Navistar San Antonio Manufacturing Plant sets groundwork for sustainable future

Navistar has officially unveiled its million-square-foot San Antonio Manufacturing Plant, opening the doors to a facility that can build battery-electric and combustion-driven Class 6-8 trucks on the same line.

Production at the plant, in which Navistar has invested more than $250 million, officially began in January, and once fully staffed this summer it will be able to build 52 trucks per day.

But work here in Texas will also lead to future products and refine the processes used at the OEM’s other facilities.

Navistar truck wheel
Workers install a brake drum on a vehicle as it takes shape on Navistar’s assembly line in San Antonio, Texas. (Photo: Navistar)

Sustainable manufacturing processes, for example, will be integrated at other Navistar plants in Springfield, Ohio, and Escobedo, Mexico; a powertrain plant in Huntsville, Ala.; and a school bus assembly plant in Tulsa, Okla.

“The choices we make today will take Navistar to a new level of impact in the transportation industry. That’s why we are laying the foundation for the future in this plant, because the future begins with the decisions and investments we make today,” said Mark Hernandez, executive vice-president – global manufacturing and supply chain.

“We are taking actions to reduce the environmental impact of our manufacturing operations with the goal of becoming zero-carbon as we transform the future of transportation.”

It’s only fitting that the first vehicle to roll off this assembly line was a battery-electric International eMV truck. Another 30,000 square feet will be developed specifically to outfit such vehicles.

Environmental commitments

But the environmental commitments go beyond zero-emission vehicles alone. By 2030, Navistar plans to slash the energy intensity at all its U.S. facilities by 20%.

Here in Texas, that involves using LED lighting and translucent panels to create a space that is noticeably brighter than most truck manufacturing facilities. Upgraded wall panels help regulate indoor temperatures, too.

Forklifts will run on fuel cells, eventually using hydrogen developed on site, while battery-electric automated guided vehicles (AGVs) already follow strips of magnetic tape on the floor as they pull components from one stage of production to the next.

Future plans also include an on-site waste water treatment plant. Even the dynos used for final vehicle inspections will be used to generate electricity.

paperless manufacturing processes
One thing you won’t find at Navistar’s manufacturing operation is paper. The facility is paperless. (Photo: Navistar)

Industry 4.0

“Industry 4.0” principles, meanwhile, help to connect digital and physical tools that guide real-time decisions on the shop floor, supporting lean manufacturing, sustainability, and efforts to control costs and increase product quality.

Also described as the Fourth Industrial Revolution, Industry 4.0 approaches first took shape in Germany about a decade ago, promoting the broader use of computerized manufacturing. The underlying principles help manufacturers understand rapid changes to technologies, industries and processes that come through smart automation and interconnectivity.

Physical signs of the concept can be seen everywhere from San Antonio’s smart tools and scanners that ensure the 60,000 available parts are installed the right way on the right trucks, to the computer monitors that plant personnel use to source information during each step of the assembly process. There’s no paper to be found.

A high-tech body shop offers another example of reimagined production processes. (No pictures are allowed in here.) In addition to ultrasonic weld testing and automated inline 3D inspections, the multi-function Fanuc robots used for framing, dispensing and welding allow work to be completed within a smaller footprint on the plant floor. It all requires one-third of the employees needed in a traditional body shop.

On the production line itself, employees can use an Andon auto notification and messaging system to signal for help whenever it’s needed. If the answers don’t arrive within 7-1/2 minutes, the line can actually be stopped in its tracks to prevent critical defects.

Supplier park and technology center

There is more to come.

Seven suppliers have already expressed interest in locating in an adjacent supplier park.

A separate Advanced Technology Center located eight miles away will be used to accelerate emerging and Industry 4.0 technologies in commercial trucking, Navistar says, referring to plans for product development, testing and validation. It will also play a central role in work on zero-emission components, software, and autonomous technologies.

It’s already being used to onboard new employees through two-week orientation processes that cover lessons on topics such as lean manufacturing principles.

Navistar employees
Navistar’s manufacturing facility brought nearly 600 jobs to San Antonio, Texas. (Photo: Navistar)

“The sky is the limit for us,” Hernandez said, referring to the work in San Antonio and how it will establish the foundation for future work.

“We’re investing for the future,” said Mathias Carlbaum, president and CEO, suggesting the transportation industry will see more change in the next decade than it saw in the last 100 years.

The San Antonio plant will bring more than 600 jobs to the area, up from nearly 500 today, and Navistar also refers to commitments to diversity, equity and inclusion that guides them.

“The culture we’re building in our San Antonio Manufacturing Plant is one that values safety, quality, work ethic, and respect above all things,” said Rod Spencer, plant director.

“We’re going to build a lot of high-quality trucks.”

  • This article has been updated to include additional information.

John G. Smith is the editorial director of Newcom Media's trucking and supply chain publications -- including Today's Trucking, trucknews.com, TruckTech, Transport Routier, Inside Logistics, Waste & Recycling, and Road Today. The award-winning journalist has covered the trucking industry since 1995.


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