Continuing high demand for Class 8 trucks prompted Kenworth to begin an expansion of its assembly plant in Chillicothe, Ohio, and executives on April 24 wielded celebratory shovels to toss some symbolic dirt.
The $140 million investment will add a new building housing a 120,000-square-foot paint shop, while a $33 million robotic cab assembly cell is close to completion. The projects expand a plant that has been enlarged a number of times since its opening in 1974, raising production from 17 trucks per day to as many as 200 now.
The new facility will increase painting capacity by 50% and help add up to 10% to the production rate, according to Mike Dozier, Kenworth’s general manager. Painting is a traditional bottleneck in truck manufacturing, and the present shop now runs on three shifts per day while other production operates on two shifts. The larger shop might allow dropping the third shift upon completion in 2021. Space now occupied by current painting operations will be converted to other production activities, contributing to the overall expansion.
The new robotic cab assembly cell will occupy 40,000 square feet on the existing production floor. A smaller robotic cell has been in operation for some time.
The Chillicothe plant now covers 502,000 square feet on a 120-acre site on the north side of Chillicothe in south-central Ohio. Workers assemble KW’s T680 and W990 highway models and T880 vocational trucks, all of which use Kenworth’s 2.1-meter-wide cab. Last Friday, the last truck using the older-style 1.9-meter-wide cab came off the line, and the W900 and T800 models using that cab will now be assembled at KW’s plant in Renton, Washington.
The new facility will use robotic paint application equipment for quality and efficiency, and state-of-the-art emissions-control devices to support the company’s commitment to clean air, Dozier said. Paint will be spread thinner but more evenly, and customer will notice the difference. As now, emissions from the shop will be 80% less than required by state and federal regulations.
The Chillicothe plant earned the 2018 Encouraging Environmental Excellence “E3” Gold Award from the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, the company said. The award recognizes businesses, nonprofits and government agencies in Ohio that demonstrate the commitment to exceed regulatory compliance and deliver exceptional achievements in environmental stewardship.
Earlier this year, the plant received a Manufacturing Leadership Award from the National Association of Manufacturers. The award recognized the Chillicothe team’s development of innovative material handling systems that protect paint quality throughout the assembly process.
Along with Dozier, the symbolic dirt-tossing ceremony featured Harrie Schippers, president and chief financial officer of Paccar, Kenworth’s corporate parent; Rod Spencer, Chillicothe plant manager; Judy McTigue, Kenworth assistant general manager of operations; and Jay Timmons, president and CEO of the National Association of Manufacturers. Also participating were federal, state, county and local officials.
“Our investment in this outstanding new facility highlights Kenworth’s focus on leveraging technology to continually enhance the quality of the products we provide our customers, while also reinforcing Kenworth’s commitment to the production of industry-leading Class 8 trucks by the more than 2,000 outstanding employees at our Chillicothe plant,” said Dozier.