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Thomas Built Buses, Inc.

Increased Production in addition to Reduced Costs: American School Bus Manufacturer Thomas Built Buses Back on the Road to Success

Production is running more efficiently than ever before at the legendary American school bus manufacturer

With the extremely ambitious target of increasing production by 25 percent while also reducing hours per unit (HPU) by 5 percent, US school bus manufacturer Thomas Built Buses presented a real challenge to Ingenics Corporation, headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia. Nevertheless, the challenge was overcome with great success and in record time.

The most important project results and Ingenics services:
Thomas Built Buses, Inc.
  • Observations in different line segments to identify and eliminate non-value added time
  • Logistics optimization towards lean principles
  • All line segments are balanced to the new tact time
  • In total about 353 min. of potential cycle time reduction were detected during observations
  • HPU were reduced by 9,7%

Ambitious goals as such as increasing production by 25 percent while reducing hours per unit HPU (production hours per product, including manufacturing times for parts and components, surface treatment and system integration, assembly, finishing and also indirect hours for quality assurance, logistics, and maintenance) thus achieving a significant reduction in cost motivated the consultants at Ingenics AG – or in this case its US subsidiary Ingenics Corporation, based in Atlanta, Georgia – to excel in their work on this project.

A veritable challenge lay in the specifications of school bus manufacturer Thomas Built Buses, a subsidiary of Daimler Trucks North America LLC, the largest producer of heavy-duty trucks in North America and the leading manufacturer of medium- to heavy-duty vehicles. The test was overcome with great success.

What made the project particularly demanding and challenging for all concerned was that objectives had to be achieved at the company’s headquarters in High Point, North Carolina, during regular operations and with no additional investment.

Under the direction of Andreas Heinzelmann, General Manager of Ingenics Corporation, the project team actually succeeded in setting Thomas Built Buses firmly on course for success in just six months, also increasing efficiency in production as anticipated while simultaneously reducing costs. Every minute detail was taken into consideration, as if the team had adopted the motto of the legendary school bus manufacturer, “Because every mile matters.” Consultants working under Heinzelmann quickly saw that Thomas Built Buses most urgently needed professional support in project management, line balancing, and logistics optimization.

The biggest challenge was that there was no way to physically extend assembly lines for body shell work, paintwork, or interior and external assembly, all of which took place in the same building. An enormous (and still growing) number of variants made the pressure even more intense.

„Hours per unit were reduced by 9.7 percent, exceeding the target by a significant margin. The plant manager at Thomas Built Buses has confirmed that production has never been more efficient.“
Andreas Heinzelmann, Ingenics Corporation Atlanta
General Manager

It soon became clear that objectives could only be achieved through process optimization, focusing on re-balancing individual assembly line segments, optimizing work processes, and implementing lean logistics principles in material supply. In order to ensure a holistic approach, observations were first carried out at every line segment station for half a day with the primary goal of identifying sources of waste. In subsequent workshops, joint solutions were developed for each of the problems identified and measures, responsibilities, and implementation timetables were (newly) defined.

Progress was checked weekly in terms of implementation and effectiveness. Very good results were achieved compared to the status quo by establishing new pre-assembly and material supply roles (“water spiders”) to take over especially time-consuming activities that do not add value in accordance with the line-back method. When it came to re-balancing lines, existing working times for each station provided by Thomas Built Buses were switched in favor of new, shorter cycle times, and work content was adapted accordingly.

Results were discussed in continuing joint workshops before a final settlement was reached. To optimize material supply, new container standards and sizes were defined, while two synchronized tugger trains and a driverless transport system were taken out of action.

Thanks to systematic project management, the goal to increase production was achieved on schedule. Hours per unit were reduced by 9.7 percent, exceeding the target by a significant margin. The plant manager at Thomas Built Buses noted that production had never been more efficient.