Western Star Trucks' Robert A. "Bob" Enright paid a visit toOOIDA headquarters recently to discuss the needs of small business owner-operators with association President Jim Johnston and other members of OOIDA's Executive Committee. Although negotiations are not final, watch for an announcement of an exciting new OOIDA member benefit program.
There's been plenty happening at Western Star Trucks recently, and Land Line took the opportunity to ask Enright for the inside story on some of these events.
LL: It was announced earlier this year that the government of British Columbia had become a business partner with Western Star. How did that come about?
Enright: Provincial governments in Canada do things a little differently than state governments do in the U.S. It is not uncommon for governments to have an interest in manufacturing enterprises in their provinces, or even to go into business themselves. In our case, we're a publicly-traded company, and our government felt that Western Star would be a prudent investment. The government made an equity investment in Western Star by purchasing preferred shares." In other words, they have no voting rights - it's strictly an investment for them.
LL: Western Star has a reputation for quality. What technologies are you incorporating into your new plant near Charleston, SC, to maintain or enhance that reputation?
Enright: Our quality is driven by employee pride. Any employee on our assembly line can shut the assembly line down if he or she feels a job hasn't been done right.
There is not a lot of automation in our plants. Our cabs are robotically welded, but in every other area we strive for a flexibility that isn't possible if you rely too heavily on hard automation. Every truck goes down the same assembly line. You can't do that if you have machinery that only performs one task particular to a certain truck. This flexibility makes it possible to have more than 8,000 options available on our data book.
We do plan to make the change to robotics on our paint line, and that's for our employees' sake. I would say that our paint finishes are second to none, but our painters have experienced a problem with carpal tunnel syndrome. We suspended the paint guns to take the weight off the employee's hand, but we can't get away from the stress the "trigger" on the apparatus puts on the employees' hands. So we're making a significant investment in technology for our paint application process.
LL: Western Star introduced a lightweight Class 8 truck at the Mid-America Trucking Show. A little less than 15,000 pounds wasn't it?
Enright: Western Star's new lightweight model is down to 14,680 pounds, and we're looking at ways to further reduce the weight. Engine manufacturers have been very cooperative in allowing us to "sculpt" castings on engine blocks to reduce weight without sacrificing strength and durability. We have an excellent relationship with both engine and transmission manufacturers that allows us to work with them on weight saving options. In addition, we developed a new technology, the Lightweight Sleeper. The Lightweight Sleeper contributed to weight reduction and is new technology.
We are also looking at exotic metals, such as titanium, that are strong but could be used to reduce weight. Of course, that could be an expensive option. Again the flexibility in our manufacturing process makes such options possible for some customers, while other customers can make choices that are best for their operations.
-by Ruth Jones, senior editor