HIGH POINT, N.C. — Thomas Built Buses has officially opened its new 275,000-square-foot school bus manufacturing plant.
The $39.7 million facility will produce Thomas Built’s new Saf-T-Liner C2 conventional bus. Assembly work will begin with demonstrator models for the company’s dealer network, while customer unit production will begin in August.
Construction on the plant began in October 2002, and employees began operations there in November 2003. Company officials said the construction schedule was met despite often-severe weather conditions.
In addition to Thomas Built management and personnel, the opening ceremony for the facility on June 8 drew several elected officials, including U.S. Rep. Richard Burr of North Carolina and High Point Mayor Rebecca Smothers.
Addressing the ceremony crowd, Roger Nielsen, chief operating officer of Thomas Built parent Freightliner LLC, declared the opening of the plant and production of the C2 “an unmatched achievement for Thomas Built Buses.”
Nielsen and Thomas Built President and CEO John O’Leary joined the elected officials as well as a group of schoolchildren in a ride on the first bus to roll off the manufacturing line.
At full capacity, the new plant will employ 192 workers to manufacture up to 22 buses per shift on a 3/4-mile-long assembly line. An automatic conveyor system moves each bus through the 75 workstations in the assembly line, a process that takes about two workdays per bus. The paint shop is isolated from other production processes and incorporates filtered down-draft paint booths with robotic application.
One of the new techniques used in building the C2 is a combination of self-piercing rivets and adhesives on body joints. Company officials said the technology will increase strength and durability on the bus, as well as reduce the number of body rivets and fasteners by more than 65 percent for aesthetic appeal and fewer potential leaks.
O’Leary says the C2, which was unveiled at the National Association for Pupil Transportation’s trade show in Salt Lake City last November, has been well-received by the pupil transportation industry. In March, more than 230 industry officials drove two pre-production units during a national ride-and-drive tour.
“The participants’ enthusiasm confirmed that we’ve come to market with the right product,” said O’Leary.