Navistar says consolidating operations in its Lisle, Ill., headquarters makes for better creative thinking and leads to higher quality products.
Integration of Navistar Inc.’s engineering and development activities in Chicago’s western suburbs, largely completed last fall, are resulting in smooth cooperation among engine and vehicle people, company executives said yesterday during a tour of their expanded engine manufacturing and testing facilities in Melrose Park, Ill.
Vehicle development functions once handled at the company’s old technical center in Fort Wayne, Ind., are now done at Melrose Park and at the corporate headquarters in Lisle, about 20 minutes away. Easy everyday face-to-face communications have replaced three-hour trips to and from the old center, helping to offset costs of the move, executives said.
The Melrose Park facility features a number of engine test cells where they are able to simulate a variety of weather and temperature conditions.
Meanwhile, conversion of Navistar’s 12.4-liter MaxxForce 13 diesel to selective catalytic reduction was completed and certified in about nine months after the decision was made last summer, and test engines now running are proving very reliable, said Troy Clarke, who took over as the company’s president and CEO in March.
SCR-equipped MaxxForce 13s are now being shipped for installation in International ProStar+ trucks. In December, integration of the 15-liter Cummins ISX into the same model was completed and shipments begun. Both are important milestones in Navistar’s financial recovery, Clarke said.
High warranty costs with pre-SCR MaxxForce 13s led to sales and financial losses and to a management shakeup instigated by major shareholders.
Gaining Back Market Share
“A new focus on excellence” in manufacturing has resulted in high-quality products which should boost Navistar’s slumping Class 8 market share. That share now stands at 14.5%, less than half what it was prior to the engine problems, Clarke said. He hopes to see that revived to perhaps 18% by the end of the company’s fiscal year this fall.
“I’m in the office Mondays and Fridays, and the rest of the week I’m out meeting with customers and selling trucks,” he said. “I’ve sold a thousand trucks – well, it’s not just me, it’s with the help of all these people,” he said as he gestured toward a group of marketing, sales and product managers seated nearby at a long dinner table.
The dinner Wednesday night was for visiting trade press writers, some of whom will drive Internationals with SCR-equipped MaxxForce 13 engines on Thursday. Clarke said they should notice “greater responsiveness” to throttle inputs made possible by “dialing back on EGR and dealing with the exhaust with SCR.”
Employees at Navistar's Melrose Park location conduct many experiments and tests like pictured above where they are testing out slamming a door.
Phasing out and closing of the Fort Wayne tech center took about a year and was completed last November, said Denny Mooney, vice president for global product development. About 30 employees remain there to staff the old test track, which is still in use. Only one-third of the center’s engineers and technicians elected to move to the Chicago area, while the rest preferred to remain in northeast Indiana and seek new jobs there.
But having everyone together in the Chicago area is a great convenience and sparks creative thinking that doesn’t happen in a phone conversation, said Mooney, whose office is in Lisle. (Like Clarke, he is a former General Motors executive and engineer.)
“I enjoy going to Melrose Park because I walk down the halls and see the engineers, and I bump into people and start talking,” he said. “I like talking to an engineer about what he’s working on.”
For many years vehicle development was done by Fort Wayne employees while engine development was accomplished at Melrose Park. Now much of both is done at an expanded Melrose Park facility, which houses additional engine test cells, climate chambers, fatigue-inducing devices, a vehicle shaker stand, and a huge “build and development” shop. A full-scale wind tunnel is now being built.
Other vehicle and engine work is done at the Lisle headquarters. Facilities in the sprawling complex include a “power wall,” which is a huge multi-panel screen where full-size, scaled-down and blown-up images of components and complete trucks are displayed. This enables engineers and product planners to see how parts go together before committing them to production.
The Melrose Park location features this vehicle shaker stand.
A 20-minute ride on a shuttle bus lets workers from either facility meet whenever necessary, explained Steve Nash, operations director for product integration and validation at Melrose Park. The facility was expanded by about 15% to accommodate new functions, and now covers 2 million square feet.
The plant was built in 1941 to produce aircraft engines during World War II, other managers said. International Harvester Co., which became Navistar International in the early ‘80s, bought the building in 1946 to make diesel engines for farm implements, then gasoline truck engines. It turned out the first truck diesel, a DT-466, in the mid ‘80s.
It now assembles the MaxxForce DT and MaxxForce 9 in-line 6-cylinder diesels and the MaxxForce 7 V-8 diesel. The MaxxForce 13, Navistar’s big-bore I-6, is produced at Huntsville, Ala.