Today, the SELF 2020 cohort visited Kenworth Trucking in Seattle, WA. Kenworth Trucking is owned by Paccar which owns an ecosystem of truck manufacturers, truck part manufacturers, and truck financing groups. Kenworth is an established American company that has built premium trucks for the US and abroad since 1915, and continues to uphold its core values of quality, technology, and innovation. Their Seattle facility is 300,000 square feet and employs 460 employees to assemble Kenworth trucks, work with suppliers, design more efficient processes, and design the next generation of trucks.
On our tour of the floor, we saw many things. After being split into four groups, we each went our separate ways and saw many of the different steps in the process of assembling customized heavy duty cargo transports. From combining a cab to a chassis, to watching robotic arms apply paint to a finished vehicle and everything in between, we saw it all. We gained a lot of insight into how Kenworth Trucking’s manufacturing process functions and the optimization steps they take.
Kenworth understands the importance of the employees on the assembly line and values their input on how to improve the quality and rate at which the factory produces its trucks. Employees responsible for painting frames are in constant communication with suppliers, adjusting paint viscosity to improve drying rates. Cabs and windshields are now carefully glued using robotic arms, which reduces assembly time but could have potentially displaced employees. Instead, Kenworth prides itself in its ability to retain these employees by teaching them how to maintain and operate the new technology. Additionally, Kenworth is always searching outside of its walls for innovative technology, such as a belt that rotates entire truck frames, allowing employees to work on the truck with greater stability.
The business model of Kenworth Trucking is very adaptable in order to meet the needs of the constantly fluctuating trucking industry. As the business cycle ebbs and flows, demand for new trucks changes quite drastically. Kenworth trucking has worked to maximize the effectiveness of its lean manufacturing process , so it cannot increase output volume by increasing efficiency. Therefore, the company management evaluated the market for new trucks in real time. With this analysis, they take on additional employees at times of increasing demand. In the past, the Seattle plant produces as few as 7 new trucks a day, while now they produce 14 and are ramping up hiring until they can produce 18 per day. This method of active employee management is what allows Kenworth to meet demand while keeping efficiency at a maximum.