity by nearly 30% and add 105,000 sq.-ft. to the existing facility.

The plant already stands at 372,000 sq. ft. and is situated on 120 acres.

Existing assembly lines – currently oval-shaped – will be straightened to enhance productivity and there will be extensions to the main line, new cab, sleeper and Kenworth T2000 trim lines.

The plant was opened in 1974 with an initial build rate of less than 20 trucks per day. Today, work crews on two shifts are building about 102 trucks per day. About 280,000 Kenworth trucks have been assembled at the plant and each of those is built in less than a day.

The Chillicothe plant has already churned out about 48 trucks equipped with 2007 engines and company officials estimated another 100 or so would be built before January 1.

Kenworth has taken strides in recent years to minimize its inventories and improve its productivity at the plant. Former storage areas are now productive workspaces with the company trucking in parts as required. About one truckload of parts is required for each truck built there, so the 17 new loading docks will be welcomed, explained Scott Blue, plant manager, during a recent tour.

He also said the plant is almost entirely paperless, with computer workstations replacing the traditional binders and notebooks.

Every Class 8 model offered by Kenworth is built at Chillicothe, with the exception of some off-highway rigs. While the T2000 has its own assembly line (it’s assembled using an adhesive rather than the traditional huck fasteners other models utilize) workers there must know how to build each of Kenworth’s Class 8 models.

The expansion will be completed in two phases so production is not disrupted, said Blue.

While Class 8 truck sales are expected to plummet by as much as 35% in 2007, Kenworth general manager and PACCAR vice-president Bob Christensen said his glass is half-full when looking ahead. He said a strong economy could help negate the impact of a pre-buy and provide for a healthy 2007.

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