International says ProStar on track for January ’07 launch

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International Truck and Engine Corp. says its launch in January 2007 of its new ProStar class 8 tractor is right on schedule, thanks to the $270 million transformation of its Chatham, Ontario, plant that manufactures the flagship aerodynamic tractor.

Five years in development, the new International Prostar is designed to provide unparalleled driver satisfaction, unprecedented uptime and the lowest cost of ownership. With the tractor already online and in production runs, the company plans a final quality review soon to ensure an all-go signal in January. Helping meet that schedule has been the major modernization of the Chatham facility, including a complete reconfiguration of the assembly line.

“We expect a flawless launch because we have developed a truly great product using a great process to ensure we understand and deliver on our customers’ buying motivations,” says Tom Baughman, vice president and general manager of the heavy truck group at Warrenville, Ill.-based International. “As the International ProStar represents a new standard for line-haul tractors, the Chatham plant represents the new standard for manufacturing heavy trucks.”

In March 2003, International announced it was closing the Chatham plant to address competitive market conditions. But the Canadian Auto Workers and the company worked together and secured financial support from Ontario and the Canadian government to modernize the plant. An estimated $270 million has been invested in technology, state-of-the-art equipment, a research-and-development facility, and advanced skills and training at the facility, which employs about 1,700 workers.

International says the reconfigured assembly line helps streamline the ProStar tractor’s production in several ways. The new line is designed to accommodate the ProStar’s more modular production process; for instance, modules for its battery box/air tank, fuel tank module, pre-assembled and pre-painted chassis skirts and bottom-hinged, pre-assembled bumpers are all part of the new process design that improves line throughput and efficiencies, according to the company.

Among other modernizing steps, a new chassis spray paint booth has been completed that should facilitate improved paint coverage while reducing paint usage and also making environmental improvements. And International says it has been working with ergonomic experts to identify and make jobs as productive, quality-conducive and ergonomically efficient as possible. Further, a relentless pursuit of continuous improvement in safety has been under way to ensure the plant and its employees can adapt to a changing workplace, according to the company.

International officials say they have set a detailed launch-readiness review process that maximizes the value of each build process and lets them review each functional area. A comprehensive ProStar training program also is under way, encompassing all functions and including a custom-made initiative to upgrade the skills of plant employees in a variety of areas. Further, the company has established a final-product quality audit for each shift; the audit reviews each of five tractors produced per shift with a set list of items from the customer’s perspective. The Chatham plant aims to establish a workplace model for manufacturing long-haul and other trucks.

The Chatham plant was spotlighted at a Sept. 26-27 media tour to highlight quality improvements at the assembly plant and demonstrate overall readiness for the ProStar launch in January, among other things.