TULSA, Okla. — As it looks ahead to the next 10 years with a continued commitment to efficiency and quality, school bus manufacturer IC Bus has made significant investments in manufacturing practices, advanced technology, and product development.
The school bus manufacturer is investing $52 million over the next three years in its Tulsa-based plant, products, and technology, with a focus on on-time performance, said Trish Reed, vice president and general manager of IC Bus, in an interview at the Tulsa plant.
A sizable portion of that investment — about $17 million — has gone into plant upgrades, which will help to streamline production.
To that end, Chuck Sibley, the plant manager, has adopted some automotive lean manufacturing practices, such as the Andon System, which shows updates on the status of every work station on flat screens to get support to workers; just in time delivery; and storage of parts.
Sibley also identified and eliminated various types of waste, such as defects, overproduction, waiting, non-utilized talent, and excessive processes. To eliminate defects, he redid the steering wheel alignment process, and brought the bump test station outside for a flatter surface to ensure optimal conditions. He also conducted error proofing on each part of the build process. Plant workers now validate every feature on each bus before it leaves the plant. Additionally, to eliminate excessive processes, he changed the order of bus cleaning.
About $10 million went to drip rail and bow bender tooling; robot updates; a floor welder; a conveyance system; a pre-delivery inspection process; and pedestrian access. The additional $7 million was spent on improvements to the painting process; seat tie-down expansion; and a chassis line conveyor upgrade for expanded capacity.
The body line can still accommodate 457 workers, but is now split, which allows half of them to keep working in the event of a delay with the buses in the buffer, Sibley explained.
Sibley believes that this implementation of automotive manufacturing techniques at the plant is a first in the school transportation industry.
These upgrades underscore IC Bus’ commitment to the idea that the leader supports the operators, instead of the other way around, he added. In practice, that means that the leader owes the operator a safe work environment; feedback on performance; the right parts on time; appropriate training; recognition and rewards; a way to call for help; and the appropriate tools.
Additionally, a minimum of three workers are trained on each job so that at least one is available to do it at all times, in preparation for workers who may be out sick or on leave or vacation. The plant has a total of 1,400 employees.
The changes come as IC Bus launches its new concept, The Next Stop, which includes several products to be released over the course of the next 10 years. The first wave of aftermarket offerings this fall includes over the air programming (OTA) in addition to OnCommand Connection, its remote vehicle diagnostics system, Reed said.
The OnCommand Connection diagnostics system will help customers decide when they need to take a bus in to the dealership, she explained.
Meanwhile, IC Bus will soon release an accelerator program app for iPad that runs OTA programming for health diagnostics. The app is designed to enhance consistency in the service process.