The Kenworth plant in Chillicothe, Ohio, is getting a $17 million automated storage facility to bring cab parts inside, out of the weather, and add efficiency to assembly operations, executives said on Wednesday. They also foresee another healthy sales year for Class 8 trucks.
Contractors are adding a second story that will house the facility, along with a computerized material handling system that will store parts as they’re delivered and retrieve them for trimming and positioning on the assembly line, where they’ll be matched to chassis.
The facility is scheduled for operation in November, said Judy McTeague, the plant’s manager.
The plant now is on two shifts: The first shift is at capacity, 80 trucks per day, and the second assembles 45 a day, following a “feathering” of production last year to react to a slight softening in new-truck orders, she said.
Class 8 retail sales in North America his year should reach 220,000 to 250,000 – still a healthy number following last year’s 280,000, Swihart said. Overall economic factors have turned upward in recent months, boding well for continued high freight tonnage and therefore demand for trucks to haul various commodities and products.
Construction in particular is strong as “new-housing starts are the highest they’ve been since 2006-2007,” Swihart said. That maintains the strong market for vocational trucks.
“We have anecdotal stories from around the country that it’s difficult for dealers to keep stock dump trucks on their lots,” he said, “because they’re selling so fast.”
The Chillicothe plant makes Kenworth’s two latest models, the T680 highway tractor and the T880 vocational model, along with “legacy” T660 and T800 models. The T680, introduced four years ago, now comprises half of all KW sales, said Kurt Swihart, marketing director. The T880, introduced in 2013, accounts for 30% of all sales.
The remainder of sales are of legacy trucks with some customers still prefer, but the percentage is dwindling as buyers discover the room and technology advantages of the more recent models, he said.
The new parts facility and handling system will boost efficiency through rapid storage of painted parts, and deliver them faster when they’re needed on the assembly line, McTeague said.The 25,000 square-foot addition, being built on the top of the current plant, will have a climate-controlled environment to provide quality improvements for painted parts.
The first Kenworth truck rolled off the Chillicothe assembly line in 1974. Employees at the state-of-the-art Kenworth factory produced the plant’s milestone 500,000th truck in February. Throughout the plant’s 42-year history, Kenworth-Chillicothe employees have maintained a strong focus on quality, efficiency, customer satisfaction, and environmental stewardship, executives said.