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Navistar adapts plant to manufacture over 125,000 engines a year in many variations of two block configurations and with a lot size of one


James D. Sawyer
Senior Editor

At its campus in Huntsville, AL, the Navistar Engine Group has two engine manufacturing facilities. Navistar’s newest diesel engine plant, Navistar Big Bore Diesels LLC, produces technologically advanced 11, 13, and 15-L inline diesel engines. The plant was designed to incorporate modern machine-tool technologies and manufacturing techniques to produce engines that meet stringent EPA emissions standards, known as EPA 2010, and exceed customer’s needs for performance, reliability, durability, and fuel efficiency in Class 8 trucks.  

Navistar Diesel of Alabama, the company’s first engine plant in Huntsville, has an interesting and significant history. Originally built by Onan to produce small gasoline engines to power electrical generators, it was closed by the subsidiary of Cummins Engine Co. Inc. and purchased by Navistar at the turn of the millennium. It was converted to the manufacture of V-6 and V-8 diesel engines and was up and running in 2002. Now, less than a decade later, the facility on James Record Road may be the only plant in the world producing both inline and V-block engines and mostly on the same line. 

The conversion of the plant involved many areas of expertise within Navistar. The product design, manufacturing engineering, IT, materials, purchasing, and supplier quality groups all contributed to a plant conversion that took less than nine months to accomplish. 

The goal of integrating the medium-duty-truck inline engine into the Huntsville V-engine facility was to increase capacity and asset utilization, address complexity issues, and expand the application of enhanced automotive quality technologies to traditional inline engines.  

“We built this plant from Day One to handle [product] complexity and uncertainty,” says Jim Jesionowski, Navistar Engine Group vice president of global manufacturing engineering and quality.  Navistar Diesel

The complexity comes from the large number of engine variations the plant can manufacture. “We are actually running 94 different engine models right now and we have an annual capacity of over 125,000 engines a year,” says Chuck Sibley, plant manager for both Huntsville plants. “We have a lot size of one. We can build a V-8, a V-6, an I-6—we really don’t care which is coming down the line at any particular time.”

Unlike the nearby Big Bore plant, which currently is only a 300,000-ft2 (27,900-m2) assembly operation, Navistar Diesel of Alabama combines both assembly and machining within its 650,000 ft2 (60,450 m2). Camshafts, crankshafts, cylinder heads, and crankcases are machined in whole or in part within the facility. (Cams are roughed in Huntsville and then sent to Navistar’s Melrose Park, IL, facility for finishing before being returned to Alabama.) The machining operations are in the front of the plant, and their work product flows to the engine assembly area in the rear of the facility.

And the uncertainty?  

“The reason I say uncertainty,” says Jesionowski, “is that we will support seven plants [from this facility]. We will build all of Navistar’s truck, bus, and recreational vehicle engines used in North America in Alabama. And rather than saying, ‘How are we going to handle this?’ if on short notice volume picks up a lot at any or all of those plants, or the sales mix changes drastically, we want to be able to respond in a timely manner. We built this plant from the start so that whatever happens in their schedules, we’ll react to it as fast as we can. Within 12 hours we’ll get them whatever they have to change to.” 

That set the bar high when the facility produced only V-6s and V-8s. Adding inline engines set it higher.  

“As we went through the planning for the integration of the inline engines into this facility,” Jesionowski says, “we realized there were four things we had to have to succeed. One is, in order to get the flexibility we had to have the right people. We knew we had that down here already.” 

A lot of companies talk about how people are their most valued asset. Navistar Diesel of Alabama proved it. Because remodeling the plant meant that it would be out of operation for a matter of months, there was the risk that skilled and valuable workers might seek other employment. To keep that from happening, Sibley devised what he calls the Employee to Volunteer plan. It kept employees on the payroll and off the unemployment line by assigning them to volunteer work in the Huntsville area. Employees thus spent their time refurbishing homes with Habitat for Humanity, building wheelchair ramps with Care Assurance Systems for the Aging and Homebound, and sorting inventory for the Salvation Army.

“This program was good for everyone” says Sibley, who came to Navistar from Onan in 2000. “Employees continued to receive their paychecks with full benefits, residents received needed assistance, and Navistar was able to give back to the community while retaining valuable talent.” 

Jesionowski’s second requirement: “We had to have strong leadership. When you talk about running an I and a V down the same line you have to have people who are willing to think about things differently. You really had to have a strong leadership organization, and Chuck does. Their common theme is ‘What do I need to do to run the business? This is the expectation of the customer; this is how I differentiate myself.’”

Navistar CrankshaftsThe third item was technology.  

“Originally, Chuck was set up for high volume/moderate complexity,” Jesionowski says, “so we had to transition the facility into what I consider moderate volume/high complexity.  In order to do that we obviously had to adjust our technologies. We always say we have common processes and strategies, and you don’t back away from those processes and strategies. But what you can do is change your method to achieve those processes and strategies. Where previously we would have put an automatic slide in, that automatic slide inhibited our flexibility. The answer in such cases, then, was to achieve the necessary flexibility with people using less-sophisticated technology than might have been used in a high-volume/moderate-complexity scenario.”

The last requirement was utilization. Navistar, according to Jesionowski, has a guiding strategy that says, in effect, don’t reinvent the wheel; leverage what the company has and build on what others have built. 

This emphasis on maximizing utilization—in effect, avoiding the waste of assets and resources—has allowed Navistar to free up space in its Melrose Park, IL, facility by moving much of the production of medium-duty I-block engines from there to Huntsville. This has allowed the company to establish a new testing and validation center at the 80-acre (323,748-m2) Chicago-area campus. Daniel C. Ustian, Navistar chairman, president and CEO, says the company plans to invest up to $90 million there over the next several years to create a state-of-the-art technology center. The Melrose Park facility is intended to complement Navistar’s integrated product development center that is being developed in nearby Lisle, IL. 

The pallets that carry engines through the manufacturing process give a good illustration of how the three goals set for the I-block/V-block integration project—increase capacity and asset utilization, address complexity issues, and apply enhanced automotive quality technologies to an inline diesel engine—had an impact on the project.

“Each pallet represents a lot size of one,” explains Sibley, “and each pallet houses an RFID tag that is read as it moves through the manufacturing process. The tag tells us what needs to be done to the engine at each station; what parts need to go on, additionally what tools should be turned on, and what tests should be performed on that engine at that station.” 

The original intent was to consolidate the pallet inventory to include only a single type that could accommodate both the V-block and the I-block engines. The size differences between the two block configurations made this seem impractical. The V-blocks are shorter front to back but wider side to side than the I-blocks. The I-blocks are much taller than the V-blocks. Navistar looked at numerous possible solutions.

“Sixty-five, in fact,” says Jesionowski. “We looked at all different combinations. We investigated everything.” 

The solution was, literally, at hand. The base of the V-block pallet that was already in use in the plant was modified to accommodate two different sets of legs, one for V-blocks and the other for I-blocks. 

“Pallets are expensive,” notes Sibley. “This way all we had to buy was the legs.” 

“One pallet fits all, that just wasn’t practical,” Jesionowski says, “But we have the next best thing. The operators can change the legs, giving us the flexibility—and the results—we need. Existing assets were utilized and complexity was addressed.”  

Another benefit the V-block brought to I-block manufacturing was adherence to automotive quality standards. Navistar Diesel of Alabama had been building V-block diesels for Ford, and thus had to adhere to Ford quality standards. These are now applied to the I-block engines as well. 

“We learned a lot from Ford and a lot from the automotive business,” says Ramon Mella, Navistar Engine Group director of global manufacturing engineering. He knows the Navistar Diesel of Alabama plant well. Mella was in charge of remodeling the facility when it was acquired from Onan. “We established automotive-level quality at this plant when it was established, and you are seeing that quality migrate to all of our other products. It’s pretty exciting because we see some pretty impressive numbers coming out right now in regards to quality.”

Jesionowski agrees. “We expect to see at the minimum a 60% improvement in the quality of the I-block [engines] that we are producing.” 

“We operate a no-fault-forward system,” Sibley explains. “Instead of building the engine all the way to hot test and saying I hope it runs, like people used to do, we have 15 different quality assurance stations integrated into the line. They include many types of tests and testing equipment: leak testers, pressure-decay leak testing, mechanical probing, we do a lot of wave-form analysis. If an engine fails, it goes through a repair loop and the operator can see what failed and he or she has to fix it. It still has to pass that test before it can go on. It gets fixed there or the operator can pull the engine off the line and scrap it or do whatever. It’s at the operator’s discretion. It cannot go farther through the line until it passes that test station. 

“There is no point in building an engine all the way to the end if you’ve got a block with a leak, or a gasket that has a ding. There is no point in building the whole engine to figure that out.” 

Helping to error-proof the process is the fact that there are no air-driven tools or spindles on the line. Every one is DC interlocked with the line. When an engine gets to a station the data for the engine that is written on the RFID tag is read. “The system then turns on all the tools in that station,” Sibley says, “From reading the tag the system now knows it’s supposed to do four torques of 33 Nm and two torques of 17 Nm at this point, and if the RFID tag isn’t told that’s happened the engine can’t leave, it can’t go. It will sit there forever, and the operator will say ‘I give up, I don’t know what to do,’ and reject it.  Cold Testing

“On the repair loop the operator can see on his screen everything the engine needed to have done but didn’t get. That’s because every tool is interlocked with every other tool, every spindle. We even have angles set on them so you can’t cross-thread the fasteners. We have a strategy so that a fastener can’t be tightened twice, leaving one untightened.” 

The error-proofing effort at Navistar Diesel of Alabama is so extensive and so successful that the company is building a catalog of error-proofing solutions. It will be shared throughout Navistar’s global operations. “We want to have those catalogs so people can look and say, ‘I have this problem,’ then flip through the catalog and see that this is what’s been done in other parts of the world.” Sibley and Lance Fulks, business team leader, assembly, at the Huntsville plant, even visited Navistar’s operations in Brazil and brought back error-proofing solutions to consider for use in the Alabama plants—and to put in the catalog. 

Cold testing, Jesionowski says, is also part of the quality regimen. There are 30-plus sensors on an engine and “cold testing actually isolates individual sensors, you can actually see that, whereas in a hot test environment you get this dynamic situation going on, you’ve got a combustion process going on, you’ve got vibration, you’ve got fluctuation in oil pressures, changing demands on the engine, transitioning though lug curves and things like that. In cold testing, you are dynamically isolating the sensor and you can tell how that sensor is functioning. We can actually detect differences when we have two suppliers providing the same part.  

“The cold test provides you with that ability to learn more about the engine than you could with the hot-test strategy. That’s why the president is committed to it for the corporation. He sees the benefit of it and he’s committed to taking cold testing global.” 

To plant manager Sibley, perhaps the most important contributors to quality are the workers. “When you come into work here,” he explains, “you get a coach assigned to you. You watch him work at a station at first. Then as you get familiar with one type of engine he’ll let you do stuff to try to get the hang of it. But he is still your coach and he is still responsible for your quality. Finally you get certified on that engine at that station. Next you learn how to run all the different models that go through there.”

Once you are certified on all the engine types that go through that station, however, you are not done. “Next,” Sibley continues, “a master coach comes over and you have to demonstrate to him that you can do it, so we can make sure the first coach didn’t pencil-whip your certification or not do a good job teaching you. You have to show that master coach you can do it.”  

At this point you are fully certified at this station. But all workers must be certified at five different stations because they are required to rotate jobs every two hours.

“There are three reasons for this,” Sibley says. “One is to prevent repetitive-motion injuries; that is part of why we don’t have lost-time accidents. Two, if it’s a crappy job, and there are crappy jobs, everybody only takes two hours a day on it and everybody gets a dose. Three is that you always have somebody that knows how to run a job. You’ll never have to say, ‘Bob’s sick, Bob’s on vacation, how are we going to run it?’ That situation never comes up.” 

Jesionowski reiterates the point: “As I said, we realized that in order to succeed with this project we needed flexibility, and to get the flexibility, we had to have the right people. We knew we had that down here already.” ME

This article was first published in the October 2011 edition of Manufacturing Engineering magazine.  Click here for PDF 


Published Date : 10/1/2011

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