• Freightliner: Where custom work is the standard!

    326by Jon M. Casey

    Our 2013 APWA North American Show Conference tour group arrived at the Freightliner Mount Holly, NC assembly plant on April 10, where company hosts awaited our arrival. As we disembarked the busses in front of the administration building, Jim Giesey, a Product Improvement staff member, welcomed us. His promise of an interesting and informative tour of the 630,000-square-foot production plant was more than met with great satisfaction after spending nearly three hours touring the plant. It was evident from what we saw, that each vehicle assembled at this facility is built with the kind of attention to detail and quality control that makes the Freightliner truck line an industry leader.
    After a brief welcome from Director of Production, Janine Wright, who spoke on behalf of Mark Hernandez, plant manager,  who was unavailable on this day, we assembled in groups of four or five with each group having their own tour guide. Ed Wise, a TOS/Quality Assurance production technician with nearly 30 years of service with Freightliner, hosted our group.
    Great attitudes
    Foremost in the activities of the workers that we observed was their morale. Without exception, the hourly production workers as well as the management team, were enthusiastic about their workplace and genuinely praised their employer Daimler/Freightliner. “This has always been a good place to work,” said Wise. “It got even better when we went to the LEAN manufacturing process. That began in 2002. Their efforts have produced an amazing  success story since. Today, we are the most efficient assembly plant in the Freightliner truck group.”
    A brief history
    Wise explained that the Mt. Holly plant has evolved since it opened in 1979, when it made long haul, heavy duty trucks for customers in the eastern United States and Canada. The plant was converted to a facility that exclusively made medium duty trucks in 1996 and in 2002, the plant underwent an major renovation. That is not only when they converted to the LEAN manufacturing method, but they introduced the M2 line of medium duty Freightliners at that time as well. That line continues to be produced at the plant today. Since its opening in 1979, more than a half-million Freightliners have come off the assembly line at the Mt. Holly plant.
    During our tour, Wise told us that the current    production rate is approximately 98 vehicles per day. At peak production, with added workers and scheduling, the plant is capable of turning out approximately 150 trucks per day. With the variety of      models and applications that come from this plant, it’s no wonder that it is reasonable to say that each truck is custom made.
    With the medium duty M-2 line for class 5-8 trucking applications and the 114SD and 108SD models filling the severe duty vocational application roles, and with truck chassis models being produced in varying lengths and wheelbases as well, customers are able to have the options they need to do the work that their equipment needs to do. From custom cabs and custom paint jobs to engines of various makes and horsepower ratings to suspension and load capabilities, there’s a medium duty truck of every kind imaginable, emerging from the assembly line every seven minutes or so.
    The tour
    To see how the parts and assemblies come together at the various stages of development during the production line process, is something like watching a choreographed stage play, with the actors being portrayed by experienced craftsmen. From the time the chassis frames are placed at the start of the main assembly line until they exit the building at the other end of the plant, a myriad of stops along the way need to be strategically planned so that the proper components all come together to make each individual truck, the product the customer expects.
    From one truck to the next, virtually everything can be different with no two vehicles emerging from the process with an identical configuration. While the frame rails may be identical in many of the trucks, from that point on, what goes into making each   vehicle depends on how the customer plans to use it.
    A host of engine and transmission packages as well as suspension and axle packages goes into making trucks like these. The options are endless. From single cab, crew cab and all the amenities that go into the operator side of the equation, to drum brakes, disc brakes, tire and wheel combinations, it all adds up to a custom built product with each and every vehicle.
    That calls for the timely arrival of things like painted, outfitted and finished cabs, arriving for installation on the frames at just the right time. Similarly, the engine and transmission assemblies need to be ready and available at the right stage of assembly; just before the cab is lowered onto the unit. After all this takes place, the wheel and tire assemblies are installed by workers who use amazing multiple drive DC Electric nut runners to put on, secure and     properly torque the ten lug nuts onto the wheel studs, all with one action. (What a NASCAR® tire changer wouldn’t give for one of those in the pits!)
    From there, it’s just a matter of moments before the truck’s engine is started while still on the moving line. If there are any issues with the new truck at this point, like a component that was not installed because it had not arrived at time of final assembly, the truck is moved to an offline area until that component is safely installed. At that time, the vehicle re-enters the line, moving to the final assembly procedure for all trucks.
    Before its final approval, it is driven to an offline area where the truck receives a precision wheel alignment and dynamometer check. The brakes are tested using a computerized, ABS system. Trucks go through a water leak test and a final inspection that includes an operational check on the fifth wheel system for tractors that will be pulling trailers. From there, it’s a short trip to the staging area where the new trucks are transported to their awaiting owners throughout North America.
    As consumers know, these new truck chassis can be outfitted for work under all sorts of circumstances from conventional to severe-duty applications. From snow plows on dump bodies to vehicles outfitted as bucket trucks, well drilling rigs, vacuum excavation or cranes, end-users are able to design a new Freightliner to meet just about any need. For more information on Freightliner Trucks, call 800-FTL-HELP for a local dealer or visit their website at www.Freightlinertrucks.com

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