KW expands Ohio plant with large $140 million paint shop

April 26, 2019

Tom Berg


Kenworth Truck Co. is expanding its Chillicothe, Ohio, assembly plant to meet customer demand for Class 8 trucks, part of the economic growth that’s continued almost unabated since the end of the Great Recession more than a decade ago.

The builder has begun construction of a large new paint shop adjacent to its factory in Chillicothe in south-central Ohio, and executives on Wednesday, April 24, wielded chromed shovels to toss some dirt in a symbolic groundbreaking. The event was important enough to Kenworth and Paccar Inc., its corporate parent, that top executives flew in from Seattle for the event.

They included Mike Dozier, KW’s general manager and a Paccar vice president; Harrie Schippers, Paccar’s president and chief financial officer; Karen Logan, KW’s corporate controller; and Judy McTigue, Kenworth assistant general manager of operations. Rod Spencer, the Chillicothe plant manager, was already on site, while Jay Timmons, president and CEO of the National Association of Manufacturers and a Chillicothe native, also participated, as did federal, state, county and local officials.

Kenworth ground breaking ceremony
From left: Karen Logan, Kenworth Truck Co. controller; Rex Tisdale, Kenworth Chillicothe director of engineering manufacturing; Jack Schmitt, Kenworth Chillicothe assistant plant manager; Judy McTigue, Kenworth, assistant general manager for operations; Jay Timmons, president and CEO of the National Association of Manufacturers; Harrie Schippers, Paccar president and chief financial officer; Mike Dozier, Kenworth general manager and Paccar vice president; and Rod Spencer, Kenworth Chillicothe plant manager. (Photo by Tom Berg)

The $140 million paint shop will be housed in a 120,000-square-foot building. It will increase the plant’s painting capability by 50%, Dozier said, and is part of a 10% overall increase in capacity in the plant, which opened in 1974. It has been enlarged a number of times in the following 45 years, raising production from 17 trucks per day to as many as 200 now.

Meanwhile, a $33 million robotic assembly cell is scheduled for completion this summer. It will increase the rate at which the modern 2.1-meter aluminum cab is put together for KW’s W990, T680, and T880 models. The new robotic cell will occupy 40,000 square feet on the existing production floor. A smaller robotic cell has been in operation for some time.

Friday, April 19, the last truck with the old-style 1.9-meter-wide cab came off the line at Chillicothe. All production of the narrow cab and the models it goes on, including the W900 and T800, is now done at Kenworth’s Renton, Wash., plant, Dozier said.

The new paint shop is needed, he said, because painting is a traditional bottleneck in truck manufacturing. The present shop now runs on three shifts per day while other production operates on two shifts. The larger shop might allow dropping the third shift upon completion in 2021. Space now occupied by current painting operations will be converted to other production activities, contributing to the overall expansion.

The new facility will use robotic paint application equipment for quality and efficiency, and state-of-the-art emissions-control devices to support the company’s commitment to clean air, Dozier said. Paint will be spread thinner but more evenly, and customers will notice the difference. As now, emissions from the shop will be 80% less than required by state and federal regulations.

The Chillicothe plant now covers 502,000 square feet on a 120-acre site on the north side of Chillicothe. The facility and its 2,300 workers assemble 70% of KW’s Class 8 trucks, Dozier said.

The Chillicothe plant earned the 2018 Encouraging Environmental Excellence E3 Gold Award from the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, the company said. The award recognizes businesses, nonprofits and government agencies in Ohio that demonstrate the commitment to exceed regulatory compliance and deliver exceptional achievements in environmental stewardship.

Earlier this year, the plant received a Manufacturing Leadership Award from the National Association of Manufacturers. The award recognized the Chillicothe team’s development of innovative material handling systems that protect paint quality throughout the assembly process.

Artists rendering of Kenworth plant



Tom Berg worked his way through college by driving trucks. Since 1978, he’s been writing about trucks and trucking. He holds a Class A commercial driver’s license and drives trucks as part of story research. While semi-retired, Berg still writes about semis as a contributing editor at Land Line.