Kenworth colors to come from $140-M facility

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From left are Karen Logan, Kenworth Truck Company controller; Lex Tisdale, Kenworth Chillicothe director of engineering manufacturing; Jack Schmitt, Kenworth Chillicothe assistant plant manager; Judy McTigue, Kenworth assistant general manager for operations; Jay Timmons, president and CEO, National Association of Manufacturers (NAM); Harrie Schippers, Paccar president and chief financial officer; Mike Dozier, Kenworth general manager and Paccar vice-president; and Rod Spencer, Kenworth Chillicothe plant manager. (Photo: John G. Smith)

CHILLICOTHE, Ohio – Kenworth is officially breaking ground on a new paint facility for its Class 8 truck assembly plant in Chillicothe, Ohio – representing a US $140-million investment that will support higher production volumes and better finishes alike.

The 120,000-sq.ft. facility to open in 2021 will be 25% larger than the existing painting area within today’s manufacturing facility and increase capacity by 50%.

While the manufacturing operation currently runs on two shifts per day, the existing paint facility needs to run on three shifts to keep up.

Kenworth currently offers trucks in almost 20,000 different colors, and a color-matching system can meet just about any request, said plant manager Rod Spencer. In a typical year, the trucks that roll off the line could come in 1,300 to 1,500 different shades and tones.

But there will be a difference in the coatings to come. The latest generation of rotary spray guns will atomize the paint and deliver thinner coats with less overspray, Spencer said. “The customers will see the difference in the gloss.”

Any VOC-related emissions will also be “dramatically lower” than those produced today, he said. Emissions are already 80% lower than permits require, and the Chillicothe plant secured a 2018 Encouraging Environmental Excellence Gold Award from the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, recognizing environmental stewardship.

“It’s exciting times at the factory. We’re running the plant at record build rates,” Spencer added. Last year, the Ohio facility was responsible for producing a record 39,800 trucks, representing 90% of Kenworth’s heavy-duty volumes and more than 70% of the trucks it made overall.

Eighty-five percent of the trucks made at the location will stay in the U.S., but 15% are exported to Canada. Medium-duty Paccar vehicles are produced at a facility in Ste. Therese, Que.

“Chillicothe, Ohio is a great place for Paccar and Kenworth to build trucks,” said Paccar president Harrie Schippers, referring to proximity to customers, the supply base, and all-important skilled employees.

“We hear stories of small communities across the country where people fear they’re being left behind, and that’s not the case here,” said Jay Timmons, president and CEO of the National Association of Manufacturers, which recently honored the plant with a 2019 Manufacturing Leadership Award from its manufacturing leadership council. That honor recognized new material handling systems which help to protect paint quality through the assembly process.

Recent investments in the plant haven’t been limited to the paint facility alone. This summer Kenworth will complete work on a $33-million robotic cab assembly cell that will be used to produce T680, T880 , and W990 trucks.

The company has invested about $200 million in the facility over the past five years.

Kenworth first opened manufacturing operations in Chillicothe in 1974. It employs 2,300 workers.

And it clearly plays an important role in the local economy.

“I know first-hand what manufacturing can mean to families,” said Timmons, who was raised in a nearby community. “This investment reflects Paccar’s profound commitment to manufacturing in the United States.”

An artist’s rendering of the paint facility to come. (Photo: Paccar)


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John G. Smith is Newcom Media's vice-president - editorial, and the editorial director of its trucking publications -- including Today's Trucking,, and Transport Routier. The award-winning journalist has covered the trucking industry since 1995.

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