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Navistar pulls curtain back on $90-million integrated tech center


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Fleet Owner / May 24, 2013

MELROSE PARK, IL. The $90-million investment Navistar has made to integrate its vehicle development and testing functions last fall into a single location here close by its Lisle, IL headquarters campus in suburban Chicago is already having a positive impact, according to company executives.

Consolidating engineering activities around vehicle development and testing at Navistar’s historic (nearly 75,000 engines for B-24 Liberator bombers were built here in WWII) and sprawling (2-million sq ft currently) engine plant helps enable “a new focus on excellence in manufacturing,” stated Navistar CEO Troy Clarke.

The result will be higher-quality trucks and engines coming to market that should increase the OEM’s market share. Clarke noted that Navistar’s current 14.5% share of Class 8 is less than half what it was before the company chose to not pursue SCR technology for its heavy-duty engines.

With higher-quality products — including its own SCR-equipped MaxxForce 13L engine as well as the Cummins ISX 15L now reaching the market, Clarke expects International’s Class 8 market share will climb to as high as 18% by the close of the OEM’s fiscal year this fall.

“We’ve taken decisive actions [to move ahead] on a broad front to gain adjustments in our cost structure,” Clarke told Fleet Owner. “Along with moving to SCR for MaxxForce and the ISX launch, we’ve reduced costs significantly through better management of all the processes. For us, it has to be about excellence in everything from engineering to purchasing to manufacturing.

“What we are doing,” he added, “is building off a new [leaner] foundation and so now we can start to begin to gain back market share.”

Steve Nash, director of operations for Navistar’s Test Center in Melrose Park, oversees testing and validation for all Navistar North American products. Since joining the OEM last year, he’s “led the creation of one of the few test centers in the commercial vehicle industry that can accommodate a full-size tractor or bus.”

Nash was responsible for the project’s $90-million budget, managing the migration of existing Navistar test capabilities (primarily from Ft. Wayne, IN) “and building on those capabilities to strengthen product quality.”

“The centralized capabilities here enabled the ProStar Plus tractor powered by the Cummins ISX 15 in the record time of five months. And the ProStar Plus with our MaxxForce 13 SCR-equipped engine was delivered in April — ahead of schedule.”

According to Nash, vehicle development and testing has been greatly enhanced by via the new integrated facilities model.

“We integrated the functions of our Fort Wayne [iN] Tech Center here, although we are maintaining the test track there. We also consolidated secondary development/testing operations here,” he explained

“The result is we can handle prototype building and testing as well as field-testing operations here in one facility,” Nash added, “ and it is a short drive from the main campus” facilitating face-to-face consultation among engineers and others in the company.

Nash said the Melrose Park operation now includes 56 prototype “build bays” with 50 build engineers, machinists and mechanics on staff as well as a 650,000-sq.-ft. test facility with 300 test engineers, technicians and operators on staff. In addition, field-testing operations involve facilities in Denver and central Ohio.

He noted that the consolidation and the advanced facilities here enable the OEM “to better focus on key customer concerns: reliability/quality/uptime; the driver experience; initial design and visual impact; and of course, fuel efficiency.”

Key vehicle development and testing capabilities in Melrose Park now also include:

  • Body Development Lab— which runs such tests as frontal impact, roof strength, seat-pull
  • Shaker Test Lab—which can test and run up to four truck cab assemblies
  • Hot and Cold Chamber—tests at temperatures of -40°F to 130°F
  • Corrosion Lab-- contains a ‘full vehicle’ chamber
  • Engine Dyno Testing-- 50 engine test cells

And slated for Phase II of the project are:

  • Completion of Climatic Wind Tunnel
  • Noise/Vibration/Harshness Test Lab
  • Museum

The Melrose Park complex also continues to produce Navistar’s MaxxForce DT, MaxxForce 9 and MaxxForce 10 diesel engines.

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This reasonably modern looking plant hides its age and history well. The 125-acre former Buick engine plant on North Avenue in Melrose Park, Illinois was constructed in 1941 to produce Pratt and Whitney R-1830 engines for the Army Air Corps' four-engined Consolidated B-24 “Liberator” heavy bombers. After the war, International Harvester purchased the plant to manufacture engines for trucks, construction and agricultural machinery.

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