CAT out of the bag
Quality is crucial on a production line, writes James Stanford
AN OLD grader assembly plant at Tullamarine is now the home to the world’s first CAT trucks.
Big Wheels has been granted access to the production line where the first batch of CAT trucks are being assembled by NC2, a joint venture by US companies Caterpillar and Navistar.
CAT will soon launch the heavyduty CT610 and CT630 trucks, which are based on International models but have CAT engines.
All these trucks, more than 200, have to be built and fitted with a compliance plate by December 31 or they can’t be sold in Australia.
Starting up a factory to build a truck under deadline pressure has been a massive task, but CAT is now on track.
Big Wheels checked out the plant, next to the Western Ring Rd, starting with the impressive logistics centre that houses components that make up the first trucks.
Apart from batteries and tyres, all parts are imported.
NC2 sales and marketing general manager Jeff Tyzack says this could change, but importing meant the company could better meet quality standards in a short time.
‘‘We will get more and more local components when we get the project going,’’ Tyzack says.
The parts, from the US and Mexico, are sent to Springfield, Ohio, before being shipped here.
Crates that house larger items such as engines are especially impressive. They have thick cedar frames and look as sturdy as a house.
At this stage the engines come with the Eaton Roadranger gearboxes already attached.
Engine radiators, which are at least 2000mm across, are transported six to a container.
More than 70 people are employed to assemble the trucks. Twelve engineers are involved and several people check quality.
The factory floor is open and no automated machines are in sight. There are no robots to weld and assemble parts of the truck.
The workers start by assembling the chassis rails which are predrilled. There are usually six workers per truck.
The rails go on to a special jig and are mounted upside down. Workers then start assembling cross-members and fuel tank brackets.
Then it is time to roll the jig down to the next station where three Meritor axles and the driveshaft are fitted using an overhead crane. There is very little manual lifting when it comes to assembling a truck.
Lasers are used to align the axles. The chassis now heads to the paint shop, where it is sprayed black.
A machine flips it over and it goes back into the shop for more paint. Now it is time to fit the hoses, lines and electrical cables.
CAT says it put a lot of work into making sure the trucks are tough enough to cope with Australian conditions, among the toughest in the world.
The fuel tanks are added and a crane drops down the engine and transmission. There are two engines the C13 and C15. Both are massive. They weigh about 1400kg, so you need more than a block and tackle to lower these in.
The alloy wheels are then placed on the trucks.
CAT builds the cabs in the US and sends them to Australia almost complete. Now it’s time for them to be fitted.
CAT trucks are available in white, white or white. The operators’ different colour schemes are done later.
Now it’s time to fire up the truck and make sure everything works.
Specialists look for the smallest problems and no truck is approved until everything has been rectified.
NC2 is keen to ensure there are no teething problems with the new CAT models.
‘‘The audit process in most plants usually covers about 10 per cent of trucks. We are auditing 100 per cent,’’ Tyzack says. ‘‘Every one is going through a full quality audit.’’
Cranking up the production of the first CAT trucks is difficult and it hasn’t all gone to plan.
‘‘There are a lot of hurdles you have to overcome and there are a few parts shortages along the way,’’ Tyzack says.
One problem concerned the cabins, but with the December 31 deadline approaching fast, the workers continued producing the trucks without the cabs, which were added later when new units arrived.
Motor town: the CAT truck assembly plant where automation takes a back seat to hands-on production.