International preparing plant for '07 models

International Truck and Engine Corp. is in the midst of a major makeover for its Class 8 truck plant in Chatham, Ontario, as it prepares to build a new series of heavy trucks - internally dubbed the "LH" series - for the 2007 model year.

The company shifted the plant's chassis frame and engine mounting line this summer to make room for a new 172-ft long paint booth assembly, designed to handle much higher truck production volumes than its current 100-ft long paint area.

The new chassis paint line is going to consist of a "pre-heat" area to raise the ambient temperature of the chassis' steel components, allowing the paint to adhere better to the frame. Pits planned for the booth will allow operators to work underneath the frame to ensure better paint coverage of wheel assemblies and other hard-to-reach areas. A 50-ft oven and 15-ft "cool off" booth will dry the paint faster and cool the metal down so it can be worked on more easily. A tour of the Chatham plant, which opened in 1948, also revealed plans for new overhead monorail crane systems as International gears up to start building the Class 8 LH line by January next year.

These modernization efforts represent a reversal of fortune for the Chatham plant. Two years ago, a labor dispute with the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) union convinced International to shut down Chatham and shift production of its 9000 Series Class 8 trucks to its plant in Escobedo, Mexico.

However, last minute negotiations that resulted in a more flexible work schedule convinced International to reverse course. It boosted daily plant production from 35 to 162 trucks and made the Escobedo plant home to its new medium-duty Class 5 CF cabover line.

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