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Making a Million (Engines) at Indy

When the demand for diesels soared, the people at the Navistar Indianapolis Engine Plant had the difficult—but enviable—challenge of finding the way to nearly triple production. Here's some of what they did.

In August 2002, the second-generation Power Stroke turbo diesel 8 engine will go into production at the Navistar Indianapolis Engine Plant. Howard Miller, plant manager, who has been working at the facility for 30 years (and his father and grandfather also worked there), says the plan is to stop production of the current Power Stroke and to initiate the build of the successor engine. It will be a fast shutdown and quick startup. Navistar has a 10-year contract from Ford Motor Co. to manufacture the new engines (2002 to 2012).

Everyone figured that having a production capacity to produce 540 of these V8 engines per day would be sufficient when Navistar started building them for Ford in 1994. In short order, Navistar Indianapolis had to find the way to produce 1,400 per day.

Presently, work is underway in the plant to accommodate new equipment: in the machining area, there will be new transfer lines for the camshaft, connecting rod, block, and head; crankshaft equipmentcapable of handling both the existing crank and the new one (with tooling modifications, of course) is being put in now to supplement existing capacity.

They've been having a problem at the Indy plant during the past few years, the type of problem Miller wouldn't mind experiencing post-2002: When the current Power Stroke was launched in 1994, both Navistar and Ford personnel calculated how many Power Stroke engines they'd need to meet demand. The engine is used in both Super Duty F-Series and Econoline models. The number they came up with called for a plant capacity of 540 engines per day.

But the customers for the products rolling out of the Ford Kentucky Truck Plant were far more numerous than anyone had imagined. (Who could have predicted the truck boom that has taken the industry by storm?)

Right now, they are producing 1,400 engines per day. Since launch, they have manufactured one million Power Stroke diesels. It is this phenomenal demand that Miller wouldn't mind having to deal with again, for the second-generation engine.

Running Fast & Long.

Machining operations are running 7 × 24. Assembly generally has more slack: five days a week, three shifts. Pat Pielsticker, Resource Planning leader in Machining, admits that one of the toughest things to do nowadays is schedule preventive maintenance. After all, if things are running well, if the numbers are being met, the last thing anyone wants to do is to shut down equipment. "Back in the old days, we'd run until something broke," Pielsticker says, adding, "But now we accept the fact that we need to go down for maintenance."

Engine reliability is key for any diesel engine application. Daniel C. Ustain, president, Navistar Engine and Foundry Group, says that one way Navistar achieves it is by concentrating its efforts on engineering and building engines for on-highway applications. But there's on-highway for most of us and then there's what Gary and Monika Wescott—a.k.a., The Turtle Expedition—drive. Since 1972, they've driven trucks through the Amazon Jungle and across Siberia. The millionth Navistar Power Stroke engines was put into this Ford F-550 for the intrepid travelers. This, the Turtle V, replaces the Turtle IV, which is a 1992 Ford F-350, also equipped with a Power Stroke diesel.

Another challenge faced, points out Rick Bacon, Resource Planning leader in Assembly & Test, is that due to the profound increase in production (they are assembling nearly 470 engines per shift), the number of people in the plant has grown so that: "We have some people here with 40+ years experience and some who have been here for just a few weeks." Training has been important, not only because of the new hires, but because of the level of technology utilized (e.g., instrumented torque guns).

Making Modifications.

In order to increase capacity nearly three-fold in a short period of time (in the past year, output jumped 40%), it was necessary to make numerous changes in the plant. With regard to machining, Pielsticker says they added equipment wherever possible and even opened up areas for machinery. For example, what had once been an in-plant warehouse is now full of metalcutting equipment; they've leaned out the on-hand inventory. One bottleneck operation had been drilling and tapping holes in the block; to achieve the necessary throughput, the line including those operations was modified so that it is now dedicated to just drilling and tapping, thereby increasing throughput. (Of course, additional equipment was necessary to take up the other operations.)

Asked whether they'd considered implementing machining centers during their capacity increase, Pielsticker answers that they'd been unable to find equipment that provides the accuracy and productivity needed to keep up with the demands for the Power Strokes.

Over in Assembly, Bacon says modifications include the addition of assembly line loops, a doubling of the number of manual stations in the line, and the duplication of some automatic stations.

As preparations are being made for the next Power Stroke, they are architecting systems capacity that's approximately what they now have (330,000 engines annually). However, Miller points out that they're planning to run two shifts, five days a week, which provides them with the opportunity to build more engines by adding shifts.

Miller, not surprisingly, smiles when the issue of having to build more engines is brought up.