WESTERN Star Trucks marked the official start of heavy-duty truck production at its new manufacturing location — Freightliner Corporation's Portland (Oregon) truck manufacturing plant on Swan Island. In an October 2002 ceremony attended by Oregon Secretary of State Bill Bradbury, Portland Mayor Vera Katz, customers and dealers, Western Star employees delivered the first Portland-built Western Star to an owner-operator customer from British Columbia.
It was about a year ago that the company announced it was moving truck production and other operations from Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada, to Portland. In the months since, Western Star invested $16 million to prepare the Portland plant for Western Star production. Headquartered in Willoughby, Ohio, Western Star produces premium, custom trucks for long-haul and vocational applications.
Plant management expects Western Star production in Portland to reach 16 a day by January 2003. Western Star was building eight to 12 a day at the Kelowna plant. Western Star trucks share the Portland assembly line with Freightliner's military truck production and the Freightliner Coronado.
As part of a product rationalization throughout the Freightliner family, Western Star has been trimmed to two primary models — the 4900 that comes in several variants for over-the-road and vocational applications and the 6900, which is specifically targeted at severe-duty activities such as coal mining. Owner-operators remain a key target market. Approximately 10% of the Western Star output is exported overseas, according to company officials.
The Western Star chassis assembly is housed in a new 15,000-sq-ft addition. Sections of the line have been widened and reinforced to handle even the biggest Western Star off-road chassis.
A state-of-the-art E-coat system to prime cabs for protection against corrosion has been installed, and the topcoat paint facility is being upgraded to a true clean-room environment. Already, Portland was using paint robots to produce consistent finish quality.
A new cab-in-white assembly line also is in place. The finish cab line was lengthened with additional workstations, including a water-leak-test booth and a cab-and-sleeper integrator fixture.
To assure quality and continuity of the product, “Western Star has made significant investments not only in new equipment and systems but also in employee training,” Nielsen said. “We have a great deal of confidence in the ability of the Portland Plant workforce to help continue Western Star's quality and prestigious character.”
The Portland Truck Manufacturing Plant opened in 1969 and today employs approximately 1,100 people.
Further contributing to a successful changeover are about 100 key Western Star engineering, manufacturing, sales administration, applications, purchasing, service, warranty, and finance personnel who have relocated to Portland. These include Carsten Reinhardt, former general manager of operations for Western Star in Kelowna and now general manager of the Portland Truck Manufacturing Plant; Cary Gatzke, director of Western Star Engineering; Wayne LaRochelle, director of manufacturing; and Tony McParland, quality assurance manager.
In addition to the managers, the company also brought a handful of assembly-line workers from Kelowna to Portland to train local workers on the new truck lines. The trainers were expected to complete their jobs by the end of December.