Continuous Improvement is a Way of Life at McNeilus Truck

You’d think that an established industry leader like McNeilus Truck and Manufacturing, Inc. of Dodge Center, MN (an Oshkosh Corporation Company) could rest on their laurels and ride the wave of success, but it’s just not that easy.  They didn’t get to the top by being complacent, and staying an industry leader is no different, especially in the competitive economic times we’re all in today.  When it comes to Continuous Improvement at McNeilus, it’s not a project.  It’s a way of life.

Always striving to be better tomorrow than you are today is not only hard work, it takes creativity, entrepreneurial thinking, planning, and of course it takes resources.  An example of the commitment of resources is their seven full time Design Engineers dedicated to working on manufacturing projects according to McNeilus Truck’s Kevin Bell, their Manufacturing Services Manager.  His responsibilities include automation, tooling and weld engineering within the state-of-the-art manufacturing facility.

Projects come to the Manufacturing Services department for the benefit of versatility, flexibility, productivity and safety.  A typical project for Manufacturing Services is some form of “purpose built” equipment or fixture which will go through five phases before it is complete:

  1. Concept – The Concept phase is where the initial Budgetary and Return-On-Investment is determined for either prioritizing or establishing the viability of a project.
  2. Design – The Design phase is next after getting through the Concept.  Design Engineers are tasked with taking the project from a conceptual idea to making it a reality including detailed drawings and creating a bill of material.  This facilitates the ability to arrive at a final cost and the approval by the appropriate personnel to take the project to the next level.
  3. Prototype – This phase is the actual building of the equipment or fixture.
  4. Pilot – Pilot is conducting the initial run to verify cycle times as well as quality and integrity verification.  Then, the integration begins with material planning for the seamless implementation of the new production piece of equipment into the manufacturing process.
  5. Production – Once the previous four phases are completed in chronological order, the project is placed into production and the project is complete.

Due to the mere size of the concrete and refuse truck body products manufactured at his facility, numerous projects have focused on jigs and fixtures many of which are highly automated.  One of the key personnel working on the actual building of fixtures is Joe Attleson, Supervisor of the Jigs & Fixtures Department which is part of Manufacturing Services.  “These fixtures provide increased productivity with quicker change over rates from one product to the next while creating an environment for greater quality assurance”, Attleson says.  “The parts being held in these fixtures can weigh in the thousands of pounds.  Consequently, holding and handling these parts necessitates the use of hydraulic cylinders which provide high force.  The complexity of the fixtures requires the use of a PLC (Programmable Logic Controller).  The use of PLC’s provide the logic to assure all clamps are activated and all pieces are in place before the robotic welding process begins.  The logic capability also provide for safety interlocks for workers on that respective production line.”

With the use of a PLC in the highly automated fixtures, the requirements for the hydraulic cylinders change toward higher technology.  In order for the cylinders to communicate and become an integral extension of the controller, many of the cylinders incorporate the use of end of stroke switches as well as linear displacement transducers to determine cylinder position (Smart Cylinders).  Just as the fixture is purpose built for the requirements within the manufacturing facility, the hydraulic cylinders are purpose built pursuant to the requirements of the fixture as dictated by the McNeilus Design Engineering staff.

This is a photo of a fixture nearing completion which will then go through its “Pilot” before it is put into the production line.

This photo shows an existing fixture that is getting updates for greater automation including indexing the finished product to the next operation in the manufacturing process without the use of a hoist.

Much of the specific details and photographs of the fixtures in operation have been excluded due to the sensitive and proprietary nature of the McNeilus plant.  A tremendous amount of resources both monetary as well as empirically derived are allocated toward these manufacturing techniques and projects.   The incorporation of linear and rotary actuators with the use of electricity, pneumatics and hydraulics into one piece of equipment is amazing to see.  Thank you to Kevin Bell and Joe Attleson for a high level inside look at the process utilized for manufacturing continuous improvement initiatives at McNeilus Truck and Manufacturing.  Also, thank you for utilizing Aggressive Hydraulics for your hydraulic cylinder requirements.