New press a milestone for Thomas Built Buses

Jun. 15, 2013 @ 04:42 PM

Anchored 12 feet beneath the ground and rising 22 feet above the manufacturing floor, the latest addition to Thomas Built Buses’ Courtesy Road plant is more than just a massive piece of machinery.
The 1,500-ton press is used in the production of the school buses that have made the company a High Point institution for nearly a century. The machine is a marvel of engineering that brings with it a host of benefits.
But it carries a deeper significance, as well, in that it represents a milestone in Thomas Built Buses’ manufacturing and corporate growth, according to the company.
“The market has definitely stabilized, and we are at a high production rate in order to fill our ongoing orders from customers across the U.S. and Canada,” said Mario DiFoggio, a company spokesman.
Dean Griffin, supervisor for steel processsing, pointed out that the press is not the only major capital investment made at Thomas Built Buses of late by its parent company, Daimler Trucks North America LLC.
Two laser cutters used in the production of bus parts were acquired, as production has been ramped up.
“Daimler has invested about $4 million here the last two years. They’ve taken a big interest,” Griffin said.
The new equipment is among the latest positive trends for Thomas Built Buses, which is High Point’s sixth largest employer, with about 1,250 workers.
“We are moving from a command-and-control culture to one where we harness our people’s thoughts to really elevate Thomas Built Buses,” said CEO Kelley Platt. “We strive for continuous improvement, and the acquisition of this press was just another example of how our employees share decision making, innovations and new techniques with leadership.”
The company invested about $2 million in the new press, which led to the creation of four new jobs.
The press is used for making parts, including floor sheets for its new C2 bus, as well as roof sheets for all its product lines. Previously, the company couldn’t make these parts in-house and had to rely on outside suppliers to provide them.
“It kept our costs pretty high,” said Mark Ward, Thomas Built Buses fabrication manager. “The new press saves us on part costs and storage area, because we can make the machine make the parts when we need it, as opposed to whenever the supplier says they can work it in.”
The press has improved efficiency at the plant by helping to decrease standby and delivery time, increase material quality, increase manufacturing flexibility and better control manufacturing costs, according to the company.
It was acquired in January and recently ramped up to full-day production.
The timing is important, since summer is the company’s busiest production season, when it manufacturers approximately 50 buses per day.
Company representatives said the planning for and purchase of the press brought employees together. A team of on-the-floor operators, along with management, worked on the project from the beginning. The team decided what to purchase and where it would be placed to enable the greatest workflow efficiencies and safety.
“It’s a $2 million project and that’s all fine, well and good, but it’s the people that made this happen. That’s more important to me than just the dynamics of the press,” said Ward. “It was a real team effort from a lot of people.”