CAT out of the bag

Qual­ity is cru­cial on a pro­duc­tion line, writes James Stan­ford

Herald Sun - Motoring - - Big Wheels -

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.

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